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As I study the F# language there’s an occasional need to quickly try out certain things by entering expressions or small functions and executing them. In addition to the Visual Studio Interactive F# console there’s also the Tsunami utility which is a great way to play with F#.

I find my Surface tablet well suited to this because I can use it in a variety of locations and settings but that entails using the on-screen keyboard and frankly I think the on-screen keyboard on the Surface is rather lackluster.

On-screen keyboard shortcomings

The on-screen keyboard can’t be resized, you can’t alter the colors used for the keys, the symbols on the keys or the keyboard border. You can’t redefine which keys appear where etc. The entire keyboard support is disappointing given the richness of the GUI functionality in Windows 8.1.

Using it for F# dabbling is frustrating because one constantly has to switch between text and symbol keys to enter anything. In F# one uses parentheses, semicolons, brackets and various operators rather frequently yet one must switch between text/symbol mode constantly to enter even simple bits of F# code, frankly this is ridiculous given what’s possible on this operating system.

I’m sure most of us could quite readily outline a design and feature set for a better keyboard, one thing I’d do is allow the key designations to be redefined – I’d rather a ‘;’ appeared where the ‘?’ currently appears and so on, then be able to save a configuration with a name so I can quickly configure the keyboard when I want it in an F# friendly mode.

Fortunately there's a better way, the Windows “on-screen keyboard” under the Windows Ease Of Access programs. This keyboard can be resized, reshaped has a word suggestion capability and has more settings and options, its altogether a much better keyboard. It won’t however start automatically when you attempt to enter text into a Store app but if it already running it will work with such apps and it prevents the “normal” on-screen keyboard from being started (so you’ll never have to worry about having two keyboards active).

Using this keyboard makes working with F# in an interactive session a lot easier.

Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:47 AM Programming Languages | Back to top

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