I loved my old keyboard. It was a Gateway 2000 "AnyKey" model, with every key programmable to perform any series of keystrokes, or remappable to any other key. It didn't have a Windows key, and instead had extra programmable-anything keys between each Ctrl-Alt pair. The arrow keys were arranged in a full square, with diagonals, plus an extra programmable key in the middle. It really was a great keyboard, and I had used it from April 1994 until two weeks ago - more than 9 years. It was the only part of my first computer that was still in use.
I intended to keep using it indefinitely, until I tried the new keyboards in Best Buy. Once I felt a new keyboard, I realized that my old Gateway keyboard had much less spring-feedback in the keys, and I could type much more quickly on a new model.
When Microsoft released the original scroll-wheel mouse, the Intellimouse, I laughed at it and thought to myself, "Nobody will ever use those." Now I can't use a mouse without one. Naturally, when I first saw a picture of the Office Keyboard in a review a while ago, I thought the same thing:
"Nobody will actually use those keys or that wheel on the side."
I've also never been a fan of keyboards with all of the shortcut/launch keys on top. Most keyboards' launch keys are simply links to sponsored websites.
I read a very good review of the Microsoft Office Keyboard, and I really liked the way the keys felt on the store's display model, so I bought it. It took me a few days to get used to the new feel, since I had been using only one keyboard for 9 years before this and its keys were slightly further apart than new keyboards.
I've been using the keyboard for two weeks now, and I really love it. Despite my initial thoughts, I now use the scroll wheel and launch keys reguarly.
The wheel is better than other brands' keyboards that have a similar one because the Microsoft wheel is much wider. Other brands simply use a mouse-sized scroll wheel, but the Microsoft wheel is big enough for two fingers. It just feels "right" to scroll the wheel with my left hand's middle two fingers. The wheel also has a very good feel to it overall - it isn't too easy or too hard to scroll, unlike many wheels I've tried.
The buttons near the wheel (Back, Forward, Cut, Copy, Paste, Application Switch) feel terrible. There is very little button travel or feedback, and it takes much more pressure to push them than any regular key. They are fairly useless to me. Fortunately, I have a Back button on my mouse, I rarely navigate Forward, Control-X/C/V is closer to my hands than the Cut/Copy/Paste buttons, and Alt-Tab/Alt-Shift-Tab is easier to push than the Application Switch buttons.
The F1-F12 keys are still present, but you need to use the "F-Lock" key to access their traditional functions. Without F-Lock (default), the keys perform new actions in Office applications, including New, Open, Close, Spell Check, Save, Print, and other wonderful options. I don't use these at all. I might learn to use them eventually, but for now, I'm used to using the old shortcut keys to perform these tasks.
The shortcut/launch keys on top are fairly useful. There are launchers for Word, Excel, "Mail" and "Calendar" (Outlook), IE, Explorer, and Calculator (the most useful so far!). In addition, there are volume control and Mute buttons, a Log Off button, and a Sleep button. All of the top-row buttons have a much better feel to them than the buttons near the scroll wheel.
Microsoft has also modifed the Home/End block of keys quite drastically:
This is possibly the best and most necessary keyboard modification done in the last 9 years. How many times have you accidentally hit Insert and started overtyping everything? The positions of the Home and End keys are slightly different than their usual places. This bothered me at first, but the new arrangement really makes more sense, considering the typical functions of the keys.
Insert, PrintScreen, Scroll Lock, and Pause/Break have been moved to a 4-key row in the far upper-right. These functions are only accessible with F-Lock on, though. By default, the functions are (in order) "=", "(", ")" and Backspace. In addition, the NumLock key's position is unchanged but it is also accessible only with F-Lock, otherwise functioning as a Tab key. These changes are intended to make the numeric keypad more functional, and while I rarely use the numpad, I'd bet that these would be a lifesaver to anyone who does.
Microsoft includes the IntelliType software with the keyboard. To my pleasant surprise, it's extremely simple and unintrusive. It's simply an additional tab in Control Panel's Keyboard section. It enables the extra key functionality with a small process, "type32.exe", that only takes 572 KB of RAM and uses less CPU time than almost anything else running: during my current Windows session, my CPU has been idle for 16:32:35, and the IntelliType process has used 0:00:03 worth of the CPU's time. I'm not very worried about it.
The software has the capability to change or disable the functionality of most "special" keys on the keyboard, including the new functions of the F1-F12 keys. Most keys can be configured to launch any program or URL. You can even disable Caps Lock, the Windows key, or that weird unnamed context menu key between the right Control-Alt pair, although you cannot assign these keys any other functions.
Ergonomically, the keyboard includes the built-in permanent wrist rest. It's quite nice. I never liked those cheap snap-on flaps that some keyboard manufacturers call "wrist rests", but as a solid, permanent part of the keyboard's body, it's much nicer. This keyboard feels best without the rear bottom stand-ups to prop it up. It's ergonomically better that way, so while you're getting used to a new keyboard, you might as well also get used to not using stand-ups if you plan to keep your wrists in good working order.
The keyboard is natively USB, but comes with the same USB-to-PS/2 adapter that ships with Microsoft USB mice - except that this one is purple instead of green to match the color-coding of PS/2 ports.