How To: Use the On-Screen Keyboard in Windows 8.1

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An on-screen (“soft”) keyboard can come in handy when you don’t have a physical keyboard available. This type of keyboard lets you type using the mouse and you can use it with or without a physical keyboard plugged in your computer.

Protection against key loggers is another common reason why on-screen keyboards are used. This kind of malware that tracks typed keystrokes, thus has the potential of stealing passwords and other sensitive data is widely spread and fairly easy to write. Writing malware that tracks the movements of your mouse, linking it to characters is significantly harder, which is why such threats are not oftenly encountered.

Using an on-screen keyboard to input sensitive data such as social security numbers, credit card payments and other private personal information brings a new layer of security. It doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe, nor should you rely on it as the primary method of security.

Windows 8 as well as previous Windows version come with built-in on-screen keyboards so you don’t need to install a third-party application even though you have plenty to choose from.

Accessing the On-Screen Keyboard

1. Go to the Start Screen and click or tap on the small downwards pointing arrow in the bottom left corner of the screen to enter App view.

Start Screen - Go to Apps view

2. Under the Windows Ease of Access category you will find the On-Screen Keyboard app. Click or tap on it to launch it.

Apps view - On-Screen Keyboard app

Alternatively, in Desktop Mode you can open up the Charms Bar and select the Search Charm or use the Win +S shortcut and type “on-screen” in the search field. Click or tap on the On-Screen Keyboard search result to open the app.

You can also use the On-Screen Keyboard to access to Windows 8.1. In the login screen press the Ease of Access logo located at the bottom left of the screen and select On-Screen Keyboard from the menu.

Login screen - Ease of Access

Using the On-Screen Keyboard

1. Open up the file, folder, application, window…etc. and position the mouse cursor where you want to type, then open the On-Screen Keyboard app.

2. To type, press the keys using the mouse. Note, this is not a touch-enabled on-screen keyboard (Windows 8.1 has this too), this can only be operated using the mouse. You can use the on-screen keyboard like you would a physical one, except you need to use the mouse to click on the keys instead of your fingers.

On-Screen Keyboard in action

Customizing the On-Screen Keyboard

On the keyboard there is an Options key. Pressing that key opens up the application’s Options menu. We will discuss some of the essential settings available here.

On-Screen Keyboard Options

In the Options menu, you can choose whether you want to hear a click noise when you press keys using the mouse or not by enabling/disabling the “Use click sound” option.

You can enable the Turn on numeric key pad option so the keyboard will display a data-entry style number pad. To make it display numbers you must first enable NumLock.

Numeric key pad with Numlock turned off
Numeric key pad with Numlock turned off
Numeric key pad with NumLock turned on
Numeric key pad with NumLock turned on

The “Hover over keys” option lets you type by simply hovering your mouse over the keys instead of clicking on them. You can also enable “Use Text Prediction” to get word suggestions at the top of the on-screen keyboard as you type. Last, but not least you can set the On-Screen Keyboard app to start when you log on by enabling the option “Control whether the On-Screen Keyboard starts when I sign in”.