At a Glance
- Varied lessons; Games; Time-tested
- Interface issues; Lack of customizability in fonts and displays
One of the most venerable typing tutors celebrates its quarter-century mark.
Back in the late 1980s, I sold software and hardware at a
now-defunct store in NYC; one of our best-sellers was “Mavis Beacon
Teaches Typing,” which exploited to the fullest the awesome
graphical power of the Apple IIe and CGA/EGA on 8086 based systems.
Twenty five years later, Mavis is still around in Mavis Beacon
Teaches Typing Platinum 25th Anniversary Edition. Due to being
wholly fictitious, she barely looks older than twenty-five herself.
But is the typing class still as good?
Well, let’s face it–QWERTY hasn’t changed since the 1800s. (And
the Dvorak keyboard option is no longer included as an option in
MBTT). Therefore, there’s really not too much to be added in terms
of real functionality; the same typing lessons which worked even in
the pre-computer age still work today. What can be added falls
easily into the category of bells and whistles: more graphics, more
games, more sound effects, all surrounding a solid core of
Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing makes a few useful concessions to
change;-it recognizes “split keyboard” layouts, for example, though
it does not allow you to select a specific model, which could be
problematic if your keyboard uses a slightly non-standard layout
for some punctuation or symbol keys. There’s also a fairly high
degree of customizability, including the ability to make custom
lessons, and to import text (including Word 2007 documents) to use
as the basis for a practice session. The typing games–in which
your typing speed, accuracy, and/or rhythm helps penguins cross
icebergs or blows up asteroids–have been a part of Mavis Beacon
since the beginning, but there are now a lot more of them. They are
all some variation on “type properly or bad things happen,” but
there’s enough variety and focus on different skills that they
remain a fun practice mechanism.
The downside is that Mavis Beacon’s interface is, in many ways,
straight out of the Dark Ages, by which I mean around 1992 or so.
The menu bars and dialogs aren’t standardized throughout the
program. When you start up, Mavis Beacon goes into full-screen
mode, and on my monitor, it was extremely buggy, showing
flickering, mouse freezing, and “mouse droppings” (afterimages left
as you move the mouse). Per the developers, Mavis Beacon does not
currently support wide-screen layouts, but they will look at adding
this in the future. Moving to windowed mode via Ctrl-Enter
presented a far more usable environment, but there are no settings
options to adjust display resolution or even to set it to windowed
or full-screen mode; a user who doesn’t know Ctrl-Enter (and many
do not) might consider the program too buggy to use. Last, the
default font makes a lower-case ‘l’ look a lot like an upper-case
‘l’, which can be a problem, since lessons are case-sensitive. This
issue is also on the developer’s radar.
Mavis Beacon’s teaching algorithm constantly analyzes your
speed, error rate, and which keys in particular you are having
trouble with, and presents lessons to focus on your weaknesses and
gradually increase in difficulty as your skill improves. Reports
show problem keys and progress over time, as well as how close you
are to your desired typing speed. The games are also well
designed;-they won’t take anyone away from Halo, but they require
you to watch the screen, not the keyboard, which is exactly what a
good typing game should do. Kudos.
At thirty dollars, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Platinum 25th
Anniversary Edition is not bargain-basement, but it’s a
full-featured program with a long track history and enough
variation and options to keep you practicing until your goal is
reached. There is also a Facebook version of Mavis Beacon, but it’s
a fairly simple game that bears little resemblance to the full
Note: This link takes you to the vendor’s site,
where you can download the latest version of the software.