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My Other Keyboard is a Mouse

By Silent Chris in Technology
Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:04:10 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

Microsoft makes a relatively unknown, huge monstrosity of hardware, that's actually kind of cool.  Moreover, it seems to have extra uses beyond the manufacturer's specifications.

After losing one too many games in WarCraft III (grumble, stupid kids who play all day, grumble), I decided to buckle down and get a Microsoft Sidewinder Strategic Commander.  Even with Microsoft's pictures and marketese, it's hard to accurately describe this thing.  Basically, it looks like a giant mouse permanently affixed to a stationary platform.

There are no less than eleven buttons and one switch on the Commander.  Three of the buttons and the switch act as modifiers for six main buttons, so you have 72 possible inputs.  These 72 commands can be programmed using "profiles" for an infinite number of permutations.  Add that the entire base can be pushed in all directions and tilted on a plane, and it's easy to get overwhelmed with the interface.  However, I submit that it's quite ingenious.

The Commander was originally designed for a very specific PC game type: strategy games.  Often during a PC strategy game, you'll find your left hand hunting key combinations to help bolster your play.  That's where the Commander comes in. You can program hotkeys and macros into it, and instead of your hand dancing across the keyboard, it stays put on the Commander.  One hand mouse, the other Commander.  Only your fingers move.

This original use works quite well.  However, many thought there could be more to the Commander.  First came other game types.  First-person shooters like the Quake and Unreal series, for example, worked well with multiple bindings.   Flight sims benefited from the built-in swivel and tilting.  

Then, people started realizing that the Commander could, with a little effort, replace the keyboard for all applications.  Why not configure some of the buttons to act as normal keyboard keys?

There are many downloadable profiles now available on the web that take advantage of this.  With 72 combinations, you're very close to a 101-key keyboard.  Changing profiles is a snap, so you can quickly get up to the 101 combinations necessary.  Some have made traditional profiles (letters in order of the buttons and qwerty), while others have played with more exotic and unconventional "keyboards".  All the time, one hand remains on your mouse, while the other on the Commander, typing.

After some time, you begin to notice that you were previously wasting a lot of energy.  Most people keep one hand on the mouse while browsing through today's GUI interfaces, while the other remains dormatn.  Occasionally, your primary hand comes off your mouse to work with the dormant hand on the keyboard, but this is relatively rare.  With something like the Commander, you can actually have both hands working simultaneously, one clicking and the other typing.

I admit this isn't easy at first.  I had to "train" my brain to fully type normally while working the mouse at the same time.  Once I got used to this, though, I found many of my daily computing tasks became effortless.  In a lot of ways, the Commander is similar to the "chord" devices that were demonstrated in early mouse films - a quick way to run common commands without resorting to the keyboard.  

There are some innovations to the traditional chord setup, however.  Namely, the fact that the second "keyboard" tilts on its own axis, and essentially acts as its own mouse, means you can have two hands controlling two different planes separately, along with entering keyboard commands, clicking the mouse buttons, scrolling the mouse wheel, etc.  If this sounds initially confusing, well... it is.  I liken it to relearning how to ride a bike or driving a car.  Imagine your car suddenly had two steering wheels, one for traditional steering and another to act as a modified accelerator?  Would the benefits outweigh the retraining costs?

One can argue that this can be taken too far.  "We're only using two hands?  What about our other appendages?  Certainly, our feet can be doing something!"  I agree.  However, in a computer world always going faster, it's nice to find dormant devices, like your other hand, that can be used in non-traditional ways.


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My Other Keyboard is a Mouse | 42 comments (34 topical, 8 editorial, 1 hidden)
OMG! We kuroded MSFT! (2.66 / 3) (#4)
by Ranieri on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:18:01 AM EST

An error occured while loading http://www.microsoft.com/products/hardware/sidewinder/devices/SComm/default.asp:
The process for the http://www.microsoft.com protocol died unexpectedly.
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
-1 Please don't advocate m$ products (en tea) (1.30 / 50) (#6)
by noogie on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:20:15 AM EST

Amazing... unanimous behaviour on kuro5hin. (1.87 / 8) (#22)
by Robby on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 03:21:12 AM EST

As it stands at the moment you comment is rated at 1.00 / 26: That means 26 people thought your comment to be so terrible they all gave it a 1.

I think thats amazing, and shows just how co-operative kuro5hing can be :)

Cool mouse too :) shold get one. but :

how does it cope with lefties?

