Heading into its first holiday selling season for Windows 8, Microsoft is prepping a number of exciting hardware-related advances too. Key among these are new mice and keyboards for those Windows 8 users who will experience this new OS on their existing PCs. And what you’ll see in this collection are mice with touch capabilities and keyboards with Windows 8-specific keys.

The only question is whether any of these devices are ergonomically safe, and this is kind of a pet peeve for me. As a former sufferer of repetitive stress pain, I’m critical of the ergonomically challenged mice and keyboards most companies put out these days. For me, large, semi-ergonomic keyboards like the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and large pointing devices like the Microsoft Explorer Mouse are simply healthier, and have allowed me to continue working long hours without damaging my wrists.

Most of Microsoft’s mouse and keyboard products are not like these, however. And none—absolutely none—of the mice and keyboards that Microsoft designed specifically for Windows 8 are even remotely ergonomic. This worries me, though I also have to remind myself that what Microsoft is aiming for, especially with the mice and keyboards I’ll be discussing in these articles, is a more mobile computing lifestyle than I typically lead. They’re also aimed at more normally sized people, perhaps. With my gorilla-sized mitts, I am perhaps a bit skewed, physically, to represent the norm.

With this in mind, and a week-long trip to New Zealand to drag me away from the comfortable confines of my beloved desktop-based mouse and keyboard, I’ve decided to live life on the wild side, at least from a hardware peripheral standpoint. And if my wrists protest too much, well, I’ll be home next week. Let’s see how these new devices stack up.

(Be sure to check out Photo Gallery: Microsoft’s New Mice and Keyboards for Windows 8 for some shots of these new devices.) 

Software

Before diving into the hardware, however, I would like to mention an excellent new software utility that Microsoft provides for its mice and keyboards called Mouse and Keyboard Center. It’s currently in beta, and runs on both Windows 7 and Windows 8. But this software is leagues better than the old school IntelliPoint and IntelliType software that Microsoft has historically provided for its peripherals, and it provides a single, central location for managing all of your Microsoft mice and keyboards.

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Designed in a Metro style, Mouse and Keyboard Center is nonetheless a standard desktop application. It provides nicely fine-grained control over all of the capabilities of your devices, so you can easily configure exactly what each special feature does. This can be simple stuff like configuring what the middle button on a mouse does, or more profound, such as configuring touch gestures or creating application-specific commands.

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Long story short, if you’re going to use any of these new devices, or any previous Microsoft mouse or keyboard, especially with Windows 8, be sure to grab Mouse and Keyboard Center. This is clearly the future, and it works quite well.

OK, next up: The Wedge Touch Mouse