Banks are eyeing new software from Microsoft Corp. that enables a standard personal computer to recognize and process handwriting.

The software, a new version of Microsoft's Windows for Pen Computing, is being evaluated for customer-service applications at banks, said Lisa Weil, a product manager at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

Robert Schiewe, senior vice president at Continental Bank Corp., Chicago, said his bank is interested using the new software to make computers easier for employees to use. "Giving people the ability to write [on computers] would significantly increase the number of people that use computers," he said.

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Microsoft announced the new software last week at PCExpo, a trade conference in New York.

Continental is the only U.S. bank to date, and one of the first corporations in any industry, to disclose plans to use portable computers that accept handwriting. The bank plans to give the machines, called pen computers, to 300 to 400 traveling officers during the next year.

The pen computers will be equipped with a version of Microsoft's Windows for Pen Computing that works only on portable machines. The new software release will work on standard, stationary personal computers.

Mr. Schiewe said Continental would like to use the software to increase acceptance of computerization at the bank. People who dislike using keyboards might find it easier to work on pen computers, he explained.

Ms. Weil of Microsoft said several other companies, including banks, are interested in using Windows for Pen Computing in customer-service applications. For example, Microsoft is working with a retail store to develop software that would let customers use a pen computer to fill out a credit card application electronically.

Banks could use the software in branches to let customers fill out loan applications or open checking accounts, Ms. Weil said. The new technology frees computer-phobic customers from having to use keyboards, while averting the need to key in data from handwritten forms.

"It saves all that enormous data entry expense," Ms. Weil said.

The new software release enables standard personal computers to accept handwriting through the use of flat plastic tablets attached to the computer.

For example, a user could print the name JOHN SMITH on the tablet using an electronic stylus. The software could then insert the letters into boxes on a loan application screen and convert them into standard computer text for machine processing.

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