[ Parent ]

Whatever. (none / 0) (#39)
by Arkayne on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:34:46 AM EST

I got a better idea - how about we investigate promising products and buy the ones that work best? You know - use our brains and form our own opinions? Remember that? Your across the board anti-MSism is as much of a knee-jerk, brainwashed tripe as the idiots who assume everything M$ does is on the level of Godhood. Do we have your permission to check out this product further? I swear.. I remember when people hated M$ for actual reasons - now it's just fashionable and it's urging me to buy nothing buy M$ to help Mr. Gates train his shocktroops to hunt these dogs down.

[ Parent ]
So... (2.20 / 5) (#8)
by Fon2d2 on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:40:05 AM EST

this is basically a joystick shaped like a mouse?
Or can it actually be set up as a keyboard device?

wait a minute (2.83 / 6) (#9)
by demi on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 11:45:15 AM EST

Isn't that thing just a MS ripoff of the Boomslang mouse and its variants? You should at least be aware of its existence I think.

And why is k5 so pitifully slow today?

strategic commander != mouse (n/t) (4.00 / 2) (#11)
by j1mmy on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 12:01:27 PM EST

[ Parent ]
sounds interesting (3.66 / 3) (#12)
by speek on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 12:10:55 PM EST

I've always wanted to be able to work that way - one hand on mouse, one on keyboard (I do it anyway quite a bit). But, when it comes to serious typing, like this post, or writing a letter, or coding, I usually go two handed typing. And, I can type around 80 words a minute that way.

So, I wonder how well this thing would work for me at such tasks. Coding is the biggest thing (since it's what I mostly do), and it's an odd mix of mouse and keyboard that this might be perfect. I may have to check it out.

I've always thought the feet could be doing something. Pedals for the ctrl/shift/alt keys would be neat. I'd even wager such things already exist.

what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck -

I remember seeing pedals on an old magazine (none / 0) (#27)
by Lion on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 09:56:03 AM EST

you could bind them to key combinations

it was a gaming mag from 96 IIRC.

[ Parent ]

pedals (none / 0) (#41)
by bpt on Tue Oct 08, 2002 at 10:36:56 AM EST

Foot Pedals; IIRC some companies also sell pedals
Lisp Users: Due to the holiday next Monday, there will be no garbage collection.
[ Parent ]
There are keyboard schemes for one hand typing (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by inerte on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 01:22:36 PM EST

One of them is made by Dvorak. A quick google search can bring lots of results on this.

1) Reply to this comment;
2) ????
3) Profit!

The Nostromos by Belkin (2.00 / 4) (#16)
by Ressev on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 04:02:14 PM EST

is better in my opinion.

"Even a wise man can learn from a fool."
"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." - Mark Twain
How so? (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by miller on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 02:44:50 PM EST

I assume you mean the Nostromo n50, rather than any of the other nostromo devices (plain game pads and mice).

The n50 looks like a good device, but the analogue control of the MS device should be superior in most situations to the digital d-pad of the n50 - because few people buy a PC to play Streetfighter. Also, the keys on the n50 aren't suited for chording (as used on the old Microwriter series) in their positioning, which makes the device less flexible. I can't see what makes the n50 so much better - care to tell me?

It's too bad I don't take drugs, I think it would be even better. -- Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

okay... (4.20 / 5) (#17)
by Burning Straw Man on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 04:43:23 PM EST

how many of these things are you trying to sell on ebay right now?
your straw man is on fire...
Actually (none / 0) (#18)
by Silent Chris on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 06:35:08 PM EST

I bought mine from eBay on the cheap. Good call, though. I haven't seen it in a regular store in ages.

[ Parent ]
so you are the one ... (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by glog on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 08:50:34 PM EST

... whose butt I kept kicking online in Warcraft III?

Err, (none / 0) (#38)
by Arkayne on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 12:28:36 AM EST

No, that would have been mine.

[ Parent ]
$20 rebate from Microsoft (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by jlinwood on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 01:56:11 AM EST

I might swing by Fry's and pick one of these up. Apparently, there is a $20 mail in rebate from MS. And pricegrabber shows them retailing for about 22-25 bucks.

RSI (4.60 / 5) (#23)
by crankie on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 05:02:07 AM EST

One of the major complaints regarding computer interfaces in general is the tendency to induce repetitive strain injury. Any thoughts on how the commander ranks on that particular metric?

"The great thing about hardcore socialists is the silence they emit once they start earning a decent wage." - tombuck
Hmm.. does it work on NonMicrosoft-OS? (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by andi on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 05:49:33 AM EST

Sounds nice but does it work on Linux, too?

Yes and no (4.50 / 2) (#26)
by Lemur on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 08:09:19 AM EST

According to http://www.qbik.ch/usb/devices/showdev.php?id=427 it looks like a joystick device, but the fancier features don't work (at least that's how I read it).

