Why are Microsoft Keyboards so damn annoying?

Buying and using a computer keyboard from Microsoft is very annoying, based on what we’ve heard from Office Watch readers.  Choosing a Microsoft keyboard is harder than necessary and finding help, even harder.  Microsoft’s keyboard range is especially bad for not properly explaining all the features of the products, apparently as a deliberate corporate strategy.

Our review of the Microsoft Bluetooth Keyboard got a lot more feedback than we expected.   Some passing remarks got a flurry of agreement from Office Watch readers.

  • No proper manual to explain extra keyboard or mouse features.
  • No desk space in Microsoft Stores to try their keyboards or mice.

Microsoft keyboards are nice products. Their ergonomic keyboards are especially popular with people suffering from RSI and other typing troubles.

The excellent design and build are let down by astonishingly bad documentation that only focuses on the newest bit that Microsoft wants to boast about.  Many of the useful function keys are left unexplained.

Lack of Help

A LOT of complaints about the lack of basic instructions, especially with Microsoft keyboards.

“How I‘m supposed to know what all those icons mean?  Mental telepathy? “   – Charles K, Melbourne

Microsoft keyboards lack proper documentation.  The paper brochure in the box is little help but there’s little more online either.

If you thought there would be a PDF instruction manual, you’d be disappointed.

We looked at several current Microsoft keyboard models and there’s no complete, straightforward help. A typical example is the Microsoft All in One Media Keyboard (the one with a trackpad)

There are online resources (click Download) but they are little help.

Limited Warranty – why is the least important document (for customers) listed first?

Product Guide looks promising but it’s a misleading name. The ‘Product Guide’ is just the legal notices and required safety warnings in many different languages.  In this case, 97 pages of legalese!

Quick Start Guide, a mere eleven pages for four languages.  It’s mostly about the trackpad and buttons above it.  No mention, let alone explanation, of the function keys.

In other words, what little documentation there is, is limited to anything unique to that product. More time and trouble spent covering Microsoft’s legal liability than helping paying customers.

The Microsoft Keyboard and Mouse Center software is touted as a help for Microsoft’s products but it has the same narrow focus as the documentation.

What Microsoft could do

Let’s look at a Logitech keyboard, as a comparison and to show what’s possible with a little corporate effort.  Their Illuminated Living-Room Keyboard K830 also has a trackpad and Windows key.

Go to that keyboards support page and right away there’s the help you need.  The ‘Setup Guide’ is more than that, it’s the sort of comprehensive guide that Microsoft products lack. In particular, page seven is devoted to explaining each Function key.

No special mental or intuitive powers are expected of Logitech customers!


Microsoft’s excuse is that key labels are ‘intuitive’.  In other words, Microsoft expects customers to know what each means.  Charles wasn’t wrong when he talked about ‘mental telepathy’.

Some special keys might be common and well-known like the Play/Pause or Volume controls.

Other keys can be a head-scratcher even for experienced Windows users.

Ideally, the key label matches the icon in Windows but that doesn’t always happen.  Windows sometimes changes the icon so the physical and on-screen versions get out of sync.


The cost of making a proper guide for each keyboard would be tiny, by Microsoft’s standards.  It’s not a problem of cost or lack of skills. Microsoft’s traditional disdain for documentation, especially for hardware products.

Try before you buy

Our passing comment on the lack of demonstration keyboards in Microsoft Stores and other retailers also struck a chord.

“Why do retailers think I’ll spend $50 or even over $100 on an expensive keyboard without trying it first?  Like you said, keyboards are personal, you need to try it.  Microsoft Stores are just one example where it’s almost impossible to ‘try before you buy’ “   Jimmy H, Los Angeles.

Most likely, Microsoft Stores focus on the higher margin Surface devices and push the somewhat boring keyboard, mouse and accessory products to the side.  Setting aside a desk with keyboards and mice to try out would probably sell more of the accessories but Microsoft want to push their Surface products as much as possible.

There are plenty of keyboards and mice available in Microsoft Stores. Push past the opening displays of Surface computers and other distractions, beyond that somewhere are the accessories.  They are up on shelves in boxes, usually spread across multiple shelves in different places on the shop floor.

Ask a Microsoft Store staffer to unbox a keyboard to try.  That should be possible, but customers should not have to ask.  Maybe if enough customers ask, Microsoft might take the hint?