Want to see all characters you can produce on your PC or Mac by typing? Find out here how to open the on screen keyboard on Windows or macOS to see the key layout and enter characters by clicking.

First, What Happens When Your Fingers Wander?

Cat with a light touch

Cat with a light touch

A thousand diverse notes” sound, of course, as your fingers wander over the water organ’s keys. Claudian, a poet of late Antiquity describes it quite clearly, and all it takes to make the bronze pipes blow is a “light touch” on the earliest keyboard instrument.

Now, what if you want to know what a light touch of the CommandShift and U keys will produce on the instrument in front of you?

How to Use the On Screen Keyboard on Windows

To bring up a software keyboard that lets you type without a physical keyboard attached to your computer on Windows:

  1. Press Windows Ctrl O.

Alternative paths to the Windows on screen keyboard exist:

Using Windows Settings
  1. Open the Start menu.
  2. Click Settings (Windows menu Settings).
  3. Open the Ease of Access category.
  4. Now go to the Keyboard section (under Interaction).
  5. Make sure Use the On-Screen Keyboard is On under User your device without a physical keyboard.

Using the Start Menu

  1. Open the Start menu.
  2. Go to Windows Ease of Access under Programs or All Programs.
  3. Launch the On-Screen Keyboard program.

Use the Touch Keyboard as an On Screen Keyboard on Windows

Windows 10 also offers a touch keyboard on the screen which you can use as an alternative; you can type on it using a touch screen but also a mouse or trackpad.

To bring up the Windows 10 touch keyboard:

  1. Click the Touch keyboard button in the Windows taskbar.
    • If the Touch keyboard button is not on your Windows taskbar, click on the taskbar with the right mouse button and select Show touch keyboard button from the context menu.
  2. Use the touch keyboard’s settings button (Windows 10 Touch Keyboard Settings Button) to change its size and attach it to the bottom of the screen or have it float.

How to Use the On Screen Keyboard on a Mac

To enable and bring up the virtual macOS keyboard so you can view character layouts and enter letters or even special characters with either keys or a keyboard missing on a Mac:

Enable Input Menu

First, enable the input menu in the menu bar:

  1. Click the Apple logo () in the menu.
  2. Select System Preferences… from the menu.Select "System Preferences…" from the menu. Apple
  3. Open the Keyboard category.
  4. Go to the Input Sources tab.
  5. Make sure Show Input menu in menu bar is checked.Make sure "Show input menu in menu bar" is checked. Apple

Open the macOS On-Screen Keyboard

Now, to open the on-screen keyboard on your Mac:

  1. Click the input menu button in the menu bar.
  2. Select Show Keyboard Viewer from the menu.Select "Show keyboard viewer" from the menu. Apple

Use the Mac On-Screen Keyboard

To use the on-screen keyboard on a Mac:

  • Click any key to insert it.
    • Hint: So-called “dead” keys will appear in orange. A dead key is one that modifies the next key you press, to add an accent, for example.
  • Hold down keys—and modifier keys in particular—on the physical keyboard, if you have one, to see what effect they have.
    • Example: Press the Option and Shift keys together, for example, to see what character pressing Option and Shift together with another key will insert.
    • Tip: You can also click modifier keys on the keyboard viewer; note that you can always only have one clicked, however.On-Screen Keyboard on a Mac - Keyboard Viewer. Apple

(How to use the on screen keyboard on Windows and Mac tested with Windows 10, macOS Sierra 10.12 and macOS High Sierra 10.13; updated January 2019; title image: StockUnlimited)