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Three typing tutors and a boy

By Tina Gasperson on September 08, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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I recently sat down with my 12-year-old son Ian, who agreed to sit still long enough to try a few typing teacher applications on Ubuntu Hardy Heron. Ian has a lot of experience on the computer but, until now, he has subscribed to the hunt and peck typing philosophy. Fortunately, we found a number of open source typing tutorial programs to download and test. Ian and I looked at three GPL-licensed apps: Klavaro, TuxTyping, and KTouch.

Ian first tried Klavaro, which comes packaged in .deb, RPM, and .exe versions, or you can download and compile the source code. The developers say this app is based on KTouch but adds more functionality by allowing users to choose from several different languages and keyboard layouts, including QWERTY, Dvorak, and several non-English layouts.

Klavaro, which installed itself under Applications -> Education, opened to a main menu window where you need to select the type of keyboard you want to use and the language. Defaults are the Dvorak keyboard and the Czech language. Once that's squared away, you're ready to begin learning touch typing. Ian clicked on Introduction, and Klavaro started him out with a fairly brief introduction consisting of several paragraphs of narrative explaining the proper positioning of the fingers and the proper movement when pressing keyboard keys. My son is not one for reading instructions on much of anything, preferring to jump right in, so he skipped the introduction and went right for the first lesson.

Lesson One got him started on typing f, j, Space, and Enter in different combinations. He was able to pick that up in spite of skipping the introduction, and the lesson, while extremely basic, did hold his attention and did seem to work as far as helping him begin to memorize the locations of letters by touch. He finished the first lesson and seemed motivated to go on to the next, which is the mark of success when dealing with an "I'd rather be outdoors than sitting here doing lessons" kind of guy. The next lesson featured the letters k and d. Ian's speed and accuracy went up a bit on the second lesson, which kept him going onto the third with the letters s and l. Klavaro progresses in small increments, staying on the home row for several lessons and grading the student by percentage of errors and typing speed. You can look at cumulative reports to see how you're progressing.

Ian said he liked Klavaro and wanted to keep going with it, but it was time to move on to the next typing application. I promised him he could come back to Klavaro later.

TuxTyping

Next on Ian's list was TuxTyping, which is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. I think we knew he was in for something different when we discovered TuxTyping installed itself not in Applications -> Education, but in Applications -> Games.

I figured Ian would like TuxTyping more than Klavaro since the former has a video-game-style interface and teaches typing drills and word lessons by using games with levels like "Space Cadet" and "Ace," as well as more traditional lessons. I let Ian decide where to start. A game called Fish Cascade is the first item in the main menu, another game called Comet Zap is second, and Lessons is all the way down in third place. Under that are Options and Quit. Ian chose Comet Zap at the Space Cadet level, the least difficult of four levels, with the others being Pilot, Ace, and Commander. Then he chose Finger Exercises, which shows groups of three random letters for him to type in order to have Tux the penguin shoot alien ships. Other options include Alphabet, which is easier because you only have to type one letter at a time instead of three in a group; Long Words; Short Words; Medium Words; and, oddly enough, Plants, which shows common names of plants that the student must type correctly in order for Tux to shoot the alien ships. With any of these options, Ian found the games a challenge, since he doesn't know the location of the letters on the keyboard and had to keep looking down at the keyboard in order to find the right letters, type them, and have Tux shoot the ships before they could land on the Earth. Oddly enough this difficulty was a motivating factor. I told him he could just drop back and do the lessons to learn the layout of the keyboard, but he wanted to keep playing the game for a little while.

TuxTyping's other game, Fish Cascade, has Tux chomping up fish before they fall to the ground whenever the player types the letters correctly. Fish Cascade's levels are much less creative -- Easy, Medium, and Hard -- and the types of exercises are the same as in Comet Zap: Alphabet; Finger Exercises; Long, Medium, and Short Words; and Plants.

When he finally exited Comet Zap after 10 minutes or so, Ian decided to try the lessons. The informational screen (which he skipped but I read) informed us that the lesson was just a sample and it was really up to us to edit the lesson XML files in order to create our own lessons. Uh, sure -- just what every mom or dad needs in a typing tutor program for their kids, to have to create custom lessons by finding and editing XML files. This is not a skill most people have, rendering TuxTyping too difficult to use for the majority of its potential audience.

Regardless, we went ahead with the sample lesson, and Ian was frustrated by the way the lesson jumped right into typing words with letters from all over the keyboard, instead of basic home row drills like Klavaro has. I suppose we could put our own home row drills in by editing those XML files, but it would make ever so much more sense to have those included already.

KTouch

Finally, Ian tested KTouch, a KDE application that is included in most distributions that include KDE. It is also included in the standard Ubuntu repositories, so I was able to install it through the Synaptic Program Manager in GNOME. KTouch installed itself in Applications -> Education.

