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Switching to an ergonomic keyboard - the Microsoft Natural 4000

When I bought my Mac Pro last year I used it to replace my Windows XP system. Since I already had a great pair of Samsung 204B displays and a Logitech Mx510 Gaming Mouse that I really liked I figured I'd just keep using them. I personally couldn't stand the Apple Mighty Mouse - I love all the buttons I get on the Logitech too much and with SteerMouse I could customize it as much as I liked.

The remaining item for input was the keyboard. My Mac Pro came with a full size aluminum keyboard and typing on it was acceptable. Since I had been using a MacBook quite a bit up to that point in time I wanted to use a Mac style keyboard, one that had the keys aligned properly for Mac users. Windows keyboards generally have the following keys along the lower left side:


Full size Mac keyboards on the other hand use:


The swapping of the the two keys between the Control and Space Bar means a lot of fumbling for different keys, especially for a heavy keyboard user like me. Since I've now ingrained into my hands the physical location of the keys I decided to give my old Microsoft keyboard a whirl.

Back in Black
I became addicted to Microsoft ergonomic (split) keyboards nearly 10 years ago and have owned a variety of different versions over the years. My latest one is a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. While the name is unwieldy the keyboard itself is a joy to touch type on. With a raised wrist rest and natural feeling home position for my fingers I can very easily drop my fingers to the keyboard without looking and just type away. This was not the case with the Mac's aluminum keyboard; if I pulled away from it to grab the mouse I didn't always drop on the right key position; the tiny indentation on the F and J keys were easily passed over.

That's not the case with a split keyboard. Your hands have a tendency to just fall right into place because of the angle for the keyboard. The split in the middle mimics the angle your arms approach the keyboard and the keys themselves are not laid out in a straight line; they curve gently to mimic the reach of your fingers.

I dusted off the keyboard and plugged it in to one of my USB ports. The Mac Pro couldn't figure out which keyboard it was and asked me a couple of questions but after that I was able to get it up and running quite easily. I was shocked to see how quickly I could type on it compared to the aluminum keyboard, especially when I was jumping between tasks.

The first problem I encountered was the position of the Alt/Option and Command keys. Fortunately System Preferences has a Modifier Keys dialog under the Keyboard & Mouse section for switching them around:


While this worked fine there was one other little quirk; the Microsoft Natural Keyboard doesn't have an eject key. There are tons of extra keys on this baby but an eject button just wasn't a requirement.

It turns out Microsoft has an OS X driver for the Natural Keyboard that seems to work well with my Mac so far. It provides some decent remapping of keys and I was able to make the dedicated calculator button serve to eject the CD tray:

Now that I have my keys mapped properly I am ripping through work like crazy and typing faster than ever. The only downside is that I have this little Windows Start key sitting there that I would like to have labeled Alt / Option–which is what it actually does–and the Alt key should be named Command. Since each key on this keyboard is custom fit they aren't interchangeable. It appears a Bic Permanent Marker is able to cover up the incorrect name for the key. All I need now is a small Command and Option sticker to drop in there and I'll be set.

If anyone can think of a decent solution to my key cap naming problem please let me know through the comments below.

75 comments:

Allan Scullion said...

I am a big fan of the MS Ergonomic keyboards - if you get over the initial "this is odd" hurdle, you will never go back.

I plan to switch to a Mac Pro in April, so this article is perfectly timed.

Do all the other Mac specific function keys work as expected (Dashboard, show desktop etc)

Cheers
Allan

David Alison said...

@Allan: There are a couple of quirks to it. I was able to map one of the five "My Favorites" buttons to activate Spaces and the Dashboard by having it call those applications directly.

I then tried mapping the Back and Forward keys that are near the front of the keyboard to push in a Command-Shift-[ / C-S-] to handle moving between browser tabs but it didn't seem to execute them in Firefox. That's a shame because that would be really cool.

Rick Moerloos said...

Kinesis makes a Mac-specific ergonomic keyboard that doesn't need extra drivers and has all the proper Mac keys. It also comes in different configurations.

They make an interesting-looking ergonomic mouse, but I haven't tried it.

http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/

Patrick Melton said...

Did you use GrabUp for these screenshots, Dave?

I'm interested in your thoughts on it if you've tried it out.

