Microsoft released one of the greatest gaming controllers with the Strategic Commander back in 2001. The controller fits perfectly in your left hand so that your right hand can still use a mouse. It has six programmable buttons and three shift keys for 24 possible combinations. Besides the buttons is zoom bar that allows you to zoom in and out. The entire unit swivels on a base so that you can change orientation in a game. A toggle switch on the side allows you to change modes. Three modes can be programmed giving you 72 possible programmable buttons. Using their Sidewinders software you can assign complex actions to the buttons such as shift and 1 or a series of steps like shift + 1 and then alt + C. You might wonder how this could be useful so let me explain.
You are playing a real time strategy game and you want to build a barracks to produce units. Normally you would click on a free worker and then select build structure and then select the barracks. There are key combinations to perform each of these tasks but most of us do not memorize all of them. Some gamers might memorize the last one which in this case I will assume to be the letter B. With the strategic commander you can do all that with the press of one button. Program a button to execute Shift + A to select an available worker then S for build structure and then B for the barracks. It is easy to see how this controller can improve your gameplay.
The strategic commander can also be used for regular windows tasks. The programming works in the same way. You can set a button to open your favorite programs or copy, paste, delete. Photoshop users can program macros into the buttons to perform edits quickly. The device is really amazing.
You’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of it if it’s so great. Well, Microsoft discontinued the device in 2003 citing poor sales as the reason. Still, enthusiasts created drivers for Windows XP and then Vista and now Windows 7. For Windows 7 you can use a driver called ATK0110 ACPI Utility (Download for Vista works on Windows 7) and software called Strategic Engine to program it.
So for those of you with strategic commanders, dust them and use them again. If you don’t have one an eBay search will still turn up results.