Vanity ErgoBreak
Help keep your computer from hurting you
Vanity Software
Windows, Macintosh, or UNIX
As cases of work-related repetitive strain injuries (RSI) have increased over the years, hardware manufacturers have responded with a variety of interesting solutions: keyboards, with built-in wrist rests, "split" keyboards, ergonomic mice, digitizing tablets and pens, and more. The injuries, however, haven't gone away. This is partly because many people don't use these new gadgets, but also because if they do start using them, they figure they're cured, and that's that.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. An ergonomic mouse being used at a bad angle is worse than a "normal" mouse used at a good angle. A customizable chair is of no use if you don't sit in it properly. And perhaps most important, all the ergonomic gadgetry in the world won't save you if you stay planted in front of the computer for hours on end.

Articles in newspapers and magazines continue to advise people who use computers to take regular breaks, stretch their limbs, rotate their necks, take a short walk, or do anything to break up the constant strain on their wrists, neck, shoulders, and eyes. These are precisely the things many people forget to do.

This is where ErgoBreak for Office comes in. This Windows program runs quietly in the background, monitoring your computer usage before reminding you to take a break. After a certain amount of time, after a certain number of words typed, or after a certain amount of mouse movement, ErgoBreak's screen pops up.

The program loads a QuickTime animation, in which one of the five ErgoBreak characters shows you how to do some randomly selected exercises designed to work the kinks out of your muscles. After you've completed the exercise, ErgoBreak resumes its countdown.

It is simple and straightforward. It's easy to install, and fairly automatic. It's also customizable. The conditions for the three criteria for taking a break can be changed, a break can be taken early, and a break can be postponed. If you don't want to do the selected exercises, you can choose your own.

In fact, this option, the ErgoMap, is one of the program's best features. It not only lets you select which exercises you want to do by body part, it tells you exactly why you should do them, and provides an overall guide to making your workspace a healthier place.

If ErgoBreak has one flaw, it's that it's hard to find. At this point in time, it is targeted mainly at corporations and is not available at retail outlets; however, Vanity Software does have a reseller network. It's a little more effort, but isn't your well-being worth it?

Originally printed in The Computer Paper (August 1997)
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