David Alison said...

@Rick: I looked at them a while back but the price seemed far too high for my tastes (a 10X over what this MS Keyboard costs).

@Patrick: I used Skitch; didn't try GrabUp yet because I'm actually very happy with Skitch right now. I have a tendency to go back through my blog comments on occasion and revisit suggestions so I likely will check it out at some point.

Dan Ashley said...

Thank you so much for this article. I use a Windows laptop at work with a Microsoft Natural 4000 keyboard attached via USB. I have a closet full of various Mac ergo keyboards I've bought over the years, but the Microsoft Natural 4000 is the one I'd prefer to use.

I now have the confidence to give it a try!

- Dan Ashley, Chicago

Tarik said...

Hi David,

I find that using a generic Dell keyboard if I hold down the F12 key it will eject an optical disk.

Tarik Sivonen

David Alison said...

@Tarik: Wow - that works on this MS keyboard as well! Thanks for that tip; I didn't see it mentioned anywhere.

Hendrik said...

Cool, I didn't know about that F12 eject trick either.

I have been using this keyboard on my Mac for a long while and love it. When installing Leopard I didn't re-install the MS drivers because I suspected them as the cause for some annoying problems I was having (can't remember what they were now). I use ControllerMate instead to bind some of the special keys.

For tab switching, maybe try binding Cmd-Opt-left/right.

Hendrik said...

What is neat about ControllerMate is that you can set up different bindings depending on which program is in the foreground. So if different programs use different keys for tab switching you can set that up.
A big downside however is ControllerMate's very bizarre interface that takes a while to figure out.
Probably not worth it just for this. I bought it instead of Steermouse for mapping my extra mouse buttons.

Dan said...

I love playing with controllermate. It's one of those programs where I spend 45 minutes settings up a function that saves me 5 seconds each time I use it.

For instance, I never use the keyboard to go forward and back through web pages, so I bound those keys to two apple scripts that skipped me forward 30 second in my iTunes podcast and back 5 seconds so that I can easily skip past ads.

David Alison said...

@Hendrik: I tried everything I could think of but the Back and Forward dedicated keys just don't want to be remapped. I think I'll give ControllerMate a look-see.

@Dan: I will futz around with something to squeak just a little bit more productivity that is easily lost by the time it took to figure it out. It's actually one of the reasons I write a lot of that in this blog; hopefully save someone else the time I waste on it.

I like the iTunes control idea!

Hendrik said...

I just verified that setting this up in Controllermate does indeed work. I had not mapped those buttons before.

All the special buttons are listed under the "Consumer Control" listing of the keyboard in the "Controllers" panel. The Back / Forward buttons are listed as "AC Back" and "AC forward. You drag those onto the grid, then drag and dock copies of the "Keystrokes" item from the "Output" panel under those buttons. And finally record the appropriate key combinations.

David Alison said...

@Hendrik: You sir are a scholar and a gentleman. Thanks for checking that out - I think I need to check out ControllerMate. With all these extra button on the keyboard I want to leverage them!

Anonymous said...

I hate MS Windows but I admit their keyboards and mouses are great. I think they should specialise their business to that field.

Anonymous said...

I have plugged in the 4000 into my Dell at work and my iMac at home. I'm not at the computer at home enough to have tried remapping (although I now see it isn't as hard as I thought!) The funny thing is, the keyboard works better "out of the box" on the iMac than on the Dell. Go figure.
Thanks VERY much for the article!
The Bee Lady

Anonymous said...

If anyone can think of a decent solution to my key cap naming problem please let me know through the comments below.

Hmmm. Can't you do a screen grab of the command a option symbols, print it out, trim it out, buy a can of Spray Mount, and adhere it to the keys?

David Alison said...

@Anon: Sounds too simple! Actually I think that it would likely get worn off pretty quickly. I was looking around for custom decals like the ones used on plastic models but no luck. Since I need white letters on a black or transparent background there are not a lot of options.

SimpleLife said...

You could try these guys. Maybe they can do a custom for you. I had bought a set, but never used it with a Das Keyboard II. Good stuff:

http://www.fentek-ind.com/labels.htm

There a a couple of other vendors out there too. But I've never really searched for Mac specific labels.

