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Keyboards to go

Get a portable virtual keyboard with this basic program.

There are many instances in which a virtual keyboard can come in handy. You might be using a touch screen, typing in a foreign language, or just wanting an emergency backup in case your physical keyboard goes kaput. Free Virtual Keyboard is a simple program that provides an onscreen keyboard in a portable package.

The keyboard's interface is plain and utilitarian, with a standard QWERTY layout. A slider in the bottom right corner adjusts the keyboard's transparency. We had read that the program had a few other features, but it took us a while to figure out how to access them, as the interface doesn't contain any menus. We finally realized that right-clicking on the program's title bar brought up a context menu with a few options. You can enable or disable key repeat and specify whether or not you want the keyboard to fit the width of your screen.

There are also seven different color schemes, all fairly bland, which you can change by selecting the Change Colors option on the menu. This is an awkward way to do this--we'd prefer to be able to select our desired color from a drop-down menu--but it works well enough. There are three keyboard types that are accessed in the same way; one displays the keyboard without the function keys or the arrow keys, one displays the keyboard with the function keys but not the arrow keys, and the third displays both the function keys and the arrow keys on the keyboard. The program doesn't have a Help file, but there is a Web site that offers a little bit of information about its features. Overall, we think that Free Virtual Keyboard is a good choice for anyone who needs a basic, portable virtual keyboard.

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