On-screen or virtual keyboards have risen in popularity with the advent of touchscreens. Everyone uses them to type messages on their phone or tablet; its an integral part of touchscreen technology. On the Desktop PC, virtual keyboards are used by people with disabilities who are unable to use a standard keyboard. They are used in conjunction with a pointer device or switch system. There are quite a few on-screen keyboards on the market, some free, some not, some great, some not. Let’s have a look.
An on-screen keyboard can only be used successfully within a game if the following conditions are met: 1. There has to be an option to run the game in Window mode. 2. The game has to support the ability to place a secondary application over the top. This is not solely dependent on the game, but also on the keyboard. In simple terms, when coding software, programmers asign a value to running their particular program on top. If the game has a value of 50 and the on-screen keyboard a value of 40, the keyboard will hide behind the game and not be usable. If on the other hand, the keyboard has a value of 60, it will sit on top of the game, making it usable. For this reason, its worth trying out multiple on-screen keyboards. If a game you are trying to play does not work with your first choice, it may work with one of the other options out there.
Microsoft Windows 7 On-Screen Keyboard – MSOSK (Bundled with Windows 7)
This keyboard is bundled with Windows, so if you use Windows as your Operating System, you have access to the Microsoft on-screen keyboard. To pull up the keyboard, click on start, select All programs – Accessories – Easy of Access – On-screen Keyboard. The Windows 7 keyboard can be resized by the user; it accepts input either through clicking, hover or scanning. It has built-in text prediction and will try to predict words when typing. Letters light up and there is an option for letters to also make an audible click when activated. It’s a standard, dependable, solid, free application. If you haven’t used an on-screen keyboard in the past and would like to try it, this is the best place to start. It does not lend itself to gaming very well, one of the biggest negative is that there is no transparency settings, so whichever part of the screen it fills up, you have no idea what’s underneath it inside the game.
Click-N-Type is a highly customizable free on-screen keyboard. It can be resized, has a click, auto click and scanning modes, have predictive text and word completion, multiple keyboard layouts, the key layout is customizable and fully configurable including macros, and it supports different languages. It also includes a keyboard designer and many user designed layouts included. It has audible and visible feedback options, including spoken keys and works with all pointing devices including a head mouse and virtual mouse programs like Point-N-Click.
Free Virtual Keyboard (Free)
Free Virtual Keyboard is “a free, lightweight, multilingual and finger friendly virtual on-screen keyboard”. Features include: change size, colour and transparency of keyboard, Auto-repeat function, multuple keyboards types and a Fit to screen width option.
Dasher is more than just an on-screen keyboard. It is “an information-efficient text-entry interface, driven by natural continuous pointing gestures.” I would not recommend Dasher for gaming, but it can be an incredibly versatile and useful application for typing text. If you are using an on-screen keyboard to type in MMO’s like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic and a keypad and/or mouse to game; Dasher could do all the text typing for you very quickly. It is complicated and it will take a lot of hours to learn how to use it well.
Comfort On-screen keyboard Pro ($ 19.95 Single User)
The Comfort On-screen keyboard is customizable and supports a variety of cosmetic options. You can adjust the position, size and number of keys, the colour and the skin and there are multiple templates to choose from. Features include: “Word completion, auto-repeat function (when a key is pressed and held, virtual desktop keyboard enters and continues to enter the appropriate symbol at regular intervals until the key is released), gestures function support (fast entering of capital letters, spaces, etc.), quick switching between languages (when you use more than one language layout), displaying the icons of shortcuts of Windows and popular applications and color areas for fingers (if necessary).”
Hot Virtual Keyboard ($29.95 Single User)
Hot Virtual Keyboard offers a 30-day free trial so that you can try before you buy. Features include cosmetic customization; there are 65 templates as well as the ability to build your own look, “it has gestures function support to quickly change case or insert spaces, programmable buttons for performing routine operations such as copying and pasting text, keys to launch applications, open Web pages or run macros with a single tap, word auto-complete to make typing faster and more accurate than ever, support of multiple languages and keyboard layouts, an ability to integrate the virtual keyboard into other systems and Multi-Touch support in Windows 7.”
On-screen keyboards have a very limited but specific use. If you need them, you really need them and if you don’t, you rarely make use of them. The customizability features have increased significantly over the last few years and if you have to make use of one, you can often customize it to fit into the game UI. More and more games support Window mode, but not at all games do. Some are more versatile than others and when it comes to gaming, be ready to try multiple options for a game.