You could also find the 3M stuff or whatever material they use, and maybe print and cut your own on a laser printer.

David Alison said...

@SimpleLife: Thanks for the link; worth reaching out to them. For now I've blacked out the offending keys; it's fine because I know which is which now but every once in a while I have a brain freeze, look down at the keyboard and... yeah, labels would be nice.

Doug Smart said...

Another trick with the MS keyboard is to use the button between alt and ctrl on the bottom right. This will switch back and forth between apps like "command + tab". Very handy when working between a couple apps.

David Alison said...

@Doug: Thanks - I noticed that too. It's very handy.

g7whatever said...

I think the f12 key works to eject a CD on start up as well on a keyboard that may not have an eject key. If not I think holding down the mouse button works.

Suzan said...

I just finally switched to Mac and love it dearly, but found it hard to part with my Microsoft Multimedia Natural Keyboard, ver 1.0A. I bought a Kinesis Freestyle but it is not the same. Does anyone know if my older version of the MS Natural keyboard would be compatible with the Mac? I'm ready to order the pc/i to usb adaptor. That Controllermate sounds great, hoping that will also work with my kb. Thanks! Sue

Suzan said...

Addendum to my last post - I have an iMac with Leopard.

David Alison said...

@Suzan: I'm not too sure if that older keyboard will work since it's got the older style DIN connection. A quick scan of the Microsoft download area shows that while they have drivers for the original Multimedia keyboards they are Windows only. You can pick up the same keyboard I have (MS 4000) through Amazon for about $45. That may be a better option.

Anonymous said...

If you have a Brother P-Touch label printer (or access to one), you could use a white-on-clear or white-on-black cartridge to print new key labels. The labels are very durable - we have a labelled coffee carafe that's been through the wash hundreds of times without falling off.

Nate

David Alison said...

@Nate: Excellent idea - thanks!

David Alison said...

If anyone is looking to pick up one of these keyboards (high recommended) Dell is currently offering them for $15 (plus $5 shipping). Buy 3 and the shipping is free.

Here is a link if the pricing is still good by the time you read this.

Anonymous said...

This is a very useful thread. After using an Adesso ergo keyboard with a built-in Glidepoint trackpad for almost 10 years (!) I recently had to swich to the Mac aluminum that came with my iMac 'cause the cursor kept freezing. I was really disappointed to see that Adesso doesn't support Leopard with their touchpad models, and my arms/shoulders/wrists/hands/everything are just killing me with this new kb. I'm going to check out the suggestions here ASAP. Thanks-- Pete.

David Alison said...

@Pete: I believe that deal with Dell is very short lived so you may want to take advantage of it. It really is an outstanding keyboard.

Anonymous said...

A genius at the Mac bar mapped my older MS Natural Keyboard to a new Mac. It looked like it had worked but had not. I am about to try with the MS Natural 4000 and greatly appreciate these tips.

I'm a heavy keyboard user with a PC and an older MS Natural keyboard at work; and a new Mac with a new MS Natural keyboard 4000 at home. I need the two set-ups to match or else I run into all sorts of typing problems.

One key question for any tech-savvy, Mac and MS Natural keyboarders out there: is it possible to get the Num Lock key on the MS 4000 to work when using it with a Mac? I don't need the numbers but I do (somewhat desperately) need the PgUp, PgDn, Del, etc. options that are available when NumLock is off.

I have not seen any posts about turning off the NumLock on the MS Natural 4000 when using a Mac. Am new to Mac-land so haven't figured out the best sites for information.

Any help is really, seriously, completely, appreciated.

SEG

David Alison said...

@SEG: Since I am using that set up I can tell you that the Num Lock does NOT work. I looked through the settings in the Microsoft settings applet and it does not appear to have the ability to even customize the Num Lock key. If it will work it will likely require something external to remap it's functionality.

Bill said...

David:
"Since I am using that set up I can tell you that the Num Lock does NOT work"
does this mean that the default setting is for the numbers to be usable?

Thanks!
Bill R

David Alison said...

@Bill R: Yup, it means that the number pad is just a number pad. The arrow keys and home/end/page up/page dn are not functional.

CHANCEY said...