Unfortunately, KTouch's opening screen doesn't offer a beginner much guidance. The window shows a graphical keyboard layout, and displays boxes showing the lesson level, current typing speed, the percent of correct keystrokes in the session, and new characters to be learned in the level (which, on the opening screen, simply said "Quite a lot"). It provided no obvious instructions for how to start the lesson or what was required to complete it. Ian finally determined that he needed to type some of the text shown in the upper portion of the screen. The text doubles as the needed instructions for opening a "lecture/training file" to start learning touch typing -- but you don't find that out until you type enough of the text to force it to scroll over so you can read it in its entirety, at which time you discover that this line of text was the "default lecture." This seemed asinine to us, and for a beginning typist without knowledge of the QWERTY layout it was an exercise in frustration. It would make more sense to offer a default lesson that begins with the most basic information, such as learning the location of the home keys. I looked in the Settings menu but I found no way to make the level more basic. Apparently KTouch is not geared to the beginning typist. One saving grace of the program is that it highlights the correct key to type on the onscreen keyboard layout.

Ian was much more patient with this application than I would have been. He wanted to keep on typing simply because he could look at the screen for a graphic representation of which key to type instead of having to peek at the actual keyboard. However, once he finished the sentence-long default lecture, he didn't feel the need to go any further with KTouch, claiming that Klavaro was his favorite, though he said he would be fine with KTouch if he were a more advanced typist. He liked TuxTyping the least of the three.

We had a positive experience with our test-drive of typing tutors. Now if I could just think of a way to entice Ian back to the computer to finish learning touch typing....

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.

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on Three typing tutors and a boy

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gTypist

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.175.81.118] on September 08, 2008 09:25 PM
gTypist is another you can try. My personal favorite... :D

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 159.238.13.55] on September 08, 2008 11:08 PM
I have been programming for over 30 years (for money since 1980) and I still hunt and peck...

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.11.47.50] on September 08, 2008 11:15 PM
Hi,

I've been the maintainer for Tux Typing (and also Tux Math) for about the last two years. It is aimed at a younger audience than something like KTouch, which is a more conventional program. Tux Typing is supposed to be a humorous, video game-style introduction to typing for those who are just learning the keyboard. The program is gradually becoming more feature-ful, but still has a lot of rough edges. It doesn't surprise me that a 12 year-old would prefer something less cartoonish than Tux Typing.

Anyway, thanks for the exposure. fwiw, the official website for Tux Typing and Tux Math is:

http://www.tux4kids.com

David Bruce

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 206.174.126.163] on September 09, 2008 12:42 AM
Tux Typing is great, but I have failed at making it work on the Mac computers we have at school. I'll get my a$$ chewed if I bring my own computers on the network, but the kids I teach really need to practice typing so I'm thinking of doing it anyway. Schools are missing out by choosing $1600 Macs over hand-me down pc's that can run edubuntu/ubuntu etc. Ktouch is a little dull for most students, but Tux Typing is great.

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Tux Typing on Macs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.11.47.50] on September 09, 2008 12:37 PM
Go to the site I listed above (www.tux4kids.com) - there are fairly current Mac builds that should work for OS-X 10.3 and up. The builds from sourceforge.net and other places are outdated. Also, if you have trouble, let us know at tux4kids-tuxtype-dev@lists.alioth.debian.org.

HTH,

David Bruce
David Bruce

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Re: Tux Typing on Macs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 206.174.126.163] on September 12, 2008 08:53 PM
Thanks! They're working now and the kids are eating them up. I appreciate the info.

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Re: Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.75.123.184] on September 09, 2008 05:27 PM
Well, you can bring the computer, but not plug it in the network ?

I think TuxTyping is not for the really, really beginner, unless as the article seems to imply you can start with a few letters first.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.178.31.101] on September 09, 2008 01:36 AM
I've been using Tipp10, which I think is really great; I do not know, if there is an english version, though.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.158.0.177] on September 09, 2008 06:18 AM
I work in an adult education centre with Windows boxes and up until now the only free software typing tutor I've been aware of is "Tux Typing" and it's way too juvenile to use. I will check out Klavaro so thanks for the tip.

What is used is the proprietary software programme "Mavis Beacon" which has been around forever...sort of the "Microsoft" of typing tutors. The lack of a fairly full featured typing tutor programme that adults would be comfortable using is an impediment to Linux adoption where I work. Not sure whether or not Mavis Beacon can be run under "Wine".

Cost is not really that much of an issue because you can often find copies of Mavis Beacon that are a version or two old at very low cost in the software "bargain bins" at large retailers. I recently found copies for as little as C$4.00 so that I could do an "upgrade" from an older version.

