Tool Helps Users Speak Up

ScanSoft's Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition package provides improved accuracy.

The latest release of ScanSoft Inc.s Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition package provides nice incremental improvements but does not change the market significantly.

Version 7 of NaturallySpeaking, which began shipping at the end of March, provides users with more input options (including transcription of Pocket PC voice recordings) and more precise controls for improving accuracy and managing performance. The package provides an effective alternative data input and application command method for users who are more comfortable dictating than typing or for those who wish to avoid typing for health reasons.

NaturallySpeaking 7 runs on Windows NT 4.0, 98 SE, ME, 2000 and XP. NaturallySpeakings chief competitor is IBMs ViaVoice, but on April 25, ScanSoft announced it had reached a deal with IBM to take over worldwide sales, distribution and support for ViaVoice on the PC and Macintosh. IBM will continue to develop the product but will sell only versions of ViaVoice on nondesktop hardware.

eWEEK Labs has been using NaturallySpeaking 7 for the past two weeks. With practice in speaking clearly to get the best results and with the recognition accuracy settings set to their highest levels, we observed in our dictation tests an error rate of about one to two words for every 50 words (see screen). This is a decent accuracy rate and good enough for those who need or strongly desire voice recognition as a keyboard alternative.

However, the software—which ranges in price from $60 to about $200—is not yet at a place where casual users can rattle off a few quick e-mail messages without a good proofread. We may never get to this level of accuracy until software algorithms can advance significantly beyond the word-pair and word-triple probabilistic usage models on which current voice recognition software is based.

The $200 Solutions Series version we tested (also known as NaturallySpeaking Professional) is the only version with scripting and macro recorder features, digital recorder and Pocket PC support, and application command and control for Microsoft Corp.s Outlook.

This version also adds enterprise deployment features, including a network-installable .MSI (Microsoft Windows Installer) version and an administrator tool for centrally managing user profiles, custom vocabularies and voice command dictionaries (see screen).