The keyboard that comes with the latest iMac looks very stylish and cool. Sort of an expensive Swedish looking thing. But it has to have been designed by the Carpal Tunnel $urgeons of America. And the cords is only about 2 feet long. The guts of Macs are great, but the exterior is hardly functional for anyone except 2 Dimensional Man who sits with his face up against the screen.

I bought a MS 4000. (Thanks for the great hints) The most irritating thing about the 4000 is that the 'numbers lock' reverts to unlocked when you "sleep" or shut down, and there's no way of setting the numbers lock to the locked position as the default. So I'm typing away, and I think I'm keying in numbers. I look up from my document to the screen and find the cursor off in left field with no numbers keyed in.

The hint about the eject button and the switch of the start/alt keys to the option/command keys was a big help. I probably should have been able to come up with those solutions, but I didn't.

thetrystero said...

i'm thinking of getting one of these. i really like the split and angle, but i'm still not sure about the stubborn spacebar. has that been much of an annoyance so far?

David Alison said...

@thetrystero: The space bar has been fine. You can find these keyboards pretty easily online for a great price. I highly recommend them.

Bruce W said...

David, bless you! I am now back to using my MS Natural 4000 on my new iMac. No more wrist pain; no more tiny keyboard to contend with.

Have you figured out a way to make the computer sleep or shut down with a shortcut. The old control+eject doesn't work if you assign the calculator key as the eject key.

David Alison said...

@Bruce W: Glad to hear the hand pain is gone! That's the big advantage of these ergo style keyboards.

I don't have a shortcut for Sleep or Shutdown; since I really only do that once a day I tend to grab the mouse and hit it from the Apple menu.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog - very useful! I'm using an Adesso ergo (since MacOS 7) thru a ADB/USB adapter. MacOS 10.6 prompts me to update.

FWIW, info here suggests quirks in the MS ergo keyboard will be more work than reward (for me). In case anyone else feels the same and wonders as to other options: the current Adesso ergo seems poorly rated and the LogiTech ergo seems to have Mac compatibility issues (maybe moreso than MS ergo). That leaves Kinesis-Ergo and Goldtouch, with the latter better-suited IMO in feature/price ratio.

The reference to ControllerMate is much appreciated!

--
DrJJWMac

Christopher said...

Great info, thanks. Has anyone tried some stickers to re-label the Windows keys? A google search for 'mac keyboard sticker' shows a whackload of vendors. While most are remapping to non-English keyboards, a few seem to have the various Apple keys.

I like the idea of a 3M or Brother label, but I don't know if there's an opaque 3M sticker, and I don't want to buy a label maker just for one use. Does anybody know where we can get black 3M stuff that can go through a printer?

David Alison said...

@Christopher: If you find one that you like please drop a note here. I've yet to find a suitable way to handle this. Thanks!

Justin said...

@Bruce: Today I started using the MS Natural 4000. I too was perturbed by the lack of Control + Eject as a means of putting my computer to sleep. It turns out that Command + ALT + Eject on the Mac or Alt + Win + F12 on the MS Natural 4000 will automatically put the computer to sleep. Hope this helps

Marko Käning said...

Hi David,

I also installed the Windows driver on my new iMac's OS X Snow Leopard.

Unfortunately I still have some trouble with wrong key assignments... (Some keys swapped or not accessible with the AltGr-key-combination anymore, like e.g. curly brackets... Highly annoying!)

I wonder whether this is caused by my German keyboard layout...

Any hints from you on this one?

I love my MS Ergo 4000 and don't really want to give it up for the tiny iMac keyboard... :)

Greets,
Marko

David Alison said...

@Marko: I suspect you are correct - it's the German keyboard layout that could be the problem. I haven't had an issue with the US layout I use. It does appear that MS has a German version of the keyboard driver. Did you try that one?

Marko Käning said...

Hi David,

yes, I did. But unfortunately there is no way to make it work properly.

I am pretty confused. Can't even find a tool to reassign the keys to the correct translations... Would be quite a job to achieve this in any case. CAN'T imagine, that I am the only one with this problem.

But thanks for the hint!

Greets,
Marko

P.S.: Was surprised that I had to restart the computer after installation of these drivers. Seems to be a Microsoft thing... All other recently installed {Apple} tools didn't need a restart! ;)

Marcia said...

