I am handwriting this

It's day 2 of owning a Surface Pro tablet. A reader of yesterday's entry tipped me off about the onscreen handwriting mode that is offered by the virtual keyboard.

To give it a spin, I am writing this whole entry with the handwriting recognition feature. It has taken me five minutes to get this far.

On one hand, I rescind my complaint about the Surface pen being utterly neglected. Evidently, it has not been neglected entirely. It just hasn't received the love and attention that I think it deserves. Writing about eight to ten words at a time in a box at the bottom of the screen isn't what I had in mind when I imagined what it might be like to use a modern pen-enabled tablet.

For one thing, I thought there would be a note-taking app that converted handwriting to digital text in-place. The handwriting panel isn't that bad, but it takes context away from where I am providing input—the text area or input box I am working with. I need to keep looking up and down to re-read what I am writing.

Plus, writing in chunks of about ten words at a time is abusing my already all-too-meager prose-writing.

I am probably being unfair to ask for really slick features such as support for inline handwriting in arbitrary fields such as web forms. But here's hoping some more features along this path are added into Windows 9.

The good:

  • The handwriting recognition is remarkable. I know this because it can read my hideous scrawl.
  • The UI for the handwriting panel is alarmingly intuitive. I was able to learn the basics without any training or RTFM time. This may be an artifact of it being informed by years of previous pen-enabled Windows versions.
  • There must be a dictionary behind the scenes helping the algorithm make its replacement decisions. That would be reasonable. When I write an "e" and it looks more like a "c", the panel knows an "e" makes more sense and correctly guesses whet I intended.
  • As I've been writing this entry, I've become quite a but more efficient. It's still not half as fast as even the mediocrity of poking away at an on-screen keyboard, making this at best a novelty and not something I'd want to do regularly.
  • Inserting text is really easy. Just start writing between two words, and the UI will move a word out of the way to make room.
  • The pressure-sensitive stylus is pretty awesome. I can see this being a lot of fun for someone who has an artistic bent, which means not me. Still, the appearance of the "ink" as I write (before the UI translates my words into its Comic Sans-looking interpretation) looks real. It doesn't look like I am writing with a Sharpie or Magic Marker. It looks like I am writing with a fine-tipped pen.

The bad:

  • I keep getting an empty space at the start of each paragraph. I think the UI is under the mistaken impression that only spaces count as white-space between words. So it adds one. Thank you!
  • Windows would say that I am terrible at writing the first-person pronoun "I." Apparently I want to refer to myself as (, 1, /, \, and ). The contraction "I've" came back as "lire" a few times. I don't even know what that means.
  • My arm is getting fatigued way faster than it would be on paper with a regular pen. Perhaps l am applying too much pressure but l don't have any muscle memory for working with a stylus.
  • l cheated and added the markup for these bullets after the fact with a real keyboard. l refuse to suffer bracket hell using a stylus.
  • As far as I can tell, there's no pen gesture l can make that would tell Windows, "on f2k, abort, don't even try to parse that mess." A couple times, I instinctively scratched a rapid horizontal mark as if to say "ignore this" but Windows chose not to unsee what had been seen. I think the designers expect for me to flip the pen over and quickly use its eraser top. The eraser s fun, by the way, but fun and efficient are not always the same. It's simply not as fast as a quick abort gesture would be.

Okay, my arm is in agony. That's a wrap.
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