Virtual Keyboards: Input Multilingual Character Sets for the Web [con't]
VirtualKeyboard 3.7 is a universal binary application that natively supports Intel-based Macs. It runs on Mac OS X 10.4 or higher and is Leopard compatible. This program was designed primarily for disabled persons but it can be used in web development just like any other virtual keyboard.
To use VirtualKeyboard, simply click the keys on the on-screen keyboard. Each key press will be sent to the active application. It works seamlessly with all standard Mac applications, allowing you to type virtually anywhere a hardware keyboard can be used. It handles command-key combinations, dead keys, and modifier key-click combinations.
The latest version, 3.7, is licensed as a shareware application and is free to try for 14 days. After this trial period, if you wish to continue using it, you must register for $19.95. There is also a VirtualKeyboard Classic Lite, which offers less functionality but is free. It runs on Mac OS 8 or higher.
The xvkbd program was built for the X Window System on Linux. The standard keyboard layout is based on the traditional US layout, but other keyboard layouts are also supported. The default window size may be too large for systems with small screens, but it can be configured to use smaller space (220x90 pixels, for example). Version 2.1 and later support word completion, which may make it easier to enter long words.
For an extensive list of virtual keyboards for all of the major operating systems, visit this page on touch-vbase.com.
Virtual Keyboard Criticisms
Opponents of the virtual keyboard are quick to point out that the entire raison d'être of a keyboard is that you type on it. Accordingly, a virtual keyboard that requires you to type with a mouse is a poor substitute. They site that even the most untrained typist can type with more than one finger, and real fingers are much easier to aim than mice.
In defense of the virtual keyboard, the proliferation of touch-sensitive tablets and other portable devices marks the emergence of a new breed of virtual keyboards that allow you to type directly on the virtual keys! Unfortunately, that doesn't address other issues such as translation or font conversion. Because you're unlikely to be familiar with many of the languages in which you may wish to present web content, you'll have to translate your text into the target language first. That means that you're likely to require some sort of translation service anyway.
There is no silver bullet in web site creation. This is especially true in the realm of globalization. Most developers still rely on different products for specific tasks. Whether or not you add a virtual keyboard to your arsenal of tools is really a personal choice. One factor that may affect your decision is your work and travel habits. Virtual keyboards can definitely deliver value if you routinely travel abroad. It might be worth looking at a tablet or other touch-sensitive device if you'd rather type out text than use a mouse.
Cost is obviously another key consideration. Virtual keyboards are a fairly low-cost alternative when compared with professional translation services. To that end, another solution may just be the Google Translation API. It's a programmable interface that allows visitors to select their language preferences from a list such as a dropdown. Does it really work? I'll answer that question in the next article.
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Rob Gravelle combined his love of programming and music to become a software guru and accomplished guitar player. He created systems that are used by Canada Border Services, CSIS and other Intelligence-related organizations. As a software consultant, Rob has developed Web applications for many businesses and recently created a MooTools version of PHPFreechat for ViziMetrics. Musically, Rob recently embarked on a solo music career, after playing with Ivory Knight since 2000. That band was rated as one Canada's top bands by Brave Words magazine (issue #92) and released two CDs. Rob's latest, entitled KNIGHTFALL, was a collaboration between himself, the former Ivory Knight vocalist, and legendary guitarist/producer, Jeff Waters of Annihilator fame. Rob is available for short-term software projects and recording session work. to inquire, but note that, due to the volume of emails received, he cannot respond to every email. Potential jobs and praise receive highest priority!
Original: Mar. 1, 2010