From the March 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

Still using a flat, boring old keyboard? Or think you're cool with the special Windows 95 keyboard and its curvy, ergonomic profile? In case you haven't been watching lately, great strides in keyboard technology are helping users become more efficient and reduce desk clutter, thanks to cutting-edge research and development.

Along with on-board color scanners and telephones, some of the new keyboards provide touchpads, trackballs, wireless capability, height adjustability and even stress-relief programs.

NMB Technologies offers a wide variety of keyboards. One of the newest, and a first for the industry, is NMB's Right Touch! color scanner model, developed specifically for cost-conscious small-business owners with limited space and large outputs. Barely bigger than the average human foot, Right Touch! has a small scanning unit attached to the back. It enables users to photocopy documents that are up to 30 inches long.

Cirque, a relative newcomer to the industry, quickly became a major player in 1994 when it pioneered GlidePoint touchpads and then integrated them into keyboards. Two new Cirque models, the WaveKeyboard 2 and the Input Center, link users to their computers more efficiently with built-in touchpads for cursor control, eliminating the need for a mouse.

Both models use Cirque's highly sensitive gliding technology, which, in addition to functioning as a mouse, enables you to sign your name on an on-screen document or draw using a pointing device on the touchpad. Tapping the pad achieves the same effect as pressing a mouse button, with audible clicks and beeps to let you know the pad is hard at work. You can also opt to use the conventional buttons.

A bonus feature on Cirque's Input Center is a stretching exercise to help relieve stress. You program the keyboard to remind you at timed intervals to take a typing break; the software has video clips with a "live" coach. On the WaveKeyboard 2, the program is optional.

If you need a phone at your fingertips while juggling two tasks, or there's simply no more room on your desk for a telephone, Integrated Technology USA includes a single-line phone built into its CompuPhone 2000 keyboard and call management software. Simply plug the phone line into the keyboard's jack, don the headset, and use the numeric keypad to dial out or highlight a number in your computer's electronic address book. The keyboard has a built-in ringer for incoming calls. CompuPhone 2000 can also be programmed for use with PBX or Centrex phone systems. The model's Call Management software can track incoming and outgoing calls--useful for telemarketing.

Microsoft can take your typing to new heights. Its Natural Keyboard has a wrist-leveling rail under the palm rest to adjust the height of the keyboard's front edge. In addition, the Natural splits the keypads and rotates them outward to encourage a straighter wrist position. Software features on the keyboard streamline computing in the Windows environment. One tap brings up a new graphical Task Manager, another switches applications, and a third optionally replaces certain mouse functions with the numeric keypad for point-and-click and drag-and-drop functions.

If you're a PC notebook enthusiast who does a lot of laptop accounting work while traveling, a new compact peripheral keypad from Genovation can keep those numbers in check. The Universal Keypad plugs into any portable computer, providing a standard numeric keyboard keypad in place of a notebook's inconvenient numeric row. Attach it to your PC's serial port, and use its extra connector for your mouse, trackball or touchpad.

Two wireless keyboards allow you to work in practically any position and from several feet away from your computer. Sejin America's oval-shaped FreeBoard Beamer remote keyboard has a rear transmitter that sends an infared beam to the small receiving unit that is placed on top of a monitor or projector. Working off standard-sized batteries, which provide power for three to six months, the FreeBoard Beamer comes with either 104 or 105 keys (the extra key is for Windows 95); a slip-proof, sculpted bottom surface designed to rest comfortably on your lap; and a built-in trackball. The unit is also PC- and TV-compatible.

New on the market is another wireless keyboard, NMB's Logitech Cordless Desktop System. Unlike Sejin America's infrared technology, NMB uses a radio frequency to communicate between its keyboard and monitor. Providing a wide range of channels and digital security codes so more than one system can be used in the same room without interference, NMB's model has a detachable palm rest and works on batteries.

Fortunately, keys are still basically in their standard positions, but if you've always wanted the function key under your left pinkie, some manufacturers oblige by providing speed-dial programmable function keys.

If you need a standard keyboard, Mitsumi Electronics Corp. offers two of the most popular models, the YA and the ZW. These are standard 104-key models with three Windows 95 function keys and a 6-foot cable.


Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California.

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