New keyboard struggles

Since I got the hot new AMD Athlon64 system going, I thought I should think about getting one of those “multimedia” keyboards, with the volume controls, etc. One requirement I had, thought at first I just took it for granted, was that the keyboard had to work through my KVM switch. It’s an inexpensive automatic KVM switch I bought during the computer transition, because I was switching back and forth between the old and new computers quite alot. Always wanted one anyway.

The first thing I bought was a Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop 3.0. The keyboard and mouse are both cordless, which is cool. It has the media controls, plus a handful of other handy buttons, like an Instant Messenger, Email, Web, and Favourites. It also has a slider for controlling zoom. It was all good, everything worked right out of the box.

So, why did I return it? They changed the keyboard layout. I didn’t notice this at the store, believe it or not. It’s just something I take for granted: you never change the keyboard layout! It’s a basic law of the universe. IBM pissed me off when they introduced the PS/2 keyboard layout (which is the standard today). I preferred the function keys down the left side, like on the PC and AT keyboards, they were easier to find by feel without looking. I preferred the Ctrl and CapsLock keys swapped, like on the PC. And, to this day, I’ve never got accustomed to using the inverted-T cursor keys, I still habitually turn off NumLock and use the numeric keys for cursor control. Like on the PC.

Anyway, Microsoft apparently has decided it’s time for another key-layout shakeup for some reason. They made some peculiar changes in the group of six keys above the cursor T (PgUp, PgDn, etc). They’ve dual-purposed the function keys with a bunch of new document-control features, New, Open, Close, etc., selected by an “F-Lock” toggle. I can handle all that. But, worst of all, they changed the function keys from three groups of four keys to four groups of three keys. This I cannot abide. I tried to get used to it, but I was eternally hitting the wrong F key. I’d want to hit F5, which used to be the first key in the second group. But now, that’s F4. F5 is now the middle key in the second group. It’s just all wrong.

I also decided that I was less thrilled about the wireless keyboard idea after all. There seemed to be no countermeasured taken at all against someone sniffing my passwords out of the air. So, I packed it all up into the original cartons. Even though I had had the keyboard for a month, Future Shop let me return it for exchange or store credit.

I went back to the shelves, found the next contender, the Microsoft Optical Desktop with Fingerprint Reader. This one costs the same as the previous model. The keyboard is now corded, alleviating my tinfoil-hat worries. The mouse is still cordless, which I still like. There’s a fingerprint reader on the keyboard… interesting. Probably not a very good one. Fingerprinting in general is a highly suspect and rather unscientific endeavour, even when done by supposed experts.

Anyway, this keyboard seemed to fit the bill. But when I got it home, I found that it had only a USB connector for the keyboard, so I couldn’t use it with my KVM (PS/2 only). The other Microsoft keyboard came with an adapter for the end of the cable. Not this one. I had a similar-looking adapater that came with my previous Logitech mouse, but no way to know for sure if it would work. I didn’t want to risk frying the keyboard to find out. So, back the store again. This time, they just took it back, and refunded my Visa. Not even store credit.

I’m glad I got the money back, because the day before, I had stumbled across a Logitech Cordless MX Duo at Costco. Similar to, but not identical to this. The keyboard seems really nice, standard layout. It has PS/2 adapters for both mouse and keyboard, perfect for plugging into my KVM switch. The keyboard is cordless, Bluetooth in fact, so I thought I would have to set aside my tinfoil-hat concerns. But it turns out that it actually supports encryption of the wireless link, with a randomly-generated key. So, I can live in that comfortable state of being paranoid, but still feeling secure. And, to top it all off, the Logitech package at Costco was $30 cheaper than the Microsoft one at Future Shop. Super sweet!

But all is not well in the world… oh no. Everthing kinda works… but there is a fly in this ointment. Most of the special keys don’t work. Some do, but many don’t. Furthermore, the iTouch configuration app doesn’t seem to know I even have these keys, so I can’t remap them. It also doesn’t know the keyboard is cordless. Many extra tabs that are supposed to be in the configuration dialog are not there.

From Logitech’s web-site, I picked up a hint that Logitech’s keyboards are not guaranteed to work through KVM switches for some reason. Testing the theory, I removed the KVM from the setup. Then everything worked like a charm. All the buttons worked, the dialog showed all the other tabs for cordless configuration (this is when I discovered that the keyboard supports encryption.) The only thing I couldn’t do was switch to the other computer by tapping Ctrl twice. I hoped I could then put the KVM switch back in, and have it continue to work, but no go.

I found this blog, with a lengthy discussion of the problems with Logitech keyboards and KVM switches. I get the impression that there are some other KVM switches out there that may be able to work for me. Perhaps USB-based switches. Investigation will continue. But I fear I may just have to abandon my KVM-switch dream.

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