Microsoft Killed My Favorite Keyboard, And I’m Mad About It

As a professional writer, I rack up thousands of words a day. Too many in fact, to the point where it hurts my brain. To ease this burden, I choose my tools carefully to minimize obstructions as the words pour from my mind, spilling through my fingers on their way to the screen.

That’s a long-winded way of saying I’m pretty persnickety about my keyboard. Now, I’ve found out my favorite model has been discontinued, and I’ll never again know the pleasure of typing on its delicate keys. And I’m mad about it. Real mad. Because I shouldn’t be in this position to begin with!

T’is Better To Have Loved And Lost

I liked how the Sculpt design allowed my hands to lay naturally in line with my arms, with no splaying of the wrists.

After some research and a little trial and error, I found a keyboard that worked for me. I detest rectangular keyboards that forced my wrists into splay inwards in an unnatural way. It gave me all kinds of problems approaching the realms of RSI and carpal tunnel and other ugly things.

In turn, I came to love the delicate curves of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Wireless, sleek, beguiling. With the keys laid out in delicate three-dimensional curves, the keyboard met my hands in their natural resting orientation, so perfectly I felt the keyboard had been made for me.

No more would my hands cramp and my wrists contort to find the keys. Instead, my fingers would simply dance a few millimeters, deftly finding the keys as I needed them. My typing was fast, clean, and my wrists barely moved an inch. They rested deftly in position ready to deliver. Oh, bliss.

Loving this keyboard as I did, I forgave it when it faltered just 6 months into ownership. Dropped keys and dropped connections I could not withstand, but I had the salve at hand. I’d kept the receipt like some paper-hoarding dragon, and returned to darken the door of the office supply once more. I suffered the side-eyes and probing questions and left with a new ‘board fresh in box. Our love affair would continue as I racked up tens, hundreds of thousands of words with my new ally. We wrote together, we gamed together, we moved house together. We were building a life together. My plastic friend was helping me pay my bills. Nothing could stop us. The words flowed and the cash flowed in turn. Such is the life of a writer.

Then came the break in.

Every computer I owned was stolen. Most of my guitars, too. Years of data, videos, photos, projects… all gone when they carried my desktop out the door. They hadn’t taken everything though. They’d left behind my TV, my kettle, my toaster. Oh, and my Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Mouse, keyboard, and even the separate numeric keypad. It was all there, except…

With the desktop, left the dongle. Sans the dongle, my friend was dead.


Talk to Logitech. They’ll sell you a keyboard, or a mouse, or fifteen of each. Swap them in and out as you like, you can pair them all to a single Unifying Receiver. Lose the dongle, and fear nothing. Just buy another one and re-pair your devices.

Microsoft couldn’t find the time to implement this on the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Fashionable engineers with houses with light fixtures more expensive than my car were too busy to think of the consequences this would have on me, so many years and miles far removed.

I tried a mechanical keyboard, but the rectangular layout just wasn’t for me. Neither were the switches, and I didn’t fancy spending months trying to find what I liked.

In the wake of the robbery, I didn’t have time to mourn or weep. To a writer, time is words and words are money. I needed money. I threw a cheap machine on my credit card and got back to work. Now lean on funds, I had to economize on a new keyboard. I couldn’t afford another Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. I had to make do with a $30 keyboard and mouse combo made of cheaper plastic than most Coke bottles. My new instrument was cheap. The same 101 keys, but the music they played wasn’t as sweet.

I rankled at having to buy a replacement. I still had a perfectly good keyboard right here, why did I need to buy a new one when only the dongle was missing? But alas, these are the ways of the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop—the mouse, the keyboard, and the numeric keypad. One dongle to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

After 18 months, I relented. I could go on no more. Words had to flow, faster than before. I couldn’t rely on this cheap plastic from the store. I needed a better keyboard, my muse. I needed a faster way to pump out the news.

By now, the world had turned. The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop was done, dusted. Discontinued forever. Mine was useless without the original dongle, and remaining stock online was retailing for $800. I’d have to move on.

Better, Somehow

It’s not as radical looking as the Microsoft design, but the fundamentals are there.

