On Screen Keys

Introduction

A professional looking on screen keyboard, is not as easy to make as one might think. The little steps along the way, can lead to absurd time consuming snags. This article should save you a lot of time and help you build a sturdy foundation for your own osk.

History

It’s been almost two years since I wrote an article about sending keyboard messages to applications. I got a ton of emails, and other positive feedback from it.

In this article I will be using an updated Sendkeys module, from that article. The modules come in two flavors, classic VB6 and VB.NET 2005. It’s also largely compatible with 64 bit operating systems. The sample osk included with this article was built to compete head-to-head with the Windows 7 On-Screen keyboard, and win!

Key features

  1. XP/Vista/7 (32-64 bit) compatible.
  2. UAC(User Account Control) compliant.
  3. Starts at login(welcome screen), to provide basic keyboard functionality.
  4. Text completion.
  5. Text to speech, capable of using external voices on all compatible OS.
  6. Low profile layout, maximizes desktop work space.
  7. Prevents other windows from lying underneath, and vice versa.
    More accesible than using the “Always On Top” option, which is commonly used in other programs.
  8. Alternate functions(Fn), can be used to change the volume, or power down windows.
    Can also resize, move, maximize, or close the window in focus, by pressing a single function button.
  9. Customizable gradient color themes are aero(Vista Windows 7)capable, with optional translucency.
  10. Menu shortcuts, allow you to launch frequently used programs.

Head-to-Head

(X, poor, fair, good, excellent)

Feature (osk)Windows 7 On Screen Keys
Hover keys good good
Scan/Select keys good good
Text prediction acuracy good good
Button text visibility and contrast fair good
Sizable font fair good
Always On Top good excellent
Number of Text predictions good excellent
Aero on/off good excellent
Button background color contrast good excellent
Visual help window, with narration fair excellent
Button text w/mouse over highlight poor excellent
Always tile windows X good
Custom theme colors X excellent
Text to speech narration X excellent
Compatible with XP/Vista/Windows 7 X excellent
Start at login X excellent
Start after logon X excellent
No windows underneath X excellent
No icons underneath X excellent
Common program shortcuts X excellent
Low profile keyboard layout X excellent
Hides the titlebar when minimizing X excellent
Alternate function buttons for volume, power down, and focus window manipulation X excellent
Score 30% 93%


On Screen Keys sample application

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