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Name: X-Keys Desktop
Company: PI Engineering
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SLCentralHardwareReviewsPeripherals Jun 4th, 2020 - 4:20 PM EST
PI Engineering X-Keys Desktop
Author: Drew Lanclos
Date Posted: August 7th, 2001
Rating: 9/10 SystemLogistics

Productivity Applications

Another application I tested the X-Keys functionality with was general office use. I plugged it into my desk computer at my support office, and programmed it with a couple of general keyboard macros I used a lot, plus some text-based problem resolutions I used frequently. For instance, one of the messages I use frequently is a 697-character e-mail response which notifies clients that they need to come by our office to pick up some software. Previously, I kept this in a text document on my desktop that I just opened, copied to the clipboard, and pasted into an e-mail. With the X-Keys, however, I was able to program the *entire* message into one key! I quickly loaded nine messages of similar use into the X-Keys, and the X-Keys rapidly began to save me time.

You might run into a limitation if you take too much advantage of this feature, of course. The approximated capacity of the memory storage of the X-Keys is 1000 keypresses. It's approximated because certain key combinations and strokes require several bytes to store, and thus they might take more room. The memory is drawn from the pool as needed, so you can have a 900-keypress message stored in one key and the other keys will remain useable, although with only a few keypresses each. While this memory capacity probably won't be breached by most users, the X-Keys Pro uses the same memory chip, which means that its 56 keys will be fighting over the same keypress memory. Still, for 99.9% of the users of this device, it won't ever be a problem.

I also concocted another useful application of this device, which, given a little tweaking by PI Engineering, could possibly pave the way for a new level of computer security for end-users. For a little background on this situation, let me elaborate a bit. I have two PCs in my office, but little desk space for both. Since one of my PCs is ancient (A P-120 without USB), I can't use my current key/mouse switching device with it, and my department won't supply me with another PC to replace it, nor will they obtain another switch for me. So, in order to use one keyboard and mouse, I use a buggy but useful shareware program called "NinjaSwitcher", which allows you to control a second PC over a TCP/IP network. I can do everything I need to with NinjaSwitcher *except* for logging in to Windows NT, since NinjaSwitcher isn't loaded yet. So, I have to keep the second PC's keyboard handy *just* so that I can log in every morning.

Since my office environment isn't meant to be terribly secure, I programmed in a couple of my username/tab/password combinations into the X-Keys so that I could simplify this process. I also set up one key to perform Ctrl-Alt-Delete so that I could easily log in when I sit down. This functionality has greatly simplified my particular configuration, since I can now effectively get rid of the second keyboard. If NinjaSwitcher crashes, I can use the X-Keys to bring up the Task Manager to kill it, and use a macro to restart it. Good.

However, as are a lot of other users, I'm sure, I'm not crazy about keeping my passwords in plain text on this little unit. So, one thing I tried was to break up my password into a couple of different text blocks, and then encoded each one into a different key. Then, I used the X-Keys like a phone pad to "dial" my various passwords in. Pretty cool. Furthermore, at the end of the day, the X-Keys can be easily unplugged and taken home to protect the safety of your passwords. This makes things MUCH easier for end users that have fifteen different passwords to forget and not care about. If they can use these to program their passwords in, then they can just keep the X-Keys with them wherever they go. It delivers similar functionality to what the Smart Card was supposed to deliver, but requires no extra investment other than the device itself. And if you're concerned about the data in the keys being lost, then know that, according to PI Engineering, "The X-Keys stores programming in non-volatile memory. The chip maker's spec on this says the memory will be maintained for a minimum of 200 years." (Thanks Dan!).

Furthermore, if you're worried about taking up all your keys just for password use, then you can program one key to act as a modifier, allowing you to program 38 keys instead of 20. This allows you to use the main layer for your applications, and the secondary layer for your security. Definitely cool.

These were only a few instances where the X-Keys made my office work simpler. For other professions, I'm sure something could be easily adapted.

>> Conclusion

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  1. Introduction/Configuration/Installation
  2. How It Quakes
  3. Productivity Applications
  4. Conclusion

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