Thankfully, a blessed light shined from a local office store. Something akin to the glory of the Sculpt, but so slightly different. The Logitech Ergo K860 was designed with similar curves such that the keys meet the hand with a minimum of twist, with a supportive wrist pad to boot. It similarly had low-travel keys for a light, laptop-like typing experience. I tried it out and found it instantly familiar. My speed was up, mistakes down. My wrists once again enjoying the comfort courtesy of a quality keyboard.

Perhaps the greatest joy of the Logitech design, though, is that it dispenses with the ridiculous notion of a dongle paired for life. Instead, it’s more than capable of being paired with any Logitech Unifying Receiver out there. I can pair a mouse and a keyboard to a single receiver, using a single USB port, and if I want to swap either out, I can do so freely. There’s no lock-in, and I’m free to set up my desktop as I wish. If someone were to steal my computer again, I could simply buy a new dongle and keep on using my perfectly good keyboard the next day.

The Logitech has similarly magic curves.

As an engineer, I can perhaps understand why Microsoft didn’t go this route. Logitech had to develop a piece of software for pairing its dongles and peripherals, which takes engineering time. That software needs to be written, tested, and likely maintained over time to ensure it stays compatible with today’s ever-changing operating systems. Microsoft perhaps didn’t see the point in doing so.

At the same time, this is what separates Logitech from Microsoft in this regard. One is a dedicated manufacturer of quality peripherals to the exclusion of all else. The other does build hardware, but as a secondary consideration, seldom achieving the same focus as its rivals.

I still have my useless Microsoft Sculpt keyboard. DIY wired conversions exist. I wanna say that I’ll do that one day, but for a use with a laptop, it’s kinda too messy. Plus I always kinda hated how the wrist rest always looked dirty. Nevermind.

Ultimately, I’m happy that Logitech came through for me here. I needed a quality keyboard that fit me like a glove, and I have one once more. Plus, I don’t have to worry about the loss of a tiny USB dongle making my $200 keyboard worthless. That’s a plus. Overall, I’m about hardware that’s robust and reusable, not fickle and fragile. That’s what matters to me.



62 thoughts on “Microsoft Killed My Favorite Keyboard, And I’m Mad About It

  1. Now that you have a suitable replacement, I would suggest starting to set aside money to buy at least one more – perhaps two or three – and find some way of storing the spare(s) securely offsite. When both your living and your continued health require specific items which may be hard to replace in the future, it’s best to get replacements ASAP to help you recover from the next disaster.

    1. I have a late version IBM Model M (with the “Windows key”), and two more in a sealed box… It’s not my primary keyboard because my Microsoft keyboard have multimedia keys and I am not willing to commit sacrilege and hack the Model M to put multimedia keys on it.

      The Model M have almost 20 years, was my primary keyboard for longer than a decade, and does not show any sign of age…

      1. Same same, I hoarded Model M’s when I had the chance; and their distant, younger cousin, the Unicomp.

        Never in my lifetime, save for burglary, will I need to forgo the siren song of the buckling spring

        On another note, perhaps a cloud backup solution is in your future :-)

        On a second note, I think I have the opposite problem, I’ve got a whole box of dongles for who know’s what, none of them are marked.

      2. I have quite a few expensive mechanical keyboards, various brands, various colored “clicky” tactile switches. Most of them have cool lighting and/or macro keys or other neat features. And yet my hands down (bad pun) favorites continue to be my [modern] Unicomp Model-M style buckling spring keyboards. No other mechanical switch I have tried can compare to the clack and feel of the buckling spring. Despite the lack of good rollover, I can type considerably faster and more accurately on the Unicomps. Just wish they would move into the current century with some backlighting and macro keys.
        I have 2 of the Microsoft ergo keyboards (with dongles) and both have sticky shift keys. Despite much careful disassembly and cleaning I cannot get them to stop sticking. But I prefer the Unicomps anyway.

        1. That’s what I do on my beloved Mexican-made Model M (1990) – I use PowerToys to remap a few keys on my Windows machine and Bob’s Your Uncle. I’ll take this keyboard to my grave :)

    2. I personally like that ergonomic keyboard so much, and learned so much from previous experiences ;), that I now have 4 of them. 1 for work, 1 for home and 2 spares. But, I did buy them 2nd hand. The price was ridiculously high, to be honest, the mouse actually f*’s up my wrist, and the numeric keypad was kind of bullshit. Who uses a numeric keypad? But I’ve always had to pay for the extra’s, I have never seen them sold separately. Surely because of the dongle, every set is paired with one specific dongle.

