Like it or not, touchscreens are becoming the norm for Windows laptops. If you want to tap away on the on-screen keyboard in your next Windows 8 laptop or tablet PC, do yourself a favor and use the accessibility keyboard instead of the default touch keyboard.
A little bit of backstory: Windows 7 and earlier versions had an on-screen keyboard similar to today's Windows 8 touch keyboard--but dramatically better. The former (orange-toned) keyboard could be repositioned and resized wherever you wanted, set to slide in from the left or right side of the screen with a tap, and automatically appear whenever the cursor was in a text field. To use an over-used phrase, it just worked.
By contrast, the new Windows 8 touch keyboard is huge, taking up nearly a third of the screen in some small laptops, and it lacks a lot of functionality. You can move that giant keyboard around, but can't resize it. There's a mobile-like option for splitting the keyboard for easy thumbing, but nowhere can you find special keys like the Windows key or function key. The handwriting input screen no longer has that easy way to correct individual letters.
Update: As some of the commenters have noted, you can get the option for the full keyboard in Windows 8 by turning it on in settings (it's not on by default, for reasons I can not imagine): Swipe from the right edge of the screen, click Settings, then Change PC Settings. Under the General section you can toggle the option to make the standard keyboard layout available.
Granted, many of these changes were likely made to accomodate touch--and fat fingers--rather than the penabled (stylus) touchscreens of Windows tablet PCs of yore. But, still, you might prefer a more familiar, traditional keyboard layout on screen.
Oddly enough (or maybe not), you can get that with the on-screen keyboard designed for accessibility. Head to the Ease of Access Center (under Control Panel > Ease of Access) and turn on the on-screen keyboard to get a more functional keyboard that can be resized, docked, and minimized with one tap. In addition to the default keyboard layout (complete with number keys at the top), you can also show a number pad and other missing keys such as the page up and down keys, PrtScn key, and more.
It even predicts words as you tap!
Head to the options in the on-screen keyboard to have it start up every time Windows 8 boots.
The on-screen keyboard isn't as functional as the old touch keyboard in Windows 7 and earlier (there's no handwriting input, for example), but it's much better than the default one on Windows 8.
Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.