[ Parent ]
Other OSes support? (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by Palijn on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 07:42:51 AM EST

Okay, this device looks as good as possible.
Well, err, functionally speaking, sure! (So far I don't like this huge inflated black thing ...)

But as any hardware device, it may only become interesting when your computer is able to use it!

Does anyone know if this thing is supported by anything else than Windows? I mean, Mac , linux, BSD, etc...

Or know about any replacement device that is supported?

Not quite enough... (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by Silh on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 09:58:43 AM EST

I have one of these which was given to me when I bought a copy of Warcraft III from the store, and I can't see myself having much use for it. 72 possible buttons, and having to slide a switch to access them all is really annoying. Keeping my left hand centered on the keyboard (index finger on the j) lets me reach most everything I need without having to move too far. Back in the days when I played Quakeworld TF, I actually had all the bindable keys on the keyboard doing something, and while that was probably overkill, 72 would be a bit short. Maybe I'll warm to it if I give it more time, but so far I'm finding the keyboard to be better.

Belkin Nostromo-n50 (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by sleepyBrett on Wed Aug 21, 2002 at 07:25:52 PM EST

Having both a strategic commander and a Belkin Nostromo n50 I've got to recommend the nostromo for a number of reasons.

1. it stays put.  The strategic commander's base needs to be a couple of lbs. heavier or at the very least stickier.  I filled mine with molten lead.

2. its got a dpad instead of the whole .. sliding top.  Now of course i give up rotation but i really didnt miss it at all, besides warcraft3 only supports rotation for a short amount of time before it snaps back to its "gospel angle"

3. it doesnt feel as flimsy.  its just solid *shrug*

For the record I have gotten both of these products to work under OSX on my macs using Gamepad companion.
_ b

Sounds a little like (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by anonimouse on Thu Aug 22, 2002 at 08:21:15 AM EST

Microwriter type devices which had (IIRC) 5 or 6 keys instead of 101 on the keyboard.
Relationships and friendships are complex beasts. There's nothing wrong with doing things a little differently.
Half Keyboard & Trackball (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by repp on Thu Aug 22, 2002 at 03:42:36 PM EST

When I'm forced to use a GUI, nothing beats combining a trackball with this amazing little device. You get a full 101 key keyboard, but you only need to use one hand. It is hard to describe the sublime joy of zooming around a GUI, moving neither hand. CTS? No.

I still prefer having a full keyboard handy when I'm vimming, though. Using the half keyboard most of the time, and a regular keyboard when the editing gets hairy.

Can't this be emulated using a regular keyboard? (none / 0) (#42)
by rufiao on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 07:41:00 PM EST

Seems to be a cool idea. I wonder if there is a simple way to emulate this behaviour for a regular keyboard.

[ Parent ]
"it's nice to find dormant devices, like... (none / 0) (#33)
by azzl on Thu Aug 22, 2002 at 08:56:04 PM EST

...your other hand, that can be used in non-traditional ways"

Um, I have nothing useful to add. I just wanted to see that quote out of context and giggle for a bit.

Oh, ok I'll try to be relevant. Here is a comparison chart of chording keyboards. I've been curious about the BAT...anyone used it? Seems like it'd be a good complement to a Logitech Trackman Marble. Moving your wrists is for suckers.

Heh...that sentence makes me giggle too.

D'oh (none / 0) (#34)
by azzl on Thu Aug 22, 2002 at 08:59:59 PM EST

There's actually only one chorded kb on that chart =)

Here's another one...

[ Parent ]
interface? (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by guyjin on Fri Aug 23, 2002 at 03:47:41 PM EST

what interface does it use? ps/2 keyboard passthrough? joystick port? usb? what?
-- 散弾銃でおうがいして ください
I got one.. (none / 0) (#36)
by dadragon on Fri Aug 23, 2002 at 03:52:31 PM EST

Free with Warcraft III at Futureshop.  It's USB only, and apparently it doesn't work on the Mac.

[ Parent ]
What about... (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by DeadBaby on Tue Aug 27, 2002 at 07:12:08 AM EST

The pictures aren't that good -- does it have a set of buttons in a direction format (+) for use in FPS games? I really would like to see this type of thing catch on for FPS gaming.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
Game Commander (none / 0) (#40)
by Delta445 on Sat Sep 28, 2002 at 08:33:15 PM EST

Yeah, my friend bought a game commander awhile back. I must say, it felt kinda akward at first, and he doesn't use it much; but it's a very good idea...even coming from Microsoft ;)
My Other Keyboard is a Mouse | 42 comments (34 topical, 8 editorial, 1 hidden)
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