      “Plus I always kinda hated how the wrist rest always looked dirty. Nevermind.”

      Yes, after the price, this is my other main gripe.

      My 3rd gripe is that the keyboard simply is low-quality in general. I have had 2 that suddenly just stopped working. Couldn’t get them to work anymore. 99 euro down the drain, and have to throw away a perfectly working mouse and numeric keyboard.

      I didn’t know about the Logitech keyboard, but I’m going to give it a try. I depend on these keyboards, rectangular keyboards make my RSI flare up within 5 minutes. And as software developer, that’s kind of disabilitating. :)

      My end-review of this keyboard: It’s a great keyboard, a lifesaver for anyone with RSI. It types great, I love te keys. But the quality is low, and Microsoft has been driving up the price by including the numeric keyboard and mouse. Consequently, I feel that I cannot do without this keyboard, but also feel that Microsoft was taking advantage of me.

      1. Most split ergo keyboards are either wildly expensive, or awful quality.

        After wearing holes through the palm rests of my favorite board and patching it with molten plastic, more than once, I finally wore through the W and A keycaps.

        A new board was begrudgingly purchased.
        Then the diy keyboard scene started.

        Now? I’d simply build one.
        Likely for less than a “good” one costs.
        And I’d gr to add whatever hardware macro keys, knobs, and anything else I want while I’m at it.

    3. You can actually get the original off eBay used, with dongle, for around $70, and then pick up a couple ones without a dongle there for $15-$20 to use for spare parts in the future.

      It’s what I’ve had to resort to for me Lenovo N5902 mini keyboard that they discontinued, as it is still by far the best keyboard for living room computing for me. I’ve killed several keys (the membrane switches) on mine at least half a dozen times now beyond the point of repair – they REALLY weren’t meant for writing 10+ page papers or endless pages of code. So, now I have a large stack of ones from eBay sold without the dongle for next to nothing, and I can basically disassemble/reassemble them in my sleep at this point. When the membrane board inside gets messed up, I have plenty of spares.

  2. I share your pain, I was also a victim of Microsoft’s laziness, I had a keyboard and mouse kit that I loved and took very good care of, almost paternally. The dongle was gone and all that was left was the frustration of having to discard 95% of the hardware because of a simple Usb receiver. I found comfort in Dell, they have excellent solutions and they are all compatible with Bluetooth.

  3. I too fell in love with the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard, but never understood Microsoft’s incoherent decision to bind the peripherals to one, and only one, receiver. The day I lost the dongle, was the day that I swore off any future keyboards and mice from Redmond.

    1. I know, right? I get preferring something due to comfort, but some people really love input devices. I think the author should take the plunge and build a custom keyboard exactly the way they want it. If something breaks or goes missing, repair, replace.

  4. They killed the simple Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse. I love that mouse. Pure genius. The small vibration motor inside. So nice.

    I’m with you with the keyboard, too. I had a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 until some coffee separated our ways… It was great, and they didn’t sell them at when “the incident” happened. So sad.

    I do not understand why they discontinue their range of popular mice, keyboards, and PC accessories. Why can’t they make it stylish? Add colorful keyboards, not only the dull black stuff. Can I get a rainbow, please?

    Make it into collector items!

  5. First, sorry about your losses. That sux.

    Second – Dude! – what website are you writing for? What do the denizens of that website do? Do that! Hack your Microsoft keyboard to make it live again. :-)

    Here’s a starting point:

    And if you don’t want to do that, look at the last pic on that website. Microsoft used a NRF24LE1. This is a NRF24L01+ radio + a 8051 core, easily programmable and with great C support using the SDCC compiler. A little programming elbow grease and you could role your own interface with a dongle easily made from something like a Teensy (HID USB!) and NRF24L01 clone chip.

    1. Also I notice from the photos that the original circuit board comes with a handy array of test points for all of the ribbon cable pins, so fabricating that little adapter PCB isn’t totally necessary. It would be very easy to saw off that part of the board, solder to the pads, and have an adapter to whatever Teensy or ESP you want.
      I would want to go that way and use an existing library instead of trying to reprogram the original to talk to something else, but that’s just personal preference.

  6. I find plenty of these on ebay. One is around ninety dollars, includes the dongle. Just get a used one, maybe two. Then you can begin to add your DNA to the wrist pad all over again.

