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Dumb 'Qwerty' Keyboard Finally Getting Smart

The 'qwerty' keyboard has been the subject of abuse ever since it made its first appearance in 1872. The device has been largely neglected through the march of decades, even as computer components have advanced dramatically. Clearly keyboards need some imagination. A new software program that introduces a level of memory and intelligence to the lowly PC keyboard may just do that.
The 'qwerty' keyboard has been the subject of derision and verbal abuse ever since it made its first awkward appearance in 1872. The device has been largely neglected through the march of decades, even as computer components have advanced dramatically.

Clearly keyboards need some imagination. A new software program that introduces a level of memory and intelligence to the lowly PC keyboard may just do that. The solution is called the Predictive Keyboard, and it's been developed by the WordLogic Corp. It's scheduled for commercial unveiling later this spring.

The Predictive Keyboard can carry out a great many simple and useful tasks: it can call up standard dictionaries and thesauri, as well as enable its users to create their own macros and personal dictionaries. But what's most intriguing is the Predictive Keyboard's potential for use in more demanding chores-quickly accessing databases, e-mail, spreadsheets, and instant messages.

"You can have a very comfortable and powerful interface just by holding a key down," said its inventor Peter Knaven in an interview. "There are always little pieces of information that you want to access. The Predictive Keyboard lets you link information in a very convenient way."

The origins of the keyboard technology can be traced to WordLogic's PDA program, also called the Predictive Keyboard. That intuitive software predicted commonly used words typed on PDA keyboards. The PC version has that feature and more.

"The keyboard becomes more than a simple input device," said Beta-site tester William Richards, a professor at Simon Fraser University, in an e-mail. "It becomes an entire layer of active knowledge. . . . The keyboard is separated from the rest of the computer. This changes what the user does with the keyboard--sending a processed, enhanced, expanded, improved stream of information instead of simple individual keystrokes. WordLogic has taught the keyboard a language."

WordLogic's Knaven, a native of Holland--who once wrote Unix kernel code for Siemens Nixdorf--said the keyboard program puts seven different languages of "cascading dictionaries" at the fingertips of users and a simple keystroke can invoke translation software. The program operates on Windows 2000 and XP--as well as underlying MS-DOS software. It can be called up anywhere text is entered. Knaven said Beta testers have liked the idea that they can carry the software around on a USB flash drive so they can use it on different computers to access their personal dictionaries, macros, passwords and calculators.

Knaven said the Predictive Keyboard is being tested with elementary and high school students on Vancouver Island. He added that the device appeared to aid all students. Particularly surprising, he added, was the positive impact it had on students with learning disabilities.

While the initial uses for the Predictive Keyboard are likely to be relatively simple, Knaven is intrigued by its potential uses by more sophisticated users. He foresees users one day drilling down into databases, for instance. "We have the capability of drilling down," he said. "And you can keep drilling down. It's just up to a user's imagination how far he can go."