I love my old PC MS Natural keyboard. It is too old to use on my 27"iMac. I have been looking at the 4000 and wonder if you all have downloaded the printer driver update for Snow Leopard.

Did it solve any of the problems?
Thanks
Marcia

David Alison said...

@Marcia: As of today I'm still running Leopard on my Mac Pro—only my MBP has been upgraded to Snow Leopard. There is one heavily used item I have (a ScanSnap scanner from Fujitsu) that is not fully supported under Snow Leopard yet.

Are you having issues with the MS4000 KB on a Snow Leopard based Mac? If so that would be good to know!

Marcia said...

David, I just installed it this morning. So far, it is ok on Snow Leopard. Haven't checked everything yet but will let you know if I find problems.

Mike said...

David,
I got the scansnap s500m working on snow leopard. I think there's updated drivers/application on their site. That being said, I remember reading about the incompatibility after upgrading, but it still worked.

I've been looking at getting one of these keyboards, and this article and comments are very helpful.

sapphire said...

Awesome David for the information.

But like the problem with the German keyboard, I use a Swedish keyboard and the changes are not sticking.

My 'control' button still doesnt want to do anything on the MS kb.

Will keep looking for a solution.

David Alison said...

@sapphire: If you do find a solution please post it here in the comments. In looking at my logs this particular blog posts continues to get lots of hits every day so hopefully people will get the information they're looking for. Thanks!

Craig Anderson said...

Thanks for this great blog post! I've connected my MS4000 to iMAC 27" with Snow Leopard. How do I get the END key to function? Also, how do I switch the Ctrl and Alt keys? I've played around with this for 2 days now and can't figure it out. Thanks.

David Alison said...

@Craig: The "end" key doesn't have a specific equivalent on Mac as it does in Windows. Well, not as a dedicated key anyway. Command-Right Arrow is the closest (Ctrl-E works in some apps as well). Though I don't personally use it you may want to give textexpander a try; I've heard good things about it and there is a free trial. It may recognize the End key on your MS keyboard and allow you to map Command-Right Arrow to it.

That said I wouldn't recommend doing that if you have switched to Mac. It's fine if you have to live in both Mac and Windows worlds all day but if you have switched it's much better to just adjust to the native Mac keystrokes. This would include swapping the Ctrl and Alt keys, though you should be able to do that in the MS keyboard software.

Anonymous said...

I have a macbook pro. I'm currently using an older MS Natural Keyboard with it, but with no remapping. I'm living with the windows key being the command/apple key and the control and alt in the wrong spots, and it's not too annoying. I've even gotten used to command + right arrow for end, but the thing I'm really still missing is the 'FN' (Function) key. Since this is specific for laptops, but I use my macbook more often as a desktop than a laptop, is there a way to map the FN to something on a standard keyboard with no extra buttons. If not, since I'm thinking of upgrading to the 4000 anyway, is there a way to map a key on the 4000 to be the FN key?

Thanks.

*~Stephanie~*

Bob and Janene said...

Just installed the 4000 keyboard on my Mac but have a question. The Show All Click of the mouse no longer reduces all the windows to thumbnail size on the desktop, so I can switch screens easily. Any one know how to get this feature to work?

Ergonomic Chair said...

Same here.. I am a fan of anything ergonomic.. =) I need it for my office.. already switched to ergonomic mouse, keyword and ergonomic chair.

Anonymous said...

To expand on some previous comments about using the 4000 keyboard with a Mac, I suggest doing the following:
1. Go to the Microsoft web site and download and install Intellitype Pro on your Mac - it will install as a System Preference titled Microsoft Keyboard.
2. Open Microsoft Keyboard, and select Options. To make your keyboard act like a Mac keyboard, check the first box, to Swap the Windows and Alt keys.
3. Select Key settings. From here you can assign keys to Eject (i.e. DVD's), and to act as a Power key, which can be used for the standard sleep, restart, or shutdown actions. I used the Play/Pause key for Eject, and the Calculator key for Power, since I would rarely use those keys. Other reassignment possibilities also exist.

RobG

vgprom said...

what about this?: http://www.4keyboard.com/mac-function-keys-keyboard-sticker-p-420.html

Trina said...

Using an ergonomic keyboard can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. The same goes for ergonomic chairs. They keep the user comfortable, and protected from injury as well.