    Also, if there are wired conversions out there, then bluetooth conversions are certainly possible… Keep the keyboard anyway, you might resurrect it. I’ve converted plenty of ancient keyboards to modern wireless or wired devices—at first it seems a lot more intimidating than it actually is. All the wiring is already there, you just need to map the rows and columns and cram in a microcontroller board with HID support and the form of connectivity you desire. The libraries are already written many times over.

  7. This is hackaday, isn’t it? Home of keebin with kristina, endless homebrew keyboards, and a community of people with experience that would support you resurrecting your fallen board? Stop complaining, get hacking.

  8. Weird how similar this is to my experience with the same keyboard. My dongle broke rather than being stolen, but like the author came to find that they are permanently paired and the dongle cannot be replaced. Had to throw the whole keyboard out. Stupid.

    1. The microcontroller can be replaced or fooled into thinking it’s talking to the right dongle. The only limiting factor is knowledge. Luckily the internet is still around and you can learn anything for free if you try.

  9. I hate to reinforce your pain, but you’ve GOT to have off-site backups. I’m a full-time RVer, and this place is less secure than an apartment. I’ve got a big ol’ Synology DS1522+ NAS tucked in a cabinet, but I back it up (important stuff, not media like Movies and TV, but definitely all documents, articles, 30 years of PHOTOS from a lifetime) to a Hertzner Storage Box. (It’s about the cheapest offline storage there is!) I don’t have Internet every day (imagine that!) or fat bandwidth, unless using my Starlink, but… it runs if it can. And the laptops (me, wife) backup to the NAS so it gets included. I went FOUR years without this, and EVERY day I was scared as hell. In fact, my original NAS was a Drobo 5N, and I was getting very concerned about its remaining lifetime. The amount of pressure off my mind now is amazing.

    Anyone reading this … do it now, stop procrastinating. I got lucky.

    1. I thought off site backups was a no brainer. There is a lot of ‘what ifs’ out there…. Fire, crime, etc. Always keep an offsite backup. Don’t procrastinate…. And do periodic backups as well of course. As you say, your worry level goes way way down.

      As for keyboards, I am just glad Logitech has ergonomic keyboards still. It is a ‘must’ for me as early in my programming career I was getting sore wrists… Until I found M$ ergo keyboards, and now Logitechs.

      1. if you don’t have offsite backups, that means your data is not important and you don’t mind losing it, period.

        And I agree with many of the other posts – this is HaD, I assumed the article was going to conclude with a hack to get the original keyboard working..

  10. That Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard is excellent.

    I loved it.

    Square keyboards do not match the human form, I mean jump on the air, throw your arms up then bring them down to a 90 degree angle, your hands natural positions match that of the scuplt.

  11. I have a Sculpt keyboard, mouse, keypad combo at home and at work. It definitely made a substantial difference in wrist pain when i was coding daily.

    I knew the Sculpt was discontinued, but I didn’t know my treasured hardware was also under threat of death by dongle-lock. Thanks a lot for the impending sleep loss.

    It’s good to know that suitable replacement peripherals exist.

  12. The K860 is not limited to logitech’s unifying receivers. It also supports bluetooth which means no dongle worries. And you can pair it to three devices and switch at will, which means you can pair it to your phone or tablet too.

    Major downside is the lack of ten-key-less version, and lack of pointing device in the middle of the keyboard while there’s plebty of space there! It means I have to reach out to the mouse which is pretry far away due to the numpad.

  13. I’ve been in that boat with my Sculpt keyboard. I mourned the loss of the dongle for a month and swore vengeance against Microsoft. I had the Logitech Ergo also but it didn’t fit as well in my cheapo standing desk alternative.

    Anyway about a month later the dongle turned back up and I happily began using my Sculpt again. I’m sure I’ll hate Microsoft again when I lose it again later.

      1. Seriously. I haven’t checked, but an rtl dongle might be enough to record some handshakes. Anyone know the frequencies involved? If I remember correctly, the rtl doesn’t do above 1ghz or so. At least not out of the box.

