The virtual keyboard in Windows 8
A lot of time and effort has been spent by Microsoft in making Windows 8 finger friendly. The prime example of this is the Metro interface. If, however, the operating system is to be used successfully on tablets it needs more than just a 'prod and stroke' friendly interface. You need to be able to enter text too, and that means you need a keyboard.
Microsoft is no newcomer to touch-based interfaces and it has a pedigree in supporting touch-based text entry. First there were Tablet PC editions of Windows XP. Then touch support was integrated fully with Windows 7. In these cases, the company in essence converted the standard OS into a touch-friendly system. Though precisely how touch friendly is a matter of opinion and opinions are divided over its success.
A crucial part of the touch-friendly versions of Windows that have existed in the past has been the inclusion of a keyboard and handwriting recognition. With Windows 8 things have moved on, and it isn't only with the Metro interface that this is the case. The virtual keyboard is now available in a number of options, which are designed to appeal to the tablet and touchscreen fan.
Windows 8: Keyboard capers
To get started you simply tap the keyboard icon in the Taskbar in the desktop. It can be resized as needed, and pulled around the screen too, though it does take up a lot of space – about half the screen on our tablet.
One of the options on offer is the thumb-friendly keyboard, which will appeal to anyone using Windows 8 on a tablet. The idea is that you can hold the device in both hands and tap the keys with your thumbs. It's more difficult to get to the number square in the centre of the keyboard using this method, but with practise the design could prove very useful indeed.
Another useful feature is the handwriting recognition keyboard, which allows you to write with your fingertip. It then converts your notes into editable text, and only inserts these into the main body only when you hit the large Insert button. It was pretty good at recognising our scruffy handwriting, and if it identifies a word incorrectly, a quick backstroke with the finger through the word removes it.
There's also a keyboard for proper touch typists. This includes a range of keys over and above the main A to Z and number keys. It is a little small for some hands to use comfortably, but it might suit some people. You'll note that because this is a more 'serious' style keyboard, the smileys are gone.
Windows 8: The full monty
There's also another option – and another keyboard. In Metro view, open the Search Charm and make sure Apps are selected, then search for Keyboard. Now you can choose 'On Screen Keyboard'. This opens up an altogether better featured keyboard complete with Esc, Caps, Shift, Fn and Ctrl keys, and a whole bank on the right offering additional features.
To be frank, we found this particular keyboard had so much crammed on to it that individual keys were too small to use accurately with any degree of speed on the tablet we had, and it was a large tablet – the Samsung Series 7 slate with its 11.6 in screen.
Windows 8 virtual keyboard in pictures
One useful option is the handwriting recognition feature, which converts whatever you write into editable text.
It's easy to insert smileys into any document by hitting the Smileys button next to the space bar. There are plenty to choose from, too.
If you tap the keyboard symbol at the bottom right of the space bar row you can switch between different types of keyboard.
Specifically designed with mobile users in mind, this keyboard design allows you to hold your tablet and type with your thumbs.
Touch typists will appreciate the ability to have a proper keyboard, though some may find the keys too small to use comfortably.