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Originally published September 14, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 14, 2006 at 9:14 AM

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Microsoft shines light on new keyboards, mice

Microsoft's newest keyboards are acting more like remote controls. Models touted Wednesday are an inch thick and boast backlit keys for...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft's newest keyboards are acting more like remote controls.

Models touted Wednesday are an inch thick and boast backlit keys for ease of use in a darkened room; a button that launches Windows Media Center for movies, music and other content; media controls; and a wireless connection that works from 30 feet away.

"We think more people are going to entertain using this thing in their living room for media experience," said Matt Barlow, the marketing and business-development director of Microsoft's PC Hardware Division.

The company's hardware group demonstrated a dozen other new and refreshed products for an audience of journalists from around the world.

In addition to the keyboards, Microsoft showed mice designed for business travelers with built-in laser pointers and remote presentation controls, and new ergonomic mice designed to feel like a baseball in the hand.

The keyboards take their design cues from Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista, due out in January.

The $250 top-end model features high-contrast brushed-aluminum trim and translucent materials that let users see through parts of the product — all elements contained in an industrial-design kit that Microsoft is circulating to computer manufacturers to guide the appearance of machines that will run Vista.

Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a San Jose, Calif., market-research firm, said the keyboards, due out in February, are among Microsoft's most interesting recent products.

Barlow said keyboard designers adhered closely to design guidelines and that some former hardware-group employees had helped craft them. (Down the hall from the hardware presentation Wednesday, Microsoft was hosting executives from computer manufacturers.)

Some of the new keyboards also have a Vista button, similar to the "start" key on current PC keyboards, that launches a menu of shortcuts, including a search box.

The compatibility with Vista continues the hardware group's longtime strategy of building devices that complement its software. The original Microsoft mouse was built to help people use Microsoft Word. Later, scroll wheels on mice were designed for easier navigation of Office documents. More recently, the company has moved into webcams and headsets with one-touch call buttons that launch its instant-messenger program.

Enderle said that strategy serves two purposes.

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"It's a way to assure that there is hardware that actually supports some of the software features you're deploying," he said. "It also helps Microsoft understand what it can and can't do with software."

Microsoft added to its webcam line Wednesday with the announcement of a smaller version for laptop computers. It also announced a wireless Xbox 360 controller that will work on Windows PCs and the game console.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

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