Mavis Beacon is the Betty Crocker of keyboards. Her best-selling learn-to-type CD, now in its 12th edition, defines the genre of typing-instruction software. If you're strictly a hunt-and-peck typist but need to start churning out papers by the ream, Mavis is a must. It'll teach you proper typing technique and help break you of all those bad habits you've acquired over the years. And even if you already know your way around a spacebar, Mavis can still teach you a thing or two about speed and accuracy. Mavis Beacon is the Betty Crocker of keyboards. Her best-selling learn-to-type CD, now in its 12th edition, defines the genre of typing-instruction software. If you're strictly a hunt-and-peck typist but need to start churning out papers by the ream, Mavis is a must. It'll teach you proper typing technique and help break you of all those bad habits you've acquired over the years. And even if you already know your way around a spacebar, Mavis can still teach you a thing or two about speed and accuracy.
A drill a minute
Mavis may be a whiz with her fingers, but she could use a lesson in installation routines. Version 12 doesn't delete previous versions when it installs, so you could end up with two Mavis icons side by side in your system tray. Fortunately, using Mavis is a snap. When you load the program, it gives you the option of running it in Spanish. Click Yes or No, then sign in at the Registration screen and answer questions about your age, keyboard layout (for example, whether it's a standard 101 key model or a Microsoft Natural keyboard), and speed goals. You then move to the Classroom, where you encounter a virtual Mavis standing next to a video screen. Click the slick-looking PC on Mavis's right to begin your lessons, which start, naturally enough, with a typing test. How well you do on that first test determines which drills you need. After each drill, Mavis tells you your rate of words per minute and says things such as, "Look out world, here comes a great typist."
Once you've completed a few drills, Mavis suggests you take a break to play a typing game such as Chameleon Picnic, where letters march across the screen on the backs of ants. When you type one correctly, a chameleon slurps them up with its tongue. Or play Shark Attack, where you must correctly type words such as electroencephalograph or risk being eaten by Jaws.
Put me in, Coach
Brøderbund has improved Mavis's Personal Coach applet, which lets you refine your typing while you work on other projects in a word processor or other apps. Whenever you want to use Coach, just right-click the Mavis icon in the Windows system tray to call up a thermometerlike gauge that measures your speed in words per minute. Or you can display a replica of the keyboard with transparent hands that type along with you, showing you the correct finger positions (which is, frankly, a little unnerving). You can also use the coach to schedule daily typing lessons, load templates of book reports and other common documents into your word processor, or insert emoticons or clip art into your docs.
Ergo advice and custom lessons
Mavis offers more than just quick red foxes jumping over lazy brown dogs. Brøderbund has topped off the disc with information on ergonomics. In the disc's Media Center, you can evaluate your typing habits and get pointers on posture from Bob the ergo human (who looks more like an ergo crash-test dummy). You can watch videos on how to recognize cumulative trauma disorders, how to set up your workstation, and exercises you can do to relieve the stress on your digits. The center also lets you create custom lesson plans and provides a practice area where you retype works of astronomy, fiction, folklore, and historical documents (including, for some unfathomable reason, Richard Nixon's first inaugural address).
Bad multimedia, no cookie
Mavis Beacon is not the most stylishly executed title, unfortunately. Its grainy videos look like bad public service announcements, the background music (available in blues, jazz, rock, and new age) is painful, and Mavis's vocal delivery is as wooden as a fence post.
No matter. Brøderbund promises that if you're not satisfied with the product or your typing speed doesn't improve in 30 days, the company will give you your money back. We seriously doubt anyone has collected.