Typing, dictation or handwriting?

Speedtest - how fast are you?: I clocked 2 short of 60 WPM, which is not bad on a laptop keyboard :) Although typing is becoming obsolete slowly (definitely not as fast as predicted a few years ago by Gates), we think it's appropriate to discuss a few alternatives. Gates as well as other computer enthusiasts predicted decades ago that by now computers would not only interface via voice or handwriting, but they would even be self-healing. Obviously, none of those predictions materialised. Voice recognition has made amazing progress. Out of the box, accuracy is usually well above 95%, and with training it can be brought up to 98-99%, which is adequate for most applications. Handwriting recognition however has left much to be desired. I am typing this article on a Toshiba Tablet, which has both speech & handwriting recognition, but I prefer typing because I don't like headsets, and furthermore, I am already a pretty good typist. I had a friend a computer-adverse friend use it for a while, and he could not figure out voice recognition, preferring to type rather than write or speak. This leads me to believe that most people will prefer typing even when they are not fast typists to other methods, even when these capabilities exist (and the usually are not pre-installed). It makes sense therefore to look at typing tutors. 1. Typing Tutors I learned typing by taking a course. I never had the self-discipline to learn from the computer. Furthermore, I always found competition to be a highly motivating factor especially for activities that don't involve the brain too deeply. But not everybody has the time to take such a course. So what is somebody who feels limited by their slow typing speed to do? Whether you take a course, such as BBC's Typing Course or learn from a computer program, you still need to apply your will power. You have to begin by forcing yourself to use all your fingers and start from the home position (by feeling the bumps on "F" and "G" with the tip of your index fingers). You may cheat in the beginning by looking at your fingers, but eventually, you have to force yourself to look at the screen (and paper) only. No program (or teacher) can do this for you, you have to make each of these leaps yourself. There will obviously be a decrease in speed at first, but eventually you will get it. If this is something you want to do, there is one program I would recommend. Sure, your friends might recommend "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing". This must be one of the most pirated programs in the world. When I got my first computer, it was at version 5. About 10 years ago was at version 11 (without any major improvement), which leads me to believe that by now it should be at version 56. But why pir8 and expose yourself and your computer to viruses, trojans or spyware when you can get most of it legally for free? A quick search on Sourceforge (a collaborative site for open source software developers) turns out two major programs: TypeFaster Typing Tutor and Klavaro Typing Tutor. Klavaro is the underdog, obviously. If I was learning to type, I'd start with TypeFaster and move to Klavaro only if not satisfied. There is of course more available if you run Linux or BSD. There is even a program called Makin' Bakon Typing Tutor, but if you're looking for a 3rd way, N-Type (also available for Windows) is probably a better bet - it will teach you typing with BBC's latest articles, which it downloads before the lesson. If you want more eyecandy, Stamina has a more polished interface, though it's not open source. A more exhaustive discussion of the existing typing tutors can be found on the All Touch Typing Tutors list, hosted by the makers of Stamina (so it obviously lists Stamina as the best). 2. Voice dictation You might be glad to know that you don't have so many choices in terms of voice dictations as with typing tutors. You will be less happy to learn that they are quite expensive and generally require a good microphone and as an absolute minimum a headset, to reduce annoying feedback or echo effects and increase accuracy. A few years ago, your only choices were Dragon and IBM Via Voice. Dragon was better but more demanding in terms of hardware. In the meantime, Microsoft has managed to buy (and bankrupt?) a lesser known package from another contender. As a result, they came up with their own voice dictation software, which was first included in Windows XP for Tablets and now is part of Vista. Via Voice continues to be the least demanding in terms of hardware, while Dragon is still the best. Microsft voice recognition is not as good as Dragon, but it's included in Vista, which means that both Dragon and Via Voice will die a slow, painful death. For the Mac, iListen is your only choice, period. Even with Dragon, the quality leader, dictating a letter is not a walk in the park. The program does not like pauses - it works best if you think ahead of talking, and that's not easy. Here is a good review of what to expect when dictating with Dragon. If you are a business, your best bet is to deal with a reputable vendor and let them figure out what's best for you. A list of such vendors is available. 3. Handwriting recognition If you tried this on a PDA or other underpowered device you are bound to have been disappointed. PC-based handwriting recognition is far better, as this Microsoft article indicates.. This software usually comes included with your OS, or if you purchase a writing tablet separately it might come with it, especially f it's a Wacom (the market leader) or similar. Otherwise, you might have to purchase a program like StartWrite. Again, a Tablet PC is your best bet, but if you prefer to just add such a writing tablet to an existing PC, a Wacom costs at least $80, with the better ones going for about $300. A Chinese made tablet about the size of a small mousepad can be had for less than $20, but don't expect quality - they are made to draw one Asian character at a time. Conclusion Stick with typing! The alternatives are expensive and will frustrate/waste your time far more than a keyboard.

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