Behold the customizable keyboard

Posted by: Digital Geek

Behold the customizable keyboard - 06/26/05 05:41 AM

Game fans like to gripe about the standard QWERTY keyboard layout. Everyone's hands are sized differently, after all, and every player has a distinct way of darting around the keys to dodge a demon or win a fleet match of shoot and retreat.

It's no surprise, then, that it was a game enthusiast who first conceived of the DX1 Input System, an innovative configuration of movable "smart" keys that can be assigned macros, or keyword combinations, to accomplish tasks such as implementing game cheats or executing software commands. Customizing the keys' layout to your preferences and work style, the theory goes, improves efficiency and saves time--whether you're piloting a flight simulation or flitting around a spreadsheet.

"These keys are like blank tapes," said Pankaj Garg, a software architect at Mountain View, Calif.-based Ergodex, which developed the product. "You can make them whatever you want them to be."

You can, for example, assign the keys sets of macros for complex and repetitive software commands in any application that uses a keyboard for input. That includes video editing, word processing and graphics packages, as well as games, e-mail programs and Web browsers. What's more, you can easily juggle from macros in one application to macros in another. Toggle between Photoshop, Excel and "Counter-Strike," for example, and the Ergodex DX1 software automatically shifts the keys' profiles as you go.

Mitchell Freeman uses the DX1 for formatting and organizing Office applications. But the avid player of massive multiplayer online games is most jazzed about how the flexibility of the customized key layout helps him escape tight spots in "EverQuest" and "World of Warcraft."

"All of the sudden, you're in a very bad place with no (money) and no spell, and you're about to get chewed on...the pad helps that go away," said Freeman, a part-time software developer in San Jose, Calif. With the DX1, "I am playing more efficiently. I'm still gonna die when I do something stupid, but it's really helped me be a more efficient gamer."

The Ergodex keys, which contain microchips from various suppliers, communicate wirelessly to a base measuring 9.5 inches by 6.5 inches that connects to the computer via USB cable. The pad sports two buttons: One brings up the software, and the second allows macros to be assigned to the DX1 keys.

An adhesive substance keeps the keys firmly attached to the pad, which comes with a clear plastic overlay that users can place over game- or other application-related skins.

To identify their keys, users get labels preprinted with common keyboard symbols such as letters and functions keys and less-common icons like chess pieces, grenades and pistols. If 25 keys aren't enough to navigate a particular application, keys numbered 26 to 50 can be purchased separately, giving users up to 50 configurable keys for any one setup.
"You have total flexibility and control," Ergodex CEO Larry Kelly said. "This is an infinitely configurable input device."

The system, which sells for $149.95 on the Ergodex site, started shipping in March. It will soon be available through resellers such as online retail gear seller ThinkGeek and game PC maker Falcon Northwest.

The Ergodex DX1 software is compatible with Windows 2000 and Windows XP, and there are plans to make it available for Apple's OS X and Linux, Kelly said.

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