Is digital ink all it is cracked up to be?

People have been trying to find good ways to connect handwriting to computers for more than a decade. Writing becomes one of the most natural acts there is when we learn how to do it as children and, then, just a few years later these days, we learn how to type on a keyboard to control our computers.

There are many different options for writing with a pen on a computer. From child-focused products like the ones LeapFrog makes to high-end tablets used by graphic artists, the choices in digital ink are substantial and expanding daily. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be many standards — some devices require special paper, some need to be tethered to a computer, but some new devices are coming out with Bluetooth, internal storage, and audio recording capabilities.

Tablet PCs remain one of the primary options for those who prefer to take notes by hand rather than keyboarding, and their popularity among students is growing to the point that some college programs require a tablet PC, and even students in Borneo are using them. Another digital ink product in use primarily in education is the SMART Board, a digital whiteboard that allows teachers and students to write in digital ink, print the writing to a printer, or save it for later review.

I got my Tablet PC about six weeks ago,and I don't ever want to go without it again. I love being able to take notes during a meeting without having a screen (even a small laptop screen) in front of my face and without having to type on a keyboard. I am able to be far more engaged when taking notes with a "pen," and the digital ink gives me much more flexibility than my old paper notebook system. There are definitely times when I open up the tablet and use it as a traditional laptop, but those times are pretty limited. I am also very pleasantly surprised at the tablet's ability to recognize my (admittedly awful) handwriting. If you haven't tried a Tablet PC and handwriting recognition lately, I highly recommend testing it out for yourself.

Do you use any digital ink? What formats have you tried? What were the flops and successes you have experienced? If you have never tried digital ink, why not? Do you think you will ever want to use digital ink?

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