Multilingual word prediction: Virtual Keyboard Review

Post edited slightly to reflect program updates.

After Google Scribe went, so did a source of free multilingual word prediction. So I went looking for another one. I forget how I found it, but I did find one: Virtual Keyboard.

Virtual Keyboard is part of a freeware assistive technology project from the University of Lleida. It was made to complement their Head Mouse freeware, but it works with any pointing device or click switch. It has three access modes: mouse click, adjustable dwell click (called “time click”), and adjustable XY axis switch scanning (called “sweep click”).

The dwell time can be as low as 100 or as high as 5000 ms. Because the keyboard sizing choices are a bit clunky, you might need to play with this a little. Interestingly, when you dwell over a key, Virtual Keyboard puts a red square on the key to show you where you left off. You can use dwell over every key except the ones relating to keyboard settings. You will need to be running your regular dwell click software as well in order to activate those keys.

The keyboard layout itself is a bit bulky and could use a more visible font, especially when shrunken. The keys are arranged in the QWERTY pattern for various languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, Portuguese and French. Note, however, that it only comes with three default prediction dictionaries: English, Spanish, and Portuguese. If you want one in your language, you can create a new dictionary. Program messages are only available in English and Spanish.

IMPORTANT: There is no frequency of use layout. You can try activating one-handed Dvorak in Windows if you want to, but this will really confuse the keyboard and render the prediction useless because the keyboard thinks you’re typing different letters than you intend; it doesn’t recognize the substitution.

The prediction acts more like completion at first. That isn’t too bad, though, because the dictionary contains common words for the most part. If you want your word choices to be more predictive, you can turn on the learning mode by expanding the keyboard (click the sideways arrow) and clicking the dictionary above the number pad until the padlock disappears. Then, the keyboard will order its choices based on what you’ve already typed.

If you want to control the dictionary prediction without turning on learning mode, you can tweak it by feeding it a text file containing words and phrases on separate lines. So, if I wanted to make sure “are” was offered after “they” or “you,” I would type two lines: they are / you are. And so on, then save. Click the wrench, then Dictionary, then feed the dictionary your phrase file. After that, the order of your predictions should stay in place.

In addition to the learning mode and not-learning mode, the prediction function controls one more thing: macros. To set up macros, click the wrench at the top of the keyboard, then click Behavior. Check Special/macros. When you click Configure and set up a profile, you can record macros to appear in the prediction keys as well as the function keys. You can open programs or websites or paste text strings. To operate the keyboard in macro mode, click the dictionary key until the little S appears over it. Then, your macros will appear.

The keyboard has a number of other useful features, such as the “delete word” key. If you click that key, then dwell over the word you don’t want, it will be deleted. There is also a “clear” key by the text window of the keyboard, so that if you reset what you’re typing if you want to go back and edit something, the prediction won’t get its order out of place. There are also keys for positioning the keyboard at various points on the screen. If you right click the magnifying glass key, you have a choice of a few different keyboard sizes. Be aware, though, that the smaller you make the keyboard, the harder it is to see the letters on the keys.

I strongly suggest looking at the manual that explains what key does what; this would be a very long post otherwise. All in all, though, I think it’s a worthy multilingual keyboard that could compete with commercial keyboards. There aren’t nearly enough resources for those who need to write in more than one language without paying through the nose.

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