Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) has been around since the 1990s, but it was with the introduction of version 8 in 2006 that the product truly became usable to convert the spoken word into text. I had tried DNS version 6, but I gave up as it just wasn’t ready for easy day-to-day use. However, since version 8 I’ve used each successive version and was looking forward to getting version 11 to put through its paces.
Each successive update since version 8 has added incremental improvements to the base product. I believe that the improvements in DNS 11, particularly to the Professional version, are more than just incremental changes, however, as they definitely improve ease of use and efficiency of the product, helping you get tasks done faster and more accurately.
Most people believe, incorrectly, that Dragon can only be used to convert your spoken words into text in a word-processing program; nothing could be further from the truth. The entire DNS 11 family of editions gives you the ability to work with programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel, as well as powerful tools to search the web and control the programs that you use on a daily basis. DNS 11 Professional and Legal editions enhance these capabilities by allowing you to add advanced custom commands, Excel and PowerPoint support, and transcription tools. The ability to control your computer can be especially helpful if you have a disability that makes using your computer with a traditional keyboard difficult. However, these improvements to DNS don’t come without a cost; with this version more than ever, having a modern processor and sufficient memory is critical to its proper operation.
If your system fails to meet the minimum requirements as designated by Nuance (the maker of DNS), Dragon will not install on your system. Nuance states that a 1 GHz Pentium or equivalent AMD processor is sufficient, but a 1.8 GHz Intel Dual Core or equivalent AMD processor is recommended. And although the minimum requirements are 1 GB of RAM for Windows XP and Windows Vista and 2 GB for Windows 7, doubling these minimum requirements should be the norm. Additionally, you will need a 16-bit sound card to connect a headset or other input device or one that uses a USB connection.
Installation from an enclosed DVD is straightforward, and when installation is completed, you are asked to complete a five-minute training session to help DNS recognize your speech patterns. I elected to read excerpts from a Dogbert manual as it is listed among the more difficult of the samples, and as I had done so for each of the prior versions. You then have an option of allowing the program to scan your e-mail and documents in order personalize its vocabulary with particular words and phrases you use. This process reflects a further improvement over the long and cumbersome training process required by versions earlier than DNS 8.
Changes found in DNS 11 include improvements to the menus, to the DragonBar, and, more significantly, to the results displays and results box, which are now easier to understand and make. One of the most significant improvements is the addition of the Dragon Sidebar, which can be placed on the left or the right side of your screen and provides useful commands and tips not only for the current program but also for global mouse and custom-voice commands. Another significantly improved tool is the ability to correct easily the format of multiple instances of a word or text: DNS now displays a number next to each occurrence, and selecting one to correct is as easy as saying “choose two” or “choose all.”
Commands for controlling Windows and its various parts, such as the Control Panel, desktop, My Documents folder, and more have also been improved, as has the ability to switch between programs in Windows. To list all open programs, all I need to say is “list programs,” which will open a “List of Open Windows.” Or, if you wish to open a specific window of a program (for instance, if you have multiple Word documents open), you would say “list Windows for Microsoft Word,” which will display a “List of Windows.”
Another significant improvement is Dragon’s ability to search websites using your default browser. There are three basic search types you can run using Dragon:
- Search the Web;
- Search a Specific Website; and
- Search a Category on the Web
Search the Web performs a search just as it sounds: It searches the web for the search term that you dictate. For example, speak the words “Search the web for pizzerias in downtown Chicago,” and Dragon will search the web using your default browser. The first time you run the search, Dragon displays your search string and provides an opportunity to edit it in the Dragon Keyword Edit dialog box.
When you click the Search button, Dragon opens your default browser (in my case, Internet Explorer), runs the search using your default search engine (in my case, Ask.com), and returns the results in a standard page from your default search engine.
Search a Specific Website allows you to search a specific website without first opening your web browser. For example, if I wanted to search for a specific book title on Amazon.com, I would say “Search Amazon for A Hymn Before Battle.” You will again be prompted by the Dragon Keyword Edit dialog box, unless the option has been turned off. To execute the search, simply say “search,” and Dragon will open your default browser and automatically search Amazon.com and return the results in a standard Amazon page.
Search a Category on the Web is the third major search option. Using this command, you can search the Internet for a specific category of information, such as “Search Maps for Chicago Illinois.” Again, you will receive the Dragon Keyword Edit dialog box, unless the option has been turned off. Authorize the search, and it returns results from your default search engine.
Correction and other commands have been simplified in version 11, including the ability to open programs now by simply saying “Open Microsoft Word” rather than having to say “Open Microsoft Office Word 2007.” DNS also includes compatibility with Microsoft Office 2010 (both the 32-bit and the 64-bit versions) as well as support for OpenOffice.org’s Writer program. DNS now supports commands requiring you to press the shift and control keys in conjunction with right or left mouse buttons as well as moving the mouse via voice command.
Other improvements include the ability to use more speech file formats for training purposes when adding a digital recorder for transcription, including unencrypted DSS or DS2 files used by professional-level transcription equipment from Philips, Olympus, and Grundig found in many law offices. This ability is not present in the Home edition but only in the Premium and higher versions of DNS. This is also true for the ability to use a Bluetooth wireless headset or use multiple profiles such as using both a wired microphone and a handheld recorder. The ability to create custom commands or to save your dictation for later review with the text document are only available in the Professional and Legal versions. You can see the full version matrix for a comparison of the features for each edition of Dragon at the Nuance website.
What’s to Like
I found that all the improvements that I detailed above allowed me to get more out of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I particularly find the Dragon Sidebar useful by making its helpful references and tips readily available. The ability to select multiple instances of a word or text has removed a great deal of frustration from my use of the product. I’ve found the enhancements to the commands and interface to be refreshing and useful in my day-to-day work. Dragon’s ability to search not only the desktop but also a greater portion of the web as well as its integration with more programs has been valuable and resulted in reduced frustration and the need to use the keyboard.
What’s Not to Like
I would think that after 11 versions of this product, they would include a detailed cheat sheet of commands or, better yet, provide a printable file listing all available commands. Sadly, this is not the case. DNS does include a quick reference card in the box, but this card covers multiple subjects including installation, activation, personalization, correcting errors, and some sample commands. Furthermore, although the ability to correct text has improved, I still find it easier at times to use the keyboard for corrections rather than doing it by voice.
This latest version of Dragon claims up to 99 percent accuracy, but I’ve yet to achieve a level over 95 percent. And even if Dragon reaches 99 percent accuracy, this means that one out of every hundred words or one out of every hundred letters will be incorrect; therefore, careful proofreading is still a requirement using Dragon. But dictating is still better than typing by hand.
Cost is also a factor; even though the Professional and Legal editions have been reduced in price from where they were just two years ago, DNS 11 Professional costs $599.99 new (an upgrade costs $299.99 or $399.99, depending on your previous version), and DNS 11 Legal costs $799.99 (an upgrade costs between $299.99 and $599.99, depending on your previous version). Although the average user may be fine with the Home version ($99.99) and may not need all the features found in the Professional or Legal editions, lawyers can benefit from them, and I believe that they are worth considering. (For full details on pricing, see the Nuance website.)
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Professional is a definite improvement over version 10 in both its features and usability. While expensive, its features and productivity enhancements are worth the upgrade from earlier versions and definitely worth consideration for those looking to begin using speech recognition software. For those suffering from a disability, Dragon can open the door to greater and more enjoyable use of a computer.