  14. It seemed MS was ahead of the curve 20+ years ago with the ergonomic keyboards. I had and went through 2 Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite’s – I broke the PCB slamming on it and and MS warrantied it and shipped a new one. I was able to repair the old one by bridging the broken pcb with solder and wire, and it lasted 20 years before I sadly had to retire it. I even asked work for a ergonomic wireless version at work, which ended up being Logitech wave keyboards, which are not bad but just not the same.

    Regular cleanings were pretty much an exact science, remove the screws and wash the membrane and keys and let dry and reassemble for a new keyboard look and feel.

  15. Funny you should mention the Logitech pairing tool. They really don’t want you to find it. Even though it is hosted on the Logitech website and some arcane search engine fu will get you there. I still feel I should be backing it up to or something. They are trying to shovel you into an ‘ecosystem’ with their curated ‘hub’ app. No. Thank. You. I already quit Razer when I needed an online account in 200MB app to set my RGB and DPI. And I have to run nvcleaninstall and Radeon software slimmer to get bloat free graphics drivers.

    I am curious if the dongle can be reverse engineered to your old board. And I’d almost suggest putting a couple of the Logitech KB in storage for a rainy day.

  16. Appreciate this post a lot – mostly because I was looking at that Logitech as an alternative for when my Sculpt eventually dies but I wasn’t 100% sure, knowing someone’s trodden the path ahead of me gives me confidence.

    The sculpt is a weird one, I’ve used MS natural keyboards since the late 90s, and this one took me time to get used to, but I just haven’t seen anything I’d deem “better”. There’s a few Alice mechanicals around but all of them seem to be compromised in some way, and it’s hard to justify the cost when I do like the low travel keys etc. of the sculpt. I received a Keychon Q5 as a gift and there is zero dobut about it being a better quality piece of kit than the Sculpt, but I can’t say I prefer typing on it.

    Also as someone who reguarly solders in the space where my keyboard goes, the light weight wireless Sculpt moves aside far more easily than the 2.4kg wired Q5.

    1. I’ve looked at that same Logitech too (hate the stupid MS paired dongle, and it was so chonky I was always worried I’d break it or my USB port) but for me it was a pass because of the number pad — ergo + number pad means it’s too wide to fit in a normal keyboard tray. So I ended up building myself a wireless split ergo (sadly it’s collecting dust because I made it out of cardboard and it hasn’t held up to wear — just need to sit down and design a file for my friend to cut out of new cardboard so I can test some adjustments to my design, then send it off to JLCPCB if the adjusted design works! But right now it’s spring planting season, and the seedlings won’t wait like the keyboard will.)

  17. Instead, it’s more than capable of being paired with any Logitech Unifying Receiver out there. I can pair a mouse and a keyboard to a single receiver, using a single USB port, and if I want to swap either out, I can do so freely. There’s no lock-in, and I’m free to set up my desktop as I wish.

    That is really nice, but I really wish Logitech had used a standard Bluetooth connection instead of their Unifying Receiver.

  18. No doubt everyone knows that Microsoft didn’t actually make those keyboards, so onward… It’s not 1986. Dongle? Are you cereal? Dongle that can’t be replaced? Are you super sugary cereal? I feel the pain of sufferers of Elfin Wrist Syndrome (EWS), metaphorically. When you lead with a paragraph about your identity as a writer maybe the robbery was the universe’s way of telling you to ease off a little.

    There’s a video on youtube, “Write-O-Caine Blues” by Blind Horton Keywaggler. I’ll nutshell it for you: if you can’t afford a $200 keyboard, maybe the writing game is not where you should be concentrating your efforts.

  19. I know you’re hamming it up a bit, but now I find myself wanting to defend rectangles. I have briefly used many other people’s weird swoopy broken-in-half-and-glued-together “ergonomic” keyboards. It’s always a pain to figure out how I’m supposed to position myself to use the thing, if there even is a position that works for me. It means breaking proper typing procedure, but I feel less total strain from letting my wrists move instead of trying to stretch my fingers out to reach keys in an uncomfortable way. The worst a rectangular board does for me is if it’s a small laptop board with flat keys that are hard to feel; a regular full size board doesn’t cramp my hands as much and having farther to reach doesn’t matter since I’m not straining to reach anyway.

      1. I wonder if it’s more from having taught myself to type as a kid when the keyboards were huge compared to my hands, or maybe it’s more of a case of everyone having different hands. (E.G. It’d be funny if it turned out that the Palmaris longus muscle that only some people have has something to do with typing).

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