Write By Hand on Your PC With RitePen

Computers are amazing tools for writing. Well, scratch that: They're amazing tools for typing words into documents. When it comes to actually wrapping your fingers around a pen, most people find paper a more convenient platform than your typical Windows application. Thanks to tools like Ritescript's ritePen ($40, 3-day free trial), however, you can use your tablet PC--or any PC that has a graphics tablet--to write notes, mark up documents, sign contracts, fill in forms on "locked" PDF files, and do a hundred other things that, for all their advantages, PCs just don't handle very well.

ritePen screenshot
RitePen can use any manual input device, including a graphics tablet, your finger on a touchscreen, or even the mouse.

As its primary function, ritePen runs in the background, waiting for input. If you use a tablet PC or a graphics tablet, simply putting your finger on the screen (or the tablet's stylus down on the stylus surface) engages ritePen. If you're running a word processing app, write the words anywhere on the touchscreen, and ritePen will make an effort to turn your handwriting into electronic text in the document. Of course it's not perfect, so the program also lets you review the words it has converted, and make modifications if ritePen wasn't able to fully make out your chicken-scratch handwriting. If it doesn't correctly guess a letter, simply scratch out the mistaken letter and ritePen will offer a list of words from which you can choose the correct word, all of which match on the letters the program correctly guessed.

RitePen worked swimmingly in a 64-bit version of Windows Vista, but I ran into one minor problem while trying to annotate a document in OpenOffice.org Writer: The word processor has its own default setting for responding to a long mouse-click, where it pops up context menus. Few other programs do that, so I had to turn that feature off in OpenOffice.org in order to trigger ritePen, and not bring up the context menu. But I think problems like this are the exception. Adobe Reader, Word, and Excel took input from ritePen almost as easily as if I were typing the words or numbers into the programs themselves.

The program's functionality doesn't stop at simple input. RitePen also gives you the ability to mark up text with handwritten notes, or to highlight passages with a translucent "highlighter" marker. If you're using Microsoft Office, for instance, the program automatically inserts these markups as Comments, so they don't clutter the body of the document. The program also lets you make simple, handwritten markups over the top of documents, so you can, for instance, fill out a "form" in a PDF document, even if the creator has locked, or password-protected, the document. And advanced users can even use ritePen to create macros of complex sets of commands, then trigger those macros with special handwriting shortcuts (usually just a letter or short word with a circle drawn around it).

Vendor Ritescript (a division of Evernote Corporation) sells ritePen for $40, and gives prospective customers a thirty-day trial in which you can put the program through its paces. However, the company also offers an alternative way to get the program: Using a service called TrialPay, you can sign up for (or purchase) other products or services through a Web site. Some of the services are more useful than others, and some are simply trial versions of other products. TrialPay warns you that they can terminate your access to ritePen if you cancel the trial, but a Ritescript spokesperson clarified: "Once a customer utilizes their [TrialPay] offer to receive a 'free' license to a full copy of ritePen, they can use that license perpetually." But no matter how you get a license key, ritePen does its job so well, you might wonder how you managed to get along without it.

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