Goodbye, comfort: Revisiting the legacy of iconic ergonomic keyboards from Microsoft

Goodbye, comfort: Revisiting the legacy of iconic ergonomic keyboards from Microsoft

  • Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards outstripped Logitech in fan base.
  • Microsoft is ceasing its ergonomic keyboards, first launched around 30 years ago.

Microsoft, a giant that emerged as a household name due to its ubiquitous PC software, entered the keyboard business in 1994. Its ergonomic offerings attracted legions of fans, outpacing even Logitech, the current market leader. Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate the journey by throwing back to some of iconic keyboards from Microsoft.

The dawn of the Natural Keyboard

The Natural Keyboard wasn’t merely a peripheral device but a tool designed to provide a more comfortable and natural typing experience. The split-key design made it look different, but users quickly realized it felt natural. This innovative design concept put ergonomics at the forefront, with the keyboard conforming to the user’s hand rather than the other way around.

Despite initial skepticism, the Natural Keyboard won over users with its ergonomic benefits, ultimately transforming Microsoft’s keyboard experiment into a definitive moment for its hardware division.

The beige-colored Natural Keyboard was unique in design and introduced the Windows keys on either side of the spacebar. This keyboard reached households, offices, and schools, marking a significant milestone in Microsoft’s hardware journey.

Even as the Natural Keyboard was phased out for newer models, it left an indelible mark. Over the years, Microsoft introduced a range of keyboards, each incorporating unique features and improvements. But for many, none quite matched the charm and comfort of the Natural Keyboard.

In 2005, the company introduced the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which built upon previous designs with further enhancements for user comfort. This keyboard featured a more pronounced split design, adjustable tilt angles, and dedicated shortcut keys, enhancing productivity while reducing strain.

Fast-forward to 2013, Microsoft unveiled the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. This package included a uniquely designed keyboard reminiscent of the original Natural Keyboard’s distinctive design, a mouse, and a separate number pad. The dome-shaped design was a callback to the Natural Keyboard, merging nostalgia with modern tech aesthetics.

Fans upset with the discontinuation of keyboards from Microsoft

However, the journey of Microsoft’s hardware division took a surprising turn when changes to the company’s hardware portfolio were announced. The decision to sunset the ergonomic products left fans nostalgic and longing for the comfort and innovation that marked Microsoft’s initial foray into keyboard design, especially for a fan like Brittany Matter.

According to CNBC, Matter, a freelance writer based in Olympia, Washington, is an avid user of Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboard, a product line that Microsoft introduced nearly three decades ago. She is so fond of this keyboard that she even took it on a brief trip to Hawaii earlier this month.

Unfortunately, Nadella’s recent announcement signaled the discontinuation of this cherished piece of equipment.

“Have you ever experienced fainting symptoms?” Matter said in an interview. “It’s this pain that crawls up the back of your neck. It prevents you from moving your neck left and right, and then your mobility is completely diminished. That’s the pain that I’ve experienced when my mouse and keyboard are not ergonomic.”

Despite changing market trends and the emergence of custom-built mechanical keyboards, there’s still a demand for ergonomic keyboards. While other companies continue to produce ergonomic keyboards, they lack Microsoft’s designs’ distinct charm and innovative spirit.

Microsoft’s Natural Keyboard was more than a piece of hardware; it was a symbol of innovation and user-focused design. Its influence resonates even today, reflected in many of Microsoft’s current offerings like the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard.

The evolution of the tech industry

Though the sun may have set on Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards, the legacy of their innovative designs lives on. These keyboards, starting from the Natural Keyboard, represented Microsoft’s dedication to improving user comfort and productivity. They left a mark in the tech community and continue to be remembered for their innovative spirit and unique charm.

As the tech industry continues to evolve, the demand for functional and aesthetically pleasing hardware is rising. In this changing landscape, the memory of Microsoft’s pioneering keyboards serves as a reminder of the impact thoughtful design can have on user experience.

Despite the bittersweet farewell, the story of Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards remains a testament to the company’s commitment to innovation and user comfort. While the keyboards may no longer be in production, their legacy will continue to inspire for years. The memory of the Natural Keyboard and its successors serves as a constant reminder of the role thoughtful design plays in shaping user experience. Microsoft’s journey in the world of keyboards has left a lasting imprint that continues to shape the hardware landscape. This enduring legacy is a testament to the power of user-focused design and innovation.