Have to be able to make the argument based on software freedom...and admittedly the one irritating thing that new computer users have with Mavis Beacon is the "sign on" menu. But once the user gets beyond that it's fairly smooth sailing.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.219.145.86] on September 09, 2008 06:43 AM
I agree with the first comment, gtypist is pretty nice -- lessons in several languages; clean, simple appearance; and it's a very low resource app (in both the Linux and Win versions). But we are in an age where visually exciting interfaces get misguided praises over something like text-only gtypist. If you're looking for free typing tutorial alternatives to Mavis Beacon and you have web access, there are a few online sites like www.powertyping.com that are pretty good.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.161.45.7] on September 09, 2008 08:32 AM
Why not try DVORAK layout? If you really would like to type blind then what is written on the keys is not important since you are not looking at it.
The very big advantage of DVORAK is that the home row contains on the left the vowels a i o e and on the right the most frequent consonants.
Underlying principles:
from wikipedia:
Dvorak studied letter frequencies and the physiology of people's hands and created a layout to adhere to these principles:

* Letters should be typed by alternating between hands.
* For maximum speed and efficiency, the most common letters and digraphs should be the easiest to type. This means that they should be on the home row, which is where the fingers rest, and under the strongest fingers.
* The least common letters should be on the bottom row, which is the hardest row to reach.
* The right hand should do more of the typing, because most people are right-handed.
* Digraphs should not be typed with adjacent fingers.
* Stroking should generally move from the edges of the board to the middle. An observation of this principle is that, for many people, when tapping fingers on a table, it is easier going from little finger to index than vice versa. This motion on a keyboard is called inboard stroke flow.

Now by design the DVORAK is superior to QWERTY. IF RSI is important to you DVORAK is by design a big plus.
SInce it is supported on all OS-es you will always be able to map your QWERTY to DVORAK.

Marcel Geijsberts
The Netherlands

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The more fun alternative...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.191.147.67] on September 09, 2008 11:38 AM
I type extremely fast, and have been touch-typing since I was a young teenager. I never had an ounce of luck with training programs, though... The way I learned was a lot more fun anyway: I grew up playing text adventures, and keyboard-using role playing games. It's not hard to find the "A" key after hitting it to Attack in an Ultima for the tenth time, and the awareness translated into traditional typing through exploring games like Zork or Planetfall. Not exactly the whizbang graphics/sound kids are used to today, but as an old Infocom ad pointed out long ago, "the world's most powerful graphic technology" is the imagination. :o)

-- Koselara

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.240.205.72] on September 09, 2008 04:31 PM
It is not called the Hunt-Peck method, the proper term is the "Columbus Method of typing" you Discover the key and you Land on it.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.229.95.235] on September 09, 2008 05:40 PM
My favorite is HyperType (http://www.hypertype.org). It gives the Mavis Beacon style graphics showing your hands on the keys, and has a very complete set of lessons. Even though development has been stalled for over two years, and it is only at 0.2, it works very well. As far as I know, no distro packages it, so it has to be compiled from source, unless you can use the RPM or the DSL packages available the the website.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.1.51] on September 09, 2008 10:34 PM
Learning the Dvorak layout is great Marcel. I use it myself (my friends can't stand coming over and using my computers). But, even as a fan, I must say, the hardest part is going somewhere else and having to set up a new layout every time, switching from QWERTY to Dvorak and back again when you're finished, or like me you just adapt to both. Both ways are a bit of a nuisance.

Sadly, the world adopted QWERTY like they did Microsoft. Asking myself why? I find that a topic for the pub. So I won't. Even though I just did. :)

When I visit a client to work on their computers, I switch layouts. I've forgotten to switch back sometimes. lol. That always ends up with an interesting phone call 10 minutes after I leave.

I would be nice if Dvorak was taught from school, but with the rest of the world using QWERTY, the Education system collectively (world wide) won't be changing over any time soon. Sadly. :(

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 190.139.107.26] on September 10, 2008 09:59 PM
I'd recommend this excellent game made for pyweek, it's really fun and challenging ( even if you are good at typing :) ). Something like Guitar Hero but for typing.
https://opensvn.csie.org/traccgi/PyAr/wiki/TypusPocus

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.123.189.96] on September 11, 2008 01:14 PM
It would be a crying shame to actually force the QWERTY layout on a youngster. Dvorak is just a lot more comfortable, less effort, and makes a lot more sense. 130 years is long enough for the lingering of an intentionally severally de-optimized keyboard designed primarily to keep mechanical hammers from sticking together.

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Three typing tutors and a boy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.176.55.7] on September 13, 2008 04:54 PM
the proprietary software programme "Mavis Beacon" which has been around forever sort of the "Microsoft" of typing tutors. The lack of a fairly full featured typing tutor programme that adults would be comfortable using is an impediment to Linux adoption where I work. Not sure whether or not Mavis Beacon can be run under "Wine". You will be able to rate each game that you Play games http://www.iplaygames2.com . We hope to provide top games only and hope that you will also give us some good games as you can submit a game of your choice and a game that you like TuxTyping's other game, Fish Cascade, has Tux chomping up fish before they fall to the ground whenever the player types the letters correctly. Fish Cascade's levels are much less creative -- Easy, Medium, and Hard -- and the types of exercises are the same as in Comet Zap: Alphabet; Finger Exercises; Long, Medium, and Short Words; and Plants.

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