By Marty Demarest

The paperless office was a nice dream. Remember when technology gurus forecast a world in which trees wouldn't be wasted, in which the only things that needed recycling were 1s and 0s?

It's true that e-mail has changed the way we communicate -- just ask the Postal Service and the long-distance companies -- and electronic office programs make it possible for anyone to generate documents and spreadsheets. But nothing quite works like paper. The problem for most people is navigating between these two worlds. How can you write with a pen, which is convenient, but still have the information in your computer, which is usually necessary for getting work done?

Logitech's new io Pen is the first device to take advantage of developments in technology that give users digital versions of their handwritten work without the use of scanners. The technology really rests in the special paper which you must use with the special ballpoint pen. Printed with millions of nearly-invisible dots, it lets the pen see exactly where you're writing and duplicate the page on screen. Simply drop the oversized pen into its digital inkstand, and every quirk of your handwriting or drawing is copied perfectly into a graphic file and loaded into a Word document. It even converts the pages to .jpg graphics for e-mailing. The pen also comes with a pad of 3M Post-it notes that live in the real world but create digital equivalents on your computer screen. And you can even buy a Franklin-Covey planner that copies your life to your computer as well. It's like having a service archiving everything you write or draw, and could potentially eliminate the reams of paper that most writers and thinkers accumulate.

Once the fun wears off, however, the disadvantages are major. The special paper, for starters, isn't cheap. Three Cambridge spiral notebooks will run you $30, while three pads of Post-its are $40. And because this isn't handwriting recognition software (which is running pretty well these days), you can print copies of your notes, but you still have to type them out if you want editable electronic text. But the io Pen is just an early step in what is clearly becoming a dominant direction in the computing industry - the integration of technology and handwriting. Until it's perfected, however, the pen remains mightier.

Publication date: 07/03/03

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