Personal Touch

The notes look handwritten, but a computer did the work

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Nothing impresses quite like a handwritten personal note. Textbooks on business management stress that point, but writing anything in longhand takes time, and busy people never have enough of that. It occurred to Prannoy Roy, India's leading pollster and the founder of a small New Delhi-based software firm called Statart Software, that computers could be taught to do the job. Two years ago, Roy brought together several young software engineers to see if a computer could provide the personal touch of a handwritten note by imitating a person's script. The answer will be on computer-shop shelves across the U.S. this month: a program called MyScript, which will sell for $199.

Roy, who is applying for a U.S. patent, is convinced that MyScript is the first program of its kind. It is also one of the first Indian computer programs — if not the very first — to go on the market in the U.S. Several American companies, including Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard, entered into software-development ventures with Indian firms during the 1980s.

MyScript works by using a hand scanner to enter a sample of a person's writing, at first just a few words plus the alphabet. "If you have bad handwriting," says Roy, "this is great. You only have to write well once." After that, whenever the person types a letter, it will appear on the screen in his or her hand. The completed note or letter is printed out on a laser or a dot matrix printer, or by a pen plotter.

To make the product look as spontaneous as a handwritten letter, the software inserts random discrepancies in word spacing and margins. It also allows editing onscreen to add such touches as crossed-out words or marginal notes. To appeal to the U.S. market, Roy enlarged the script to suit sprawling American handwriting. Roy believes MyScript's appeal will extend from home use to business and public life. At least one politician is studying its possibilities: Rajiv Gandhi, India's former Prime Minister and a committed computer bug.