Mark My Words! 

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Does your computer listen to you? If not then maybe it needs the assistance of a product such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.

As the processing power of hardware has improved and increased memory has become more economically viable, one type of application that has benefited more than most is that of speech recognition.  Leading the way in this particular area is Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS from now on) from Nuance (nee ScanSoft).  Now up to version 9, DNS is available in Standard, Preferred, Mobile and Professional flavours.  This review is based on DNS 9 Preferred.


DNS 9 arrives on two CDs (how long before the product is issued on DVD I wonder) and comes with its own headset microphone that connects to your sound card.  Support is provided for a Bluetooth microphone headset but you will need to provide this type of device yourself.  As is becoming increasingly common, DNS 9 offers you the opportunity of going online to check for any updates at the conclusion of the installation process.  Whether you take this option or not, you will need to activate the product either immediately or before you use the software five times otherwise it will cease to run.


In the 18 months or so since the previous version of DNS, several new and enhanced features have been implemented into this version.  Nuance is making a great play about DNS 9's ability to be useable without any initial training.  While this is quite possible, I would advise, to avoid any possible disappointment, to work through at least one of the training dictation passages (that include the old favourite of a brief section from Alice's Adventure in Wonderland) in order to achieve greater recognition accuracy.


Taking my own advice, I used one of the training passages (not Alice this time) before undertaking any live dictation.  DNS 9 lets you dictate using its on build-in Dragon Pad editor or you could dictate direct into various word processors, including Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect, and various Microsoft Office applications.  With this latest version of DNS you get support for Mozilla and Thunderbird.  There is also a Dictation Box option for use with applications that do not fully support speech commands. 


To activate DNS you simply click on the Microphone icon displayed on its Task Bar which, by default, sits at the top of the screen although it can be positioned elsewhere if that is more convenient.  The microphone icon will change from a prone to upright position to indicate it is active and you can begin to dictate or issue commands.  When working with an application, such as those mentioned previously, that support DNS features, a "Select and Say" on the DNS Task Bar will glow green.


My chosen vehicle was Word and the results achieved on a first attempt were more than satisfactory.  Dictating a 541-word document produced just 12 items of wrongly identified speech into text.  This works out at an accuracy level of 97% which hardly leaves much room for any future improvement through continuous use of DNS that is promised as the software adapts to your voice plus dictation and writing styles.  DNS can be directed to check your documents and emails to get a better understanding of your general vocabulary and use of syntax.


DNS 9 comes with various tutorials dealing with different aspects of the application and its use.  You can work through these at any time and in some cases you will benefit from spending time with them.  This is especially true with tutorials dealing with using voice commands to carry out any editing.  Although you can opt to edit a document using the traditional keyboard and mouse method, DNS does have the ability to learn from its mistakes if you use voice commands to carry out editing.  I must admit that voice editing does take a little getting use to as you need to insert a pause before and after a command while not allowing a pause during the issuing of the command itself.  You will probably find it slower, initially using voice commands, but perseverance does have its rewards as the software's accuracy improves.


While DNS was impressive in its ability to convert speech to text, it was less appealing when reading back text.  There has been some improvement in this particular feature but the results continue to be easily recognisable as computerised speech.  You are also limited to just a couple of voices, both female, with either a UK or American accent.


Separate profiles can be created for individual users which means each family member can work with the product.  You will have to make some adjustments to your style of working but it is a viable alternative especially if typing is not your strong suit.  DNS 9 Preferred is an excellent example of showing how far recent strides in speech recognition have progressed.  Pricing has been set at £149.99 and you will need to be running Windows XP on a 1GHz processor with 512MB of RAM.


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Comment by Kim Catreel, Nov 21, 2010 18:16

This product sucks. You have to retrain it millions of times and it still screws up your sentences. I've had it for 6 months, and after repeated poor experiences trying to use it, I am putting this junk to storage. A waste of $79.

Comment by Michael T. Tristano, Dec 17, 2006 7:43

I find that DNS 9 hangs up a lot even after the new service pack. It functions great in Word Pad but hangs up all the time in WordPerfect 12. It also goes into this mode where it starts putting a space at the beginning of a line right after the margin. It refuses to save user profiles the first time and you have to save it again. It would be out of sight if it worked well with Word Perfect but as of yet it is onoly OK

Comment by Charles Johnson, Dec 7, 2006 5:17

Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 The following is an e-mail I sent Nuance on 12/5/2006: Very interesting that you should be sending me an advertisement for Dragon Naturally Speaking 9. I just purchased the "Preferred" version of that new update from last week. Personally, I have been a user of this product several versions ago and have been very happy with each purchase of new updates. However, version 9 is the exception to that long standing trend. I installed my new software a few days ago and it's been the biggest headache ever since. Each time I start up the program, I get an error message of "Cannot load compatibility module support." I tried all the fixes from your data base of this problem and it still hasn't resolved this error message. On top of that, version 9 won't work with an older windows word processor program that I have used for a long time (Ami Professional). It worked just fine using the previous version 8. Also, version 9 hangs up and refuses to work after only a few minutes of dictation. Plus when it does that it locks up my computer and I have to re-boot it to get it running again. I was so frustrated with version 9, that I uninstalled it and put version 8 back on my computer; which works just beautifully. Version 9 Sucks. I'm not about to fork over $20 for each support phone call after the single free one you allow from a new purchase. With as many problems your "new version" has, you should be paying me for doing your Beta testing of this "not ready for prime time release" version #9. Sincerely, an unhappy camper! Charles W. Johnson, DDS Fort Collins, CO

Comment by mfereday, Sep 26, 2006 11:51

I reviewed the software on a system with 512MB of RAM without any problems using exisiting software. Obviously the software running on my system was far more stable with regards to DNS. I have no reason to change my original view of the product.

Comment by James Roberts, Sep 26, 2006 4:29

DNS 9 is a definite disappointment. First it is a memory hog. You need a minimum of 1 gb to run it effectively, despite what the documentation says and cannot have anything else open except maybe word. It does not do well in non-standard programs like Blackboard or IE 7. Right now it does not work effectively with Office 2007 Beta (B2Tr). It is capable of being run with out training, but as the author advises, training does seem to help. Further, if you have multiple documents open or more than just Word open, you are likely to get results like: "Imm trryiing tooo taalkk to myy commpputerr." This was very annoying. Further, when dictating it does not capitalize the first letter of a sentence and places a double space when you pick up dictation after a correction using the mouse. Nuance also double billed me for my order. On the whole, this is one sorry product.

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