Talking to your Computer 

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Give your fingers a rest and instead use your voice to communicate with your computer by using the latest software from Nuance.

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How often do you talk to your computer? If you are anything like me then that could be on a daily or even on a more regular basis. However using various expletives or more refined comments about your computer’s parentage rarely have the most productive outcome (although it might help reduce personal stress levels). For a more beneficial use of voice communications with your computer, you should consider speech recognition software such as the market leading (and if truth be told, the only real contender) Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance.

The latest version of this software is Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 which comes in four flavours. You have the choice of Home (previously known as Standard), Premium (previously Preferred), Professional or Legal. This review is based on the Premium version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.

As part of the product’s installation you will need to enter an 18-character serial number. Dragon NaturallySpeaking does require the presence of Microsoft Visual C++ 9 runtime and will offer to install this software if necessary. At the conclusion of the installation an online registration option will be made available.

Nuance does try to extract a fair bit of information from you with regards to registration.   Fortunately you can click past several of the screens of non-vital questions but it is a bit of an imposition. You will also need to activate the software which, by comparison, hardly intrudes on you at all.

In order to have a way of communicating by voice to your computer, Nuance includes a HS-GEN-B stereo headset with a rotating and bendable boom microphone. Automated routines are run to check both the volume level and clarity of the microphone.  After supplying the answer to a few questions, a profile will be set up for you. You can then choose to work through one (or more) of the training sessions, such as a John F Kennedy speech, an Alice in Wonderland extract and a piece on Working with Dragon Naturally Speaking, which allows the software to adjust to your style of speaking.  The data gained will be integrated into your profile, a process that could take around 5 minutes.  You can also opt to let the software trawl through your documents and e-mails to help familiarise itself with your vocabulary and literary style.

With the latest version of the software, Nuance is promising a 15% improvement in accuracy over the previous edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. As I was more than satisfied with the performance of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10, the promise of a further sizeable improvement caught my attention. Naturally this promise had to be put to the test. However I've no intention of copying the method used in the recent Nuance television adverts of the product.  I will leave skydiving to the more adventurous types. My method of putting Dragon NaturallySpeaking to the test is to dictate a review into the product which is an ideal example of "the proof of the pudding being in the eating".

The Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 toolbar, which is positioned across the top of the screen by default, provide feedback that includes a microphone icon which changes between a prone red or upright green microphone depending upon whether the device is turned off or on.   Running down the right of the screen is the Dragon Sidebar, which displays commandments classified as global, mouse or my commands, which can be used by the programme. Dragon NaturallySpeaking allows you to control whether the microphone is on or off by different methods. You can use a hotkey (by default the “+” symbol on the number pad) or by clicking on the icon in the system tray or toolbar. The microphone can also be turned off with a voice command.

I should point out that I was getting over a cold when carrying out this dictation test.  The text document of 623 words contained 19 mistakes.  Several of these were due to the software entering the word “stop” instead of a full stop.  It was also noticeable that the frequency of mistakes decreased towards the end of the test.  The accuracy level was fractionally just below 97% which was slightly lower than the 98% I achieved with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10.  However the remnants of my cold could have played a part in the reduced accuracy.

While the temptation is there to correct mistakes manually, you can actually improve the performance of Dragon Naturally Speaking by using the product’s built-in features to make the necessary alterations.  You can navigate through a document, select individual words and phrases for editing plus carry out formatting tasks through the use of voice commands.  In this way Dragon NaturallySpeaking will learn from its mistakes.

You are not limited to using Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice commands for editing purposes.  There are a range of commands that can be used in various situations such as launching applications and carrying out tasks that would normally require mouse action.  The more you use this software, the more comfortable and accurate it becomes.

With this version of Dragon Naturally Speaking, this software continues to be the product of choice when using your voice to communicate with your computer.  Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium is priced at £149.99 with an upgrade available at £99.99.  The software requires you to be running Windows XP SP2 or later with 1GB of RAM (2GB with Windows 7) and 2.5GB of available hard disk space.

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