Microsoft On-Screen Keyboard
A pre-installed OSK with standard and extended keyboard layout in Windows
Pros & Cons:
Microsoft On-Screen Keyboard (MSOSK) is installed in Windows by default. It can be found in: Start/All Programs/Accessories/Accessibility/On-Screen Keyboard or alternatively from Windows key + U. It has a very clean interface and allows for switching between extended keyboard layout and the standard layout, in which the numeric pad and cursor-control keys are omitted to save space.
Operation is by clicking on the display or by two alternate entry methods, hover and scanning, to accommodate those with physical difficulties. When set to entry by hovering, a cleverly implemented progress bar is drawn on the targeted key to apprise the user of the trigger timing, which is configurable to any of six discrete choices, ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 seconds. Entry by scanning requires only a single button or key. The software highlights each row of the keyboard in succession and stops when the user signals. Then, each character within the chosen row is highlighted successively, until the user signals again.
It should be noted that except for the Windows 7 version, MSOSK cannot be resized, which presents a serious limiting factor for some users without fine motor control or users who want to use an OSK with touch- screens. For XP users who are desperate and struggling with the older unresizable MSOSK, they might derive a measure of relief with a little amateur utility contributed by Charlie Danger of Better Living Through Technology. Visit his page here where you will find the workaround that Charlie calls DOSK, short for Docking the On-Screen Keyboard. Be advised that DOSK is in beta (testing) phase, is not highly refined and that you'll be using it at your own risk. It provides no system tray icon so has to be relaunched in order to change or revert the arrangement. DOSK is of course completely free. At the time of writing this article, it doesn't work in Windows Vista.
Different languages are catered for in the MSOSK, when the operating system has that language selected. But here again, the Windows 7 version of the accessory excels. It automatically adapts the keyboard to the language selected in the application (the one in which the typed characters will be entered).
The redesigned Windows 7 version of MSOSK is stylish and improved. It now has a useful word prediction feature, with the ability to learn and anticipate your most commonly used verbiage. When this option is switched on, an extra row of eight dynamic buttons appears that offer suggested word completions as you type. This can make the composition of text go quite a lot faster. But alas, the word prediction feature is absent from Windows 7 Home Basic.
Microsoft On-Screen Keyboard was reviewed by Gizmos Freeware on