In this Google Tech Talk, David J.C. MacKay of Cambridge University presents Dasher, a piece of software that appears to make the computer keyboard obsolete. It is like a computer game in which you use the mouse to run through a fractal pattern of squares holding the letters that you want to enter. The sizes of the squares are relative to the frequency of the letters given the last few characters entered. Keypresses and mouse clicks are kept to an absolute minimum. The idea seems to have everything going for it: it requires no new hardware, it has a several obvious applications (MacKay mentions people with disabilities, hand-held computing, mobile phones, and Chinese and Japanese text entry), and the software is free (GPL) and available for Windows, Linux and Macs. Unfortunately the project website appears to be down at the moment. I will go over to my Ubuntu system and see if there is a version available under Synaptic that I can install and play with.
I have now had a chance to play with using Dasher on my Ubuntu laptop. Writing with it is a very strange experience: recursive, fractal, exhilarating. You get a real sense of the infinite number of other possible texts sliding past as you move the mouse down your particular sequence of characters. Very Jorge Luis Borges.
I understand that, for most people, writing with Dasher would be slightly slower than using a keyboard. However, it would still seem a good idea to familiarise yourself with using Dasher because it, or something like it, could well become the norm for data entry in keyboardless systems. And besides, a few more years of development could well make it faster than a keyboard.
One question comes to mind: how useful would Dasher be for programming languages?
The Dasher Project site is now back up, so Iwill be able to download and try out the Windows version (as soon as my daughter comes off our Windows PC).