Just got my Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander today. Used, but boxed and with documentation for $13 shipped. Not bad at all.
The device itself is sort of like a flight stick/analog joystick, except the handle is a sort of ergonomic left-hand mouse shape. Feels great to hold. It also twists instead of just sliding around. It's square-gated, though, so feeling out the cardinal directions at the extremes can be a bit weird. (Also, I wouldn't mind seeing the handle part mirrored into a right-hand grip. It would make a great palm grip mouse for medium/large hands, especially since it's long enough to actually have a palm rest.)
The buttons are numerous, and each one has a satisfying microswitch click. Also important is that all the controls are very easy to reach without shifting grip; even the mode slider and record button on the base can be used by reaching your thumb down and raising the back of your hand slightly.
There are six main action buttons (with orange backlighting, to boot), two zoom buttons next to those, three shift buttons for the main six buttons located in the thumbrest, and the aforementioned mode slider and record button. It may not seem like much at first (11 buttons, 12 if you count the record button on the base), but keep in mind two things:
-None of those have to be used for movement keys because of the sliding joystick motion of the device.
-Three of those buttons are shift buttons for the primary six buttons, so that's actually more like 24 possible bindings, plus two for the "zoom" buttons and one for the record button.
The sliding motion could be a bit smoother, especially around center, but I did buy this thing used, long after its discontinuation, which could be a factor. What definitely needs improvement, though, is how the base will slide around as I'm frantically moving it around; maybe they could have weighed it down more or used feet with better grip. I highly advise securing it to your desk with Velcro or something else if you're going to use it a lot.
Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't provide any usable drivers for XP, much less Vista/Win7 64-bit, as usual for most of their old SideWinder gaming peripherals. Fortunately, someone managed to code a Strategic Engine app that works nicely on modern OSes, which allows for good keyboard and mouse emulation as far as I can tell. I just wish it also added a DirectInput joystick mode, because while it clearly does support analog movement, the most you can do with it is make it emulate keystrokes (along with a "walk" area), which is kind of a waste. It also makes the Record button a programmable button instead of, well, a record-on-the-fly button. Note that you need to have Strategic Engine running at all times for the Strategic Commander to work.
In spite of a few flaws, I still wish they made more devices like this in terms of joystick sliding action + lots of buttons. Nowadays, it's mostly Nostromo N52 variants and Logitech G13s and other devices that simulate part of a keyboard, but don't replicate that sliding action. If the buttons were more keyboard-esque, then it could easily be up to the user as to whether four of the keys or the sliding motion would be used for movement.
Part of it could be that a lot of those devices are pitched toward FPS gaming, whereas Microsoft tried chasing the RTS crowd with this one (hence the name), not realizing its FPS gaming potential.
Given that this place is a haven for people with exotic input devices, maybe someone else in here has one of these?