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Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Preferred, Version 3 is a voice recognition software package that creates general text from normal continuous speech.You can compose e-mail messages, create reports, draft letters, edit proposals and more, all by speaking naturally to your computer instead of by typing.You can dictate into NaturallySpeaking or you can run the program from within supported word processors such as Corel WordPerfect 8 and Microsoft Word 97. The program shows up as a new menu bar icon. The program includes the software, headset, and microphone. Price: $159 but Upgrades from one product to another within the NaturallySpeaking product line run from $49-$99. The program is available in a variety of editions and in other languages besides English. There is also an edition for those computer users who will not convert and are still using the Macintosh platform! For this review I am using the Preferred Edition. I will list a few of the editions below but you should visit the following Web sites for more information:

Dragon Systems, Inc. Web site.
NaturallySpeaking Web site.

  1. Point & Speak--the quick and easy way to talk to your computer. You just point, click your mouse, and speak. Dictate text into Windows applications without the need to learn complicated commands.
  2. Teens--continuous speech recognition product specifically for teens.
  3. Standard--includes all the essential speech recognition features plus integration with two word processors (WordPerfect 8 and Word 97) and dictation into Windows applications. Best for users with a minimum configuration who want to be able to talk to anything.
  4. Preferred--offers Text-To-Speech and Dictation Playback features which greatly assist with editing. NaturallyMobile provides support for approved hand-held recording devices to
    let you create text when you are away from your computer. Great for business professionals who are serious about using speech.
  5. Professional--includes the most complete set of features for speech recognition and accuracy. Users can make multiple specialty vocabularies, create custom commands to automate tasks, and transcribe thoughts while out of the office.
  6. Legal Suite--already knows specialized legal terminology. Coupled with Corel WordPerfect Suite 8.
  7. Medical Suite--incorporates specialized medical terminology. Coupled with Corel WordPerfect Suite 8.
Advanced Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced PC users. I would not recommend it for really beginning PC users. The program is not difficult to use but it assumes you are already familiar with Microsoft Windows and some word processing. But that is about all you need to know to use the program. It is very user-friendly.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Preferred Edition, has far too many features to itemize, but below is a list of some of the most important.

  • Use with Windows Application--Using NaturalText, dictate into applications such as Corel WordPerfect 8, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange; Microsoft Word 97, Qualcomm Eudora Pro;
  • Integrated with Word 97 and WordPerfect 8. Using NaturalWord, you can create, edit, and format any word or phrase using Select-and-Say technology;
  • True Continuous Speech--Speak to your computer naturally and at a normal pace, up to 160 words per minute and more, without pausing between words;
  • Immediate Recognition--Dictate entire paragraphs continuously. Your words appear immediately on your screen and in your document;
  • Natural Language Commands--You don't have to memorize a set of fixed commands to edit, format, and navigate in Microsoft Word 97; you just state the commands in the manner that is natural to you;
  • Improved Accuracy--The BestMatch speech model provides improved recognition accuracy for fast computers with plenty of memory;
  • Learns Your Voice--Learns dialects, accents, and individual pronunciations. Multiple user capability;
  • Text-to-speech support--You can listen to your own documents or other files such as e-mail read aloud to you;
  • New, Larger Vocabulary--Spelling, pronunciation, context recognition, and word usage information is included for more than 42,000 active words (230,000 total). You can personalize your vocabulary by adding new words, specialized terms, and names;
  • Dictation Playback--You can listen to a recording of what you said before you edit so you can keep your original intent;
  • Dictate on the Move--Use Naturally-Mobile software to dictate notes, memos, or anything you want using a recorder certified by Dragon Systems;
  • Text Shorthands--Insert frequently used phrases and sentences just by saying a single word or phrase;
  • Improved Hands-free Support--Move your mouse pointer with pinpoint accuracy, click buttons, and activate menus by simple voice commands with MouseGrid. Improved hands-free control lets you press any key on the keyboard by voice.

Installation. The program is not difficult to install, but it does take some time if you install all of the options, especially NaturalWord which lets you use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to dictate directly into WordPerfect 8 and Word 97. You don't have to install all components at once, though. You can install other components later. Keep in mind that even though NaturallySpeaking supports WordPerfect 8 and Word 97, you still need the correct upgrade of 8. I had WordPerfect 8 but it was, or whatever decimal, and I needed the upgrade after .153 which did support NaturallySpeaking. So I had to install an upgrade for WordPerfect 8 before I could get NaturallySpeaking to work within it. Otherwise, there was no problem with installation. A useful feature of NaturallySpeaking is that you can install the program over a previous version without losing your User speech files which contain information about your voice, your vocabulary, and your use of words. You just choose the option to keep your User speech files when you install.

User Guide. There is a small but thorough guide that walks you through installation, the New User Training Wizard, and the features of the program. At the end of the book, there is a handy Appendix with voice commands.

