Most annoying Windows 8 trait: Double keyboards

Microsoft decided to make Windows 8 fit the entire spectrum of computing devices, from desktops to touch tablets. The more I use it, the more I like it, but there is one thing it does that is totally annoying.

Windows 8 is an OS that covers a lot of ground in the mobile space. It is typical Windows when used on desktop systems, yet it handles touch operation that is appearing on laptops, tablets, and hybrids. One such hybrid that I've been using since picking one up at a good price is the HP Envy x2 .

Double keyboard
Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The more I use the Envy x2, the more impressed I am with its versatility. I can use it as a full laptop with the additional benefit of a touchscreen, or I can use it as a touch tablet. It handles both duties equally well while delivering an impressive 14+ hours of battery life.

As good as it is, there is one trait built into Windows 8 that drives me batty while using the Envy x2. Microsoft puts a software keyboard in Windows 8 to handle those times when using a touch tablet. The keyboard pops up on the screen, taking up quite a lot of it, to facilitate text entry when no physical keyboard is present.

This soft keyboard works well; it's not the best on mobile devices but it's quite functional. But the way Microsoft has implemented it on hybrid systems is fundamentally flawed.

Look at the image above, and you see what I mean. For the soft keyboard to work properly, it must never, ever pop up when the PC has a physical keyboard attached. There is never a need for the onscreen keyboard when a nice, physical one is sitting right there under the user's hands.

The problem is that when the user touches the screen to activate a control requiring text input, the onscreen keyboard pops up. It takes over half the screen, and either covers up the app display or resizes it to fit around the onscreen keyboard.

If the user taps the same control using the mouse, Windows 8 is intelligent enough to know not to show the virtual keyboard. It operates totally differently than the touch operation, which is inconsistent for the user.

This is a jarring user experience (UX) every time it happens. The OS suddenly takes over most of the screen by popping up a virtual keyboard you don't need or want. Sure, it disappears when you start typing on the physical keyboard, but after taking over the screen. The disappearing keyboard then either causes the app display to redraw without the keyboard, or worse, leaves the app windows squished up as if the onscreen keyboard was still present. Things are popping on and off the screen needlessly, taking attention away from the task at hand.

Microsoft wants to see folks using Windows 8 on all sorts of devices, including these hybrids, so it needs to address this ASAP. It's ugly, interruptive, and should never happen. Windows 8 can surely sense when a physical keyboard is attached, so turn off the software keyboard.

Update: This annoying trait may be caused by the HP drivers for the keyboard. I've heard from some who claim their different hybrid doesn't exhibit this trait, and others who do. In my opinion, the OS should be responsible for preventing a glaring UX issue like this, and I believe Microsoft should not allow the drivers to do this if that's the case.