IBM revamps voice-recognition software

IBM switches tactics in selling its voice-recognition software. But is anybody listening?

Hoping to lure more people to the brave new world of speech recognition software, IBM will unveil an upgraded version of ViaVoice Millennium Wednesday.

IBM said ViaVoice Millennium would be more accurate than previous versions of the product and contain enhanced Web surfing features. "There are just more user-friendly features," Helene Lunden, ViaVoice product line manager said.

In addition, the consumer version is simpler than previous ViaVoice releases, while the professional version contains a variety of advanced features.

ViaVoice Standard Millennium, which costs about $60 (£37), lets users create and edit documents. ViaVoice Web Millennium, $80, adds America Online to a list of ISPs users can access. It also lets users navigate through Web graphics by assigning them a number on the screen. If a people want to click on the graphic, they can call out the corresponding number.

In addition, a new feature will read email back to the user. The software also incorporates the ViaVoice Online Companion, which let users talk their way through chat rooms. The more advanced ViaVoice Pro Millennium, which will retail for about $180, contains the Web features and an advanced vocabulary of commonly used business and computer terms.

So far speech recognition hasn't gained a wide following, despite a push by major speech recognition companies such as IBM, Dragon Systems and Lernout & Hauspie. That's primarily because it isn't as accurate and easy to use as people expect.

Lunden said the revamped product was sparked in part by user feedback, especially from low-end users, who wanted more accuracy rather than hundreds of features. "They said, 'make it work, make it as accurate as possible, make it as useable as possible," Lunden said.

The move comes a few weeks after IBM unveiled plans to ship a version of ViaVoice for the Mac. Right now, ViaVoice Millennium is available on Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.