New User Wizard. After you start Dragon NaturallySpeaking the first time, the New User wizard guides you through all the steps you should take to begin using the product. This process takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour but it is important to get the best speech recognition from the program. The whole process is not difficult and you are led step-by-step by the wizard. The User Guide also leads you step-by-step through the procedure.

Creating a Set of User Speech Files--User files contain information about your voice, your pronunciation, and use of words. NaturallySpeaking needs this information to adapt to your unique way of speaking and to recognize your speech correctly. The wizard automatically selects a speech model for you. Also, the wizard selects a vocabulary for your use which consists of the words you can say that NaturallySpeaking will recognize.

Testing and Configuring Audio Settings--The wizard helps you test and configure your sound system and shows you how to position your microphone correctly. The setup tests both your soundcard's output and the recording quality of the sound going in. At first, I used an older headset and microphone that I had already connected to the computer, but the the test indicated that the sound quality was inadequate. I then used the microphone that came with NaturallySpeaking and it passed the test.

Training Dragon NaturallySpeaking--You run a training program with two stages. In the first stage of General Training you read a few paragraphs aloud and the program does some initial calibrations. In the second stage, you read aloud for about 30 minutes. After General Training has collected enough data about your speech it indicates that you can stop reading.You can continue reading if you want more experience.You have the choice of reading passages from Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey; David Barry's humorous book, Dave Barry in Cyberspace; or Scott Adams' humorous book, Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook. You can run General Training again at anytime and you are advised to use NaturallySpeaking for a few days and then run the program again after you have time to get accustomed with dictating. In fact the more you practice and train NaturallySpeaking, the easier it is for the program to recognize the way you talk. There are numerous training texts to choose from and supplemental training sessions can be as short or as long as you like.

Customizing Your Vocabulary--Vocabulary Builder customizes the standard NaturallySpeaking vocabulary to reflect the words you use and your writing style. You select documents that represent the type of text you want to dictate and then let Vocabulary Builder process the documents to find new words. You can run the Vocabulary Builder again with additional documents to customize your vocabulary but each time you run the program, it undoes the effect of the last time. It is not cumulative.

Learning to Use Dragon NaturallySpeaking--After you have completed all of the above steps, you can run the multimedia Quick Tour, which takes about 15 minutes. It shows you how to dictate using NaturallySpeaking. It includes sections on: positioning and using the microphone; dictating into an active window; understanding how text is processed in the Results box; dictating text; correcting recognition errors; moving around a document; revising text; deleting text; formatting text; controlling menus and dialog boxes; and getting help.

Interface. The NaturallySpeaking interface looks familiar and is similar to the Microsoft WordPad application or other word processing programs. When you start the program, the window contains the standard menu bar, a toolbar, and a status bar. Along with the standard buttons, icons and dialog boxes, there are speech features such as a microphone icon and volume meter. A second microphone icon is on the Windows taskbar. You turn the microphone on to dictate and use voice commands. You cannot turn the microphone on by voice but you can turn it off by voice. The User menu contains commands for managing User speech files: New, Open, Save Speech Files, Back Up, Restore, and Current User Name. The Tools menu contains utilities that help you increase recognition accuracy and performance: Train Words, Find New Words, Vocabulary Editor, Vocabulary Builder, Audio Setup Wizard, General Training, Play That Back, Read That, Stop Playback/Reading, and Options.

Dictating. To dictate, you just click the microphone icon to on and start speaking. While you are dictating and correcting, there are two dialog boxes that appear:

Results box--this is a small window that displays the words you just said. When NaturallySpeaking processes them it enters the results into your document as text. The window appears in the middle of your screen as you type.

Correction dialog box--a box that you use to correct speech recognition errors. You display it by saying Correct That, Spell That and the letters of the word, or Correct followed by the words you want to correct.

It is fun to speak into the microphone and watch the computer type the words. Then you can even play back what you have typed. NaturallySpeaking's interface is so natural that I felt that I was just using another word processor. It is recommended that you use the program's word processor to practice before you try WordPerfect or Word. I did just that. Then I practiced using NaturallySpeaking in both the other programs as well as writing e-mail in Netscape. NaturallySpeaking did amazingly well in recognizing my words as I tend to speak fast and slur some words into others. The built-in commands are easy to use. And they are simple common sense words such as: Move Up, Paste, Undo, Spell That, etc. It took me a while to remember them as I was concentrating so hard on pronunciation, but there is an excellent Reference Card with all of the commands. NaturallySpeaking's BestMatch technology gives you superior accuracy. NaturallySpeaking also gives you a variety of ways to help you increase recognition accuracy and performance: Train Words; Find New Words; Vocabulary Editor; and Vocabulary Builder. The main problem I had was slowing down my speech when I wanted to give a command so the program would not type the words as text, but see them as a command.

