Nuance is now the only major software house producing speech recognition software, so those interested in talking to their PCs must either go with it or resort to the engine included with Windows Vista. While the Vista engine is workable, the extra features and improved speed and recognition in Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking will prove a lot less frustrating.
Version 10 of the software is available in three editions: Standard, Preferred and Professional. There are specialist editions for medical and legal customers, too. DNS 10 works in two ways: it can be used to control Windows and its major applications, like Outlook Express and Office, and it can be used to dictate into Word, WordPerfect or its own simplified text editor, though not, apparently, OpenOfficeWord.
It works considerably faster than you can type – Nuance claims up to three times as fast – and, although you have to learn to work in a different way from typing, the conversion process is pretty painless.
The main new features claimed for Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 are improved accuracy (again), improved speed and better control of Web tools. Taking the last one first, the software can now be used with Firefox and Thunderbird, as well as Outlook, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer. You can navigate the Web through voice commands and also make searches verbally in common search engines, like Google, Yahoo! and eBay. Map-based searches are also supported, so you can say things like ‘search maps for Turkish restaurants in Ipswitch’ and DNS will run your default browser and search through the default map service.
The Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 interface looks very much like the DNS 9 interface and, indeed, most earlier DNS interfaces. It could really do with an overhaul, as the few new icons don’t go far enough. Speed has been improved and spoken words appear nearly as soon as you’ve spoken them. Accuracy may be improved, but it takes several weeks for a new version to settle in, so it’s not immediately obvious.
On the down side is the cheap headset provided, which clamps your head like a Klingon hairband (‘there is no honour in controlling your hair without pain’). The wireless version of the product includes a Bluetooth headset, which provides lower sound quality than the DECT device offered with DNS 9.
Recognition niggles include using typists’ quotes and speech marks instead of Word’s typographical ones and always putting a space between numbers and their units, e.g. 2 GB rather than 2GB. You can change each unit’s spacing individually, but why is there no global facility for this?
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