The Strategic Commander is designed to complement a standard mouse/keyboard setup for Real Time Strategy games. It features a total of 6 programmable command buttons, 2 zoom buttons, 3 shift buttons, a macro record button and a 3-point configuration switch. The device also has three movement axes; X, Y and Z (rotation). Through extensive configuration of the shift and command buttons, it is possible to create a total of 24 different commands per configuration.
The Strategic Commander is a highly ergonomic device, and resembles a large mouse in shape, contoured for the left hand. It has an upper section attached to a base. On the upper section, the programmable buttons mentioned above are located near the tips of the pointer, middle and ring fingers for quick access. Three buttons are located near the thumb in an arc.
A feature of the device is that the upper section is also a 2-axis motion controller with additional support for rotation. It allows motion in the X, Y & Z axis (corresponding to Forward, Backwards, Strafe left & right, Turn left & right). This made it an ideal companion for FPS and similar games; because you can aim weapons or look up and down with the right hand while simultaneously slewing position with the left hand, and change weapons etc. with the left finger buttons.
Software was included for the device to provide hotkeys for a number of (then popular) games. The buttons are also programmable, allowing the device to be used with other games and applications. For example, one interesting application developed at Carnegie Mellon used the device as a peripheral for navigating massive social network maps.
Linux treats this device as a joystick (with all 3 axis and 12 plus 3 buttons) and can be used as one or using various applets can be used as a "joystick action to key press" device (e.g. Joy2Key)
Source: Wikipedia, "Microsoft SideWinder", available under the CC-BY-SA License.