Formatting. You can set font face, style, and size by voice just by saying "Format," "Make," "Set," or "Turn," followed by the text you want to change and then saying the desired change.You can bold and italicize text by saying "Bold" or "Italicize" followed by the text you want to change. You can select the text first and then say the voice command. You can say "Last" to identify text location relative to the cursor. For example, saying "Make the Last 2 Paragraphs Times New Roman" changes the font of the two paragraphs before paragraph containing the cursor, not the two paragraphs at the end of the document.

Menu Commands. You can open and close the menus by voice. To open a menu by voice, say "Click" followed by the name of the menu. For example, say "Click File." You can use voice commands for such menu functions as: set colors; apply paragraph styles; add tables; set page margins; run spelling and grammar checks; editing text (including moving, copying, pasting, and deleting text); and print all or part of a document and print preview your work.

Revisions. Correcting mistakes is easy and you can correct as you go or go back at anytime to anywhere in your document and make changes. There are two types of revisions: (1) You can correct recognition errors with the Correction dialog box mentioned above. This is used when NaturallySpeaking does not recognize your words; (2) You can use the Select-and-Say method of revision to revise what you say if you change your mind.

Train Words. You can use this dialog box to train words so that Dragon NaturallySpeaking is more likely to recognize them correctly. Training words and phrases in this dialog box teaches Dragon NaturallySpeaking your pronunciation much more effectively than just correcting the words in the Correction dialog box.

Vocabulary Editor. You use this dialog box to view and customize your active dictation vocabulary. You can add words and phrases, and create dictation shorthands. You can also view and train dictation commands. Creating dictation shorthands to customize your vocabulary is not difficult. When you dictate the spoken form, Dragon NaturallySpeaking enters the written form. Below are examples:

Written form: Spoken form: my email address
Written form: Spoken form: my web site
Written form: Maryann Smith Spoken form: my signature

Find New Words. This dialog box lists any unknown words found in the current document. The list may include misspellings, typographical errors, capitalized words that are not at the beginning of sentences, acronyms, and other word forms. This box is used to select and train any words that you want to add to the active vocabulary.You can use the View options to show or hide particular word forms.

NaturalWord. When dictating directly into WordPerfect or Word, you are using the NaturalWord feature. NaturalWord adds a NaturallySpeaking menu to the word processor's menu bar. From there you can access all the functions of NaturallySpeaking. You can dictate text, say voice commands and use most of the same commands as NaturallySpeaking. One difference is that the Results Box shows up in the upper left corner of your window and not in the middle of the screen as in NaturallySpeaking.

NaturalText. The program performed well in other Windows applications besides WordPerfect and Word but you are using the Dragon Natural Text feature and don't have all of the Select and Correct commands as you do when you use NaturalWord or NaturallySpeaking. Again, the Results Box shows up in the upper left corner of the screen rather than the middle. Still, I had no problem with dictating in other Windows applications. In fact, it takes those boring e-mail messages you have to write and makes them fun. I wasn't sure what programs I could use it in but it is a snap. When NaturalText is useable, a speech bubble icon next to the microphone icon on the taskbar is highlighted.

NaturallyMobile. This is a separate program that you need to install. It lets you dictate into a portable recorder or the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Sound Recorder and then use NaturallySpeaking to transcribe the recorded dictation. There is a Training Wizard that guides you through the process of creating a set of User speech files for your portable recorder. You use the computer to record and save dictation in a .wav file. Then NaturallyMobile has features that transcribe .wav files. There is a Playback Toolbar that provides fast forward and rewind controls and a button for easy access to corrections.

I really enjoyed using the program. To tell you the truth, I was a skeptic at first. I really didn't think that I could just speak into a microphone and have the computer type the words without having numerous mistakes. You do have to spend time training the program to your voice, but it does work! It is a useful program for slow typists or even fast typists. There is a small lag time before text is processed from the Results Box to your document but I did not find it annoying. You also have to speak special characters (periods, commas, quotation marks, question marks, etc.) as you type. But I really feel that voice recognition software has improved to the point where it is useful for just about anyone who uses the keyboard on a regular basis. I use it when I want to give my wrists a break, but don't want to stop working. It would be beneficial for anyone with a wrist or forearm problem. For individuals on the move, who still need to work, it could be an invaluable tool. Being able to dictate notes, memos, or anything you want using a recorder and then having NaturallySpeaking transcribe it for you would be a time saver.
Processor: 133 MHz Pentium (200MHz recommended; BestMatch technology requires 200MHz);
Operating System: Windows 95/98/NT 4.0;
Memory: 32MB (64MB recommended for Windows 95 or Windows 98; 48MB for Windows NT 4.0; additional 16MB when running Corel WordPerfect or Microsoft Word simultaneously with Dragon NaturallySpeaking; BestMatch technology requires 48MB);
Hard Disk Space: 180MB;
Sound Card: A Dragon Systems' certified or equivalent 16-bit sound card or built-in audio system with input quality equal to or greater than the Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16.

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