I was disappointed with the text completion provided by the N900 (eZiText) that, on top of that, is closed and I wondered if it was possible to have an Open Source solution to provide text prediction and completion.
I searched a bit and besides my original intentions of developing a library to search Free and Open Source dictionaries’ words from a prefix, I found Presage.
Presage is better than most text prediction systems I have seen out there because it really is text prediction, not text completion. This C++ library, retrieves words taking into account the surrounding text, not only the prefix or frequency of words. It uses a database representing N-grams that can be trained with more text; the more you train it, the more accurate it can be.
This means that is you type something like:
instead of suggesting nonsense things like:
“I mouse” “I mother” “I market” or “I more“
it suggests something more like:
“I must” “I met” “I mean” or “I might“
The difference is obvious!
So I developed a little wrapper around Presage in C that provides a yet very basic API to get text completion. Then I created a GTK+ Input Method context to control the user’s input in regular GTK+ text widgets and used the wrapper to process the inputted text. I called it: Predictor Input Method (not very original I know…).
The result is that Predictor suggests you words, even if you type a prefix or not, and lets you accept the candidate word or scroll through a list of suggestions as you can see in the video below:
How to use it
The current key bindings are:
Ctrl+Enter -> Selects the current candidate
Ctrl+Up/Down -> Scrolls through the list of candidates
Backspace -> Deletes the character previous to the cursor and suggests again
Directional arrows -> Move cursor and discard suggestions
Who should use it
This kind of assistance technology can have many applications but the main ones are: the usage in small/mobile devices and the assistance of users with disabilities. Both have the same reasons behind: speeding the input and reducing failed characters, because the input required gets minimized;
Of course, you can as well use it in your GNOME desktop regularly for faster typing your emails, etc.
In the case of users with disabilities, a popup menu could be added to show a complete list of candidates and the bound fast-access keys.
Why is Free Software important in this
This is the kind of technology that everybody should have an interest in using a FOSS solution because of the obvious advantage that is developers from all over the world being able to modify it.
Suppose you’re creating a mobile phone and you choose a closed solution to provide text prediction for your phone. And then you find out you’re disappointing all your users from country X because that library you’re paying for does not support their language and the library owner is not interested that much in adding it. Now if you’re using an open solution, local communities from many places in the world can add support for their languages and your phone can have a better acceptance in places you hadn’t even imagined.
Software that reaches an international audience with different languages is software you want to have open.
How to get Predictor Input Method
If you are not using GTK+ Input Methods then you can use the wrapper text-predictor.cpp which is not tight to the Input Method code itself. And of course, you can copy the little tricks used on the Input Method code and apply it to your source (like delaying the retrieval of the candidates some fractions of a second to not block the input, etc.).
Hope you like it.