Posting with Dasher

I decided to try writing an entire post in Dasher just to see how easy it was to use. Dasher is an alternative way to enter text on the computer. It is mainly geared towards use in small devices where a keyboard would take too much space, or for people with a disability which prevents them from using a keyboard. The Dasher program included with Gnome 2.6 consists of a text box at the top showing what you have typed and the Dasher input area at the bottom. Dasher is controlled simply by moving the mouse cursor. Letters appear on the right side of the screen in colored boxes. These boxes are scaled in proportion to the how likely you are to choose them.

Typing in Dasher feels a bit like playing a video game. As you move the mouse, you sort of steer towards the letters you want to type. The boxes containing the letters grow as you move towards them and boxes for following letters appear inside the existing ones. Since Dasher uses a language model to predict the probability of each subsequent letter, the word you intend to type begins to appear on the right side of the screen. This feature seems to work quite well since it doesn't just look for any word that begins with the letters you have typed,but it also considers the context of the sentence you are writing. Dasher even seems to learn as you type. For example, the first time I wrote the word "Dasher" it took a little tricky maneuvering, but the subsequent times it became much easier to type.

Dasher even helps you spell words since the letters for the correct spelling will appear much larger. However, I don't knowhow quickly Dasher would learn an incorrect spelling that would throw it off in the future. Once you get used to the navigation in Dasher it feels quite natural and you can turn up the speed it moves at to type at a quite reasonable pace.

Of course, Dasher is not without problems. The most frustrating one is that it will freeze up periodically on my computer. I have an Athlon XP 2000+, so it's much faster than the handheld systems the software is supposed to be usable on. I'll have to look into this to see what's going on.

Also, it would be useful to have Dasher operate in a way that it could be used to input text directly into any program. Users can copy text from Dasher into another program, but if text could be input directly into a word processor the user would be able to take advantage of other features such as the real-time spell checking.

I should also note that Dasher includes training text for a variety of languages, so users that don't speak English will be able to take full advantage of the software right away without taking time to train it themselves. I may try training it on Python, or HTML to see how easily it adapts. Although I had never written anything in Dasher before writing this post, I can already type fairly fast in it, but it would probably be quite difficult to code in it since my thoughts don't really tend to flow as linearly when I'm programming and Dasher isn't particularly well suited towards jumping around and editing text. However, I will admit that it was much more fun writing this post in Dasher than it would be typing it out normally. It feels kind of like the computer is reading your mind when you can see the words you were thinking of appear on the screen before you even begin to enter them.