Computing with the human touch. Or, computing for people who don't want to be dictated to 100% by the computer. Either way you look at it, there is a small but seemingly indestructible section of the IT community dedicated to making computers understand humans, rather than being forced to conform to the Way of the Keyboard. Applications like voice recognition software are a prime example - but they're still a long way from becoming viable solutions, simply because no two people are alike, and that's an extremely difficult market to cater for.
Much closer to the mark is handwriting recognition. Working on the assumption that perhaps the computer doesn't need to understand what you mean, but simply faithfully reproduce what you input and leave the comprehension side of things to the human being at the other end, handwriting recognition is an area which advanced sufficiently to offer real alternatives to traditional computing inputs.
The Pegasus PC Notes Taker offers a hardware and software solution to get your school-taught cursive script flowing down the USB cord. Supplied to us by Anyware, we fired it all up and tested what it could make of our illegible scrawl.
The PC Notes Taker comes in two parts - the USB base and the pen. The base is a standard USB device (USB2.0 requirement not specified) which draws all its power from the USB port. It works by clipping onto the top of a notepad, like the hold on a clipboard, and monitoring activity made by the pen within its range. It can cover up to A4, but can't monitor the small area to the immediate left and right of the page on either side of the base unit itself.
It's pretty small and lightweight, measuring 100mm wide x 47mm deep x 27mm high and weighing in at 60g. Useful as this won't crumple the paper it's physically attached to. It detects and reproduces handwriting at 100dpi, which is more than adequate for on-screen viewing, internet images and printing.
The pen is 136mm long, 13.7mm round and weighs in at 16g, and it's powered by three SR41 batteries.
The software package is standalone, but for use with Microsoft Office you need Office 2000/XP or 2003, and the Pen2Text feature only works with XP/2003. You also need the Handwriting Recognition Engine installed (installed as part of Office 2003), which is only available with the English US language set.
Recommended requirements for the entire suite are Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP, 128MB RAM, IE5.0+ and 800x600x32 resolution - none of these will pose any sort of problem for machines on the current market.
The main features of the PC Notes Taker lies in the software suite which makes everything possible. There are two main applications - NoteTaker and Pen2Text. There's also Annotater which is a plug-in for Microsoft Office. As a standalone application, NoteTaker sits in the system tray and monitors activity from the base unit. Any notes written outside of Microsoft Office are recorded in Note Manager.
Notes created this way can be sent to recipients over the network (who have NoteTaker installed on their machines) or stored as personal reminders, stuck on the screen as sticky notes or pasted into any other application as an image. The capture window can be configured as full A4 or just a small notepad - very useful for phone messages.
Pen2Text works with in conjunction with the Microsoft Office Handwriting Recognition Engine to convert whatever you're writing into text on the page. For those people who don't use Office, MyScript Notes is available, which also converts handwriting into text which can then be inserted into any application. It can be made to recognise different writing styles (cursive, capitals etc) and a number of different languages - useful for writing with accents and umlauts!
The base unit has six "virtual buttons" at the top which are activated by the pen. These give you in-app functions like copy, confirm or clear. These are useful in that you don't have to keep going back to the computer to do something with whatever you just typed out.