Anonymous said...

Try a label maker to cover the keys - something like the Brother Labelmaker - it uses plastic label stock that can be programed from computer images. Just cut to fit.

I'm not a robot but I can't read some of those capta images.

Theo van der Sluijs said...

I also use the microsoft 4000 natural keyboard. I switched the alt and windows key, and I really want those keyboard layout stickers for the mac function keys.

I wonder if there ever will be a real natural keyboard for mac users.

All the mac keyboard look nice but typing is a real pain in the "hand" ;-)

flyfysher said...

David,

Thank you for this very informative thread. I love my Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 though I switched to a Mac two days ago. As a former PC user, I am finding the switch is challenging my adaptability.

Has anyone discovered a way to use the functions on the number pad (Home, up arrow, page up, left arrow, right arrow, end, down arrow, page down, insert and delete) instead of as a number pad? That is where I really use these commands. I do not use the number pad for numbers (I know, the world turned upside down syndrome) but I refuse to surrender the keyboard because of its ergonomic design.

Again, thanks. I truly appreciate this thread.

Ron

flyfysher said...

David,

Thank you for this exceptionally informative thread. I love my Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 though I switched to a Mac two days ago. As a former PC user, I am finding the switch is challenging my ability to adapt.

Has anyone discovered a way to use the functions on the number pad (Home, up arrow, page up, left arrow, right arrow, end, down arrow, page down, insert and delete) instead of as a number pad? That is where I really use these commands. I do not use the number pad for numbers (I know, the world turned upside down syndrome) but I refuse to surrender the keyboard because of its ergonomic design.

Again, thanks. I truly appreciate this thread.

flyfysher

Tara said...

Hi, I am having issues with my microsoft natural ergonomic 4000 keyboard. When I hit zero on the numeric keypad, it's typing out '80' instead. Can you advise on how to fix? The keyboard is fine other than that. I've already hit the fn and numlock key and that does not help.

David Alison said...

@Tara: You may want to check to ensure you have the latest MS IntelliType Pro driver. I suspect that's where the issue is.

Staff Writer said...

I uninstalled the Microsoft driver and am using just Controllermate. A little bit geeky, but more powerful. But the Microsoft driver was just fine on 10.7 when I used it.

R Audu said...

Simply AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

Ron,
If you turn off the Num Lock button, you can use the arrows. Then, if you press shift buton, you can use Del, Ins, Home, PgUp, etc.

- Carolyn

Ronald said...

I've finally converted to a MacBook Pro for work, and wish to keep using my Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. However, I have a couple of problems:

1. The Windows button is not recognize as Command button by my Mac OS X 10.8.4. Pressing the Windows button on my Ergonomic keyboard doesn't do anything.

Should I install the ControllerMate to fix this issue?

2. I'm also used to PC shortcuts like Ctrl + C for copy and Ctrl + V for pasting. How do I change this shortcut on my Mac?

Please help,

Ronald

David Alison said...

@Ronald: The Microsoft driver should allow you to map the Windows key.

The option for flipping the Control and Command keys is actually in the basic options on your Mac:

System Preferences app / Keyboard / Modifier Keys

You can remap them from there.

That said, I would recommend against doing that. Most navigation and shortcut keys on Mac use the Command key, which on a Mac keyboard is in the same place as the Control key on a Windows keyboard.

It's better to relabel the keys on the keyboard (which is the technique I used) than to have to relearn the muscle memory for those key combinations. Hope this helps...

Rajani Karuturi said...

@David, Thanks for the blog. It really helped me.
The suggested settings + stickers[1] turns it to a complete mac keyboard :)

[1] http://www.4keyboard.com/mac-function-keys-keyboard-sticker-p-420.html

dougbot01 said...

Update for 2015:

Check out Karabiner : has settings for MS 4000 keyboard to change win/app keys to option, and alt to command
No MS driver needed
I was even able to map the function keys to F1-F12
https://pqrs.org/osx/karabiner/

And stickers. I am going to order this set... it looks close
http://www.4keyboard.com/english/599-english-mac-function-keys-non-transparent-keyboard-sticker-882798355537.html

Good luck!

David Alison said...

@dougbot01: great suggestion. I started using Karabiner recently as well and it's really flexible.