Dvorak on Typing, Typing Tutor 5+. (educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Typing lessons have certainly come a long way since the early 1980s: Back then, I sat in a windowless basement room at my high school, clattering away on elderly electrics along with 25 or 30 other teenagers. (I always sat near the back so I could trade insults with a cheerleader I knew.) With Interplay's Dvorak on Typing and Typing Tutor 5+ from Que Software, you get everything Mrs. McIntyre taught in the privacy of your own pod, along with such niceties as digitized speech prompts and typing games.
The programs work on similar principles, although there are clear differences in their interfaces, teaching styles, and games. Dvorak on Typing is the chatty one, talking you through the entire program (unless you turn the sound off). Typing Tutor 5+, its mute competitor, keeps mum but offers a more conventional, Windows-like interface.
Dvorak on Typing trades on the name of the alternative keyboard, boasting development input from "world-renowned computer columnist" John C. Dvorak. Its speech capabilities resemble those of a speech-equipped car--you know, "Your key is in the ignition." It begins by asking, "What is your name?" and concludes by prompting, "Are you ready to quit?"
In between, you get a test to determine whether you're a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced typist; helpful typing drills; dictation practice from the digitized voices; progress reports; and the Sword Fighting Game, in which your typing prowess can boost the efforts of a saber-wielding knight. While its interface differs from the Windows standard--you merely type L to begin Lessons, for instance, with no Alt-key combination--it's an intuitive setup that requires no effort to learn using either a keyboard or a mouse. The program has an attractive, uncluttered feel.
Dvorak on Typing's voice prompts amount to aural clutter, for the most part, although the program's speech capabilities give it an edge when it comes to actual teaching. During typing drills, it says errant keystrokes out loud and changes their color. While the Windows version doesn't precisely match the descriptions on the box and manual, there are no substantive failings. You don't get to choose the child's voice for speech prompts, for example, but that's no great loss.
I never did get to try the "faster-to-use but exotic and uncommon" Dvorak keyboard, unfortunately. While the manual indicates it can be loaded from the program's Preferences screen, a supplementary Windows information sheet indicates that the keyboard must be loaded in Windows (if you have the necessary driver; I don't), at which point Dvorak on Typing will employ it automatically.
I discovered no such discrepancies using either the DOS or the Windows version of Typing Tutor 5+. 1 mostly used the Windows version of Typing Tutor 5+, but the DOS version appeared roughly equivalent--despite a markedly less attractive interface. The program lacks Dvorak on Typing's speech capabilities, and its user interface is relatively more complicated, though nothing that will surprise anyone familiar with graphical user interfaces. To start a lesson, you must select New or Open from the File menu rather than answer a prompt as you do at the beginning of Dvorak on Typing. Once you're in, Typing Tutor 5+ lets you begin just as easily as Dvorak on Typing to learn basic typing skills or, if you're experienced, improve your work on everything from ampersands to asterisks.
Typing Tutor 5+ includes elements I love and loathe. Unlike Dvorak on Typing, which indicates finger positions with an unobtrusive graphic of two static hands moving slowly, Typing Tutor 5+ shows a graphic of ghostly hands flying over the keyboard--a terrible distraction. It's easy to turn off, fortunately. Some of the sentences in the Typing Tutor 5+ lessons are horribly wordy and convoluted, making it unnecessarily difficult to practice your typing (unless you find it natural to type poetic tachism, neoconstructivism, poptical art, or realism!).
It bothers me that both programs' drills require you to type two spaces after each sentence, an outdated holdover from the days before word processers. But I like the way Typing Tutor 5+ allows you to do warmup typing sessions before beginning skills tests. And I loved its game: Unlike Dvorak on Typing's diffuse, nebulous knight contest, Typing Tutor 5+ features a terrific Space Invaders knockoff called Letter Invaders. In it, you zap killer characters and words by typing them before they hit the ground.
Both programs have strengths and weaknesses, but I don't think you'd stray with either. Whether you're a novice interested in learning to type or a veteran looking to hone your skills, either Dvorak on Typing or Typing Tutor 5+ should provide all the instruction you need. You'll have to provide your own cheerleader.