Richard likes Swype’s predictive text on his tablet and wants a similar app for a Windows 10 PC
Predictive text programs have been around for a long time, and many are still available. The first one I used was Brown Bag Software’s MindReader, which arrived on a 5.25in floppy disk in the early 1980s. I don’t know if Brown Bag came up with the idea, but its approach is typical.
MindReader read what you were typing, guessed what the word might be, and popped up a numbered list of choices. You could then insert a whole word by selecting the one you wanted. If you didn’t want any of them, you just carried on typing.
Many predictive text programs use the PC’s function keys to make the selection, though I can’t remember if MindReader did this as well.
If you were a fast typist – even the two-fingered type – then programs such as MindReader were more annoying than helpful. However, predictive software was tremendously useful to people who needed assistance for other reasons. Penfriend says its predictive software “benefits users who have dyslexia, visual impairment or physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, stroke, limb deformities and any condition which impairs the ability to write with a keyboard”.
Predictive text programs are also useful in schools, because children can select words that they know but aren’t sure how to spell. Programs such as Quillsoft’s WordQ 5 help by voicing words. It’s usually easier to know if a word sounds right than if it looks right.
There are lots of commercial programs aimed at schools. These include Penfriend XP and XL, WordQ, ClaroRead and Crick Software’s Clicker. Much less powerful but free examples for general use include TypingAid, Volkmar Kobelt’s VK TypeHelp and the open-source Presage, which was formerly known as Soothsayer. PhraseExpress isn’t cheap, but you can get a freeware version called Text Expander. TypingAid, which is written using AutoHotkey, works at the system level, so it works with most applications.
If you take this route, the best program for your purposes could be SumitSoft’s Typing Assistant. Its features include word prediction, auto-complete, auto-correct and, for abbreviations, auto-expand. It has a Skilled Typist Mode for translators, secretaries, authors, programmers and so on and an Unskilled Typist Mode for people who have problems spelling (including in 50+ foreign languages) or physical disabilities. It costs $129.95 but there’s a 30-day money back guarantee. FastKeys is a cheaper alternative – see below.
There’s also Texthelp’s Read&Write, which costs £150 a year and has more than 10 million users, thanks to its corporate and education versions. You’re unlikely to buy Read&Write, but there’s a Google Chrome extension that you can try free for 30 days.
Predictive text came into its own when people started texting on mobile phones that only had numeric keypads. When it took multiple key-presses to enter a character, programs such as Tegic’s T9 and XT9 were a huge boon. (Nuance bought the company from Cliff Kushler.)
When smartphones arrived, predictive text was still a great time-saver. And with the moves from PC keyboards to Blackberry-style phone keyboards to on-screen touch keyboards, we finally got programs such as IBM’s ShapeWriter, Swype, SwiftKey and Google’s Gboard.
The bad news is that, as you probably know, Swype has been discontinued. (Nuance bought the company from Cliff Kushler.) The good news is that many people preferred SwiftKey, and that SwiftKey is now being added to Windows 10. (In this case, Microsoft bought the company, despite Microsoft Research coming up with its own Word Flow keyboard.)
In Windows 10 (October 2018 Update), go to the Settings cogwheel, select Devices and then Typing. Click on “Suggestions and autocorrections” and turn SwiftKey on for the languages you type in. The initial version should be much enhanced in future updates.
It’s not going to be much use to you if you don’t have a touchscreen to work on, but a large proportion of Windows 10 laptops now have touchscreens.
This is the age of “big data”, and it’s changing software. In the old days, you needed clever programming to do things like speech recognition and predictive text. Now you can deliver effective results with simple algorithms if you have enough data for pattern matching. Google has frighteningly large amounts of data, and it is using it to good effect.
A couple of years ago I stopped using smartphone keyboards almost completely, because the speech recognition on my Android phone made typing a waste of time. And if your PC has a microphone, you can use speech recognition in Google Docs with a Chrome-type browser.
Of course, speech recognition has been part of Windows for two decades, and in Windows 10, you can turn it on and off by pressing WinKey-Ctrl-S. There are also good specialised programs such as Nuance’s Dragon Dictate. But programs that run only on a local PC have a hard time competing with ones that use servers with AI and access to petabytes of data.
The latest version of Gmail includes predictive text by default. Basically, Gmail’s Smart Compose system tries to complete your sentences and you just hit the tab key to accept its suggestion. It’s intended for writing emails, but you can write whatever you like, then copy and paste your text into a real document.
Smart Compose might help smartphone users, but it’s worse than useless if you’re a touch-typist with a proper keyboard. Just thinking about whether to accept Smart Compose’s suggestions is distracting, and it’s usually far quicker to ignore them and just keep typing.
To disable the Smart Compose and Smart Reply features in Gmail, click the cogwheel icon and select Settings. Go down the General menus and click the radio buttons to set “Writing suggestions off” and “Smart Reply off”. You can tell all your friends how easy it is to do this.
Many programs will offer to complete a word once you have started typing it; LibreOffice is a good example. (See my earlier answer on the difference between LibreOffice and OpenOffice.)
LibreOffice has an AutoCorrect feature that remembers every eight-letter (or longer) word you type. The next time you type the first three letters of that word, it will offer to complete it. Again, this is annoying and will slow down a fast typist, but some users will find it a boon. It could work if you delete words you don’t want auto-completed and just type three letters plus Enter for long words you use often.
In LibreOffice Writer, go to Tools, select AutoCorrect and then AutoCorrect Options. The AutoCorrect dialogue box has a tab for Word Completion. There you can set the minimum word length and change the “Accept with” key from Enter to Tab or, perhaps, the space bar.
The common trick in Microsoft Office is to set up AutoCorrect options for long words or phrases that you use often. For example, #tyf could be autocorrected to “Thank you for your letter” while #csi could automatically insert chrono-synclastic infundibulum, or whatever.
You could use the same approach system-wide with a program such as AutoHotKey. Better still, you could add a script that someone has already written, such as Uberi’s Autocomplete 1.2. The code is on GitHub so you could even adapt it yourself.
As an alternative, FastKeys is a reasonably priced ($19 for three PCs) commercial Windows automation program specifically designed to save you typing.
1 Can I Use Predictive Text On My PC To Save Typing? Photos