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The Software Company Makes Great Hardware, too


Quick! Which is the largest software company in the world? You are right. It is the Redmond-based giant, Microsoft.

There are other large software makers as well, such as SAP, Oracle and Intel Corp. Do not be surprised, Intel has to do a lot of software programming for its microprocessors.

However, Microsoft has also been making hardware, too. There is the xBox 360, right?

The fact is, Microsoft has been selling hardware for around 25 years. Remember the Microsoft Natural Keyboard? It came out in 1994. I never bought it, because I was – and still am – a hardcore fan of the clinketty-clanketty IBM keyboard from the 1980s.

If you have been roaming computer shops lately, you must have noticed those red boxes containing Microsoft hardware products.

In Singapore last October, I lost count of how many different types of Microsoft mice there were at Challenger, in the Funan Center.

About two weeks ago, Microsoft Hardware had a media event in Jakarta. I was not able to attend it, but I requested several different products for my review.

I was loaned a Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000, which is a combination of a wireless keyboard and mouse. I was also loaned a wireless and mouse for a notebook or netbook, and a WebCam Cinema.

Needless to say, there are more than a dozen other products in those red boxes on the market today.

Each one of them comes with the needed battery or batteries, so it is true install-and-play.

To begin with, all these hardware products are optimally designed for the newly launched Microsoft Windows 7. I am not sure whether this was the reason I was unable to install the included software on my XP desktop.

Whatever it was, I am unable to tell you much about the software side of this product. On the hardware side, I find the keyboard comfortable as the name promises. It feels solid, even when you tap on the keys with a little force.

Along the top edge there are 19 shortcut buttons for various tasks, including multimedia playback, pause, zoom in and out, IE and Outlook.

If I could get the software installed, I should be able to customize these buttons. The Microsoft logo is found above the keypad.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with the Escape and F keys. I think they are too small. Remember one of Lenovo’s latest keyboard innovations, the large Escape key found in ThinkPad T400s? The Escape key should be large, as it is one of the keys we use the most.

On the Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000, the Escape key is so small that I very frequently tap on the tilde and grave accent key instead. My note to all keyboard designers: “Don’t underestimate the importance of the Escape key.”

The accompanying mouse, on the other hand, is flawless. It is heavy and it glides on mousepad nicely. It has small wings that will call a round popup on the screen that will let us choose what application we want to use next-Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Google Web Search and many others.

Microsoft mice use proprietary BlueTrack technology, which uses a more detailed image of the surface made possible by a larger tracking beam. We can use the mice on more diverse surfaces, even on carpets, although of course not on a mirror.

Both the Wireless Comfort Desktop keyboard and the Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 are curvy. The notebook keyboard has a separate numeric keypad, which we can leave at home if we do not work much with numbers.

While its weight will not add much to the weight of your travelling bag, its built quality is excellent. It will be a great solution to the cramped keyboard of a netbook except that, once again, the Escape and the F-keys are small.

Not all Microsoft keyboards are plagued by the undersized key row, though. Wireless Laser Desktop 3000, for example, has the traditional row of Escape and F-keys that makes the keys more accessible.

Why use a wireless keyboard? If you need some more space to work on your desktop, you can just stow the keyboard away on the shelf or in the drawer.

There is no cable that ties it to the PC. That is the real usefulness that I have found when using these battery-based wireless keyboards.

Now let us look at the Webcam. The Rp 960,000 (about US$96) Microsoft LifeCam Cinema is a very impressive product. It connects to the PC through USB 2.0. Microsoft even puts a stopper on the plug to remind us to install the software first. We plug in the USB cable when prompted by the software.

The clip is made of flexible material so we can place it anywhere we want. The microphone is on top of the tubular camera body, and there is a blue light to indicate that it is on.

However, it is the quality of the video that really stunned me the first time I ran the LifeCam software. It was so sharp, had a great balance of light even in a poorly lit room, and the video did not show any blur when I moved from one side to another.

This is a Webcam that has autofocus (up to 10 centimeters) and a glass element lens.

The ClearFrame image processing technology implemented in it helps minimize graininess even in low light condition.

All of these certainly contribute the high quality video. With clear and smooth video, it is also capable of capturing 720p HD widescreen at 30 frames per second. Microsoft has clearly combined several high-end features in this product. By the way, all Microsoft current Webcams are optimized for Windows Live.

Now my task is to put the products back into their boxes as other reviewers are already waiting for their turn to play around with them.

Putting the LifeCam Cinema into its shipping box will be a challenge, as the multilayer box is like a puzzle. Hopefully Microsoft Hardware uses recyclable material for the packaging.

Do not take Microsoft Hardware designers lightly despite the fact that we also have great and similarly-looking mice, presenters, keyboards, headsets, game controllers, Webcam, etc. from top accessories makers such as Logitech.

Microsoft Hardware uses internal designers and has received red-dot awards for four of the products that they have designed -Microsoft LifeCam Show Webcam, Microsoft Arc Mouse, Microsoft Explorer Mouse and Explorer Mouse Mini (www.red-dot.org).

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