After reading recommendations from two people whose opinions I have come to trust about the brand-new version 9.0 of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, I decided it might very well be time to take a second look at voice dictation and command on the PC. David Pogue, writing in the New York Times, gave the new version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking a rave review last week. My podcast partner, James Kendrick, has been a big fan of Dragon for a long time.
I have been working with the software for the past two days and in general. I am inclined to agree with both David and James that the ability to dictate information in a normal conversational tone into the PC has reached a new high level. It's still not a perfect experience -- there are compatibility issues with certain applications (notably, and completely understandably, the beta of Office 2007) and the program also has a typically maddening propensity for being literal minded. So, while there is still a need to engage in some training before the software truly begins to understand how you speak and how you write, the experience is much more pleasant, and the ability to be productive comes about much more quickly than any previous experience I have had.
So far I have had remarkably good experiences using Dragon NaturallySpeaking in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Outlook and in the Firefox browser. In fact, this blog post is being spoken into a WordPress form using Firefox. looking at that last sentence, Dragon has already learned that when I speak the phrase "dragon naturally speaking" the words "naturally" and "speaking" should both be capitalized and no space should be put between the two words. Similarly, when I talk about the Microsoft office applications, Dragon correctly capitalizes word PowerPoint and Outlook space (but as you can see, the last reference to "word" appears in lowercase, but the word PowerPoint creates an appropriate context for Dragon to figure out that Outlook should be capitalized as part of the same phrase).
Dragon has also learned to spell my name correctly in short order. I tend to write a lot of e-mail, and when I close by saying"regards comma new line Marc", the software now correctly produces:
Not bad for a couple days work.
There are of course costs and consequences to using software like this. unless you're able to work in a private office, as I am, you will undoubtedly feel more than a little self-conscious talking to the computer. Dragon includes a headset with the software, which I found rather uncomfortable as it felt like my head was being squeezed in a pair of Vise Grips. I have switched to the headset I normally use for IP telephony, and have found that it works very well with the software (and my head is slowly returning to its usual shape). The software also exacts a pretty hefty toll on your system resources. Dragon states that you should not run this software on a system that has less than 1 GB of RAM. Taking a look at the Task Manager and seeing that, on average, Dragon is consuming close to 200 MB of memory, this sounds like an appropriate recommendation. (By the way, did you notice how nicely Dragon formatted 1 GB of RAM?)
If you're fortunate enough to work in a small private space, have the appropriate system resources, and can afford a couple hundred dollars for the ability to kick back in your chair and talk to the computer rather than hunched forward over a keyboard to get your writing done, you may find that Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.0 is a great investment. I can say with all sincerity that my back and shoulders feel a lot better sitting back in my chair after a couple of days of dictating into, rather than typing on, my PC.