If you're a computer user who likes to tinker, you may have stumbled upon the virtual keyboard function in Windows. Perhaps you thought it was for when your keyboard was broken, but couldn't think of a real use for it outside of that. It so happens there are a variety of uses for this technology---that's why it's included with Windows.
This is perhaps the virtual keyboard's most important use. For many with severe mobility impairments, using a keyboard is simply not possible. While speech-to-text is sometimes useful, it's hard to match the versitility of an actual keyboard. As such, for someone who can manage to move a joystick or a mouse but not a keyboard, a virtual, on-screen keyboard allows for some---if not advanced---keyboard usage. This is a very important lifeline for day-to-day computer usage.
Foreign Character Sets
Odds are, if you live in America, your keyboard doesn't include a variety of symbols commonly used abroad---such as the symbol for currencies like the Yen or Euro, accented versions of roman characters or Asian characters. A virtual keyboard can give you access to symbols like this. While this isn't nearly as fast as a keyboard designed for a given language, it's more than adequate for the occasional word or sentence.
Touchscreen devices, such as the Apple iPhone and various tablet PCs, often use a virtual keyboard instead of a physical one. The iPhone, for example, makes liberal use of a virtual keyboard---you need to use it for any and all text input on the device. And while most tablet PCs include physical keyboards, it's occasionally faster to use a virtual keyboard than to flip out the physical keyboard.
If you think a computer you're using might be compromised, or you simply don't trust public computers, using a virtual keyboard is a good way to bypass any hardware keylogging and most software keylogging programs. Use the virtual keyboard to enter any passwords or sensitive information and you've got an added level of security (however, you are still vulnerable to network-based hacking).
How to use
Windows features a built-in virtual keyboard: just click "Start," then "Programs," then "Accessories," then "Accessibility," and finally "On-Screen Keyboard." Or, if you're using another operating system you can use the online virtual keyboard linked to in the resources section of this article.
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