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Dragon NaturallySpeaking


Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Speaking Naturally, Anew


Published: December 2, 2004

Last March, in this column, I described my fondness for Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the dictation software for Windows that lets me "write" at 120 words per minute. You wear a headset microphone, you speak normally (except that you speak the punctuation), and NatSpeak pumps the words into whatever program is frontmost.

Last week, the company (ScanSoft) unveiled its new version 8. The shocking twist: the best feature is improved accuracy. That's it. Not bells, not whistles, just doing what it's supposed to do, only 25 percent better. (The company calls it 99 percent accurate, but that's hard for me to measure; I'll generally dictate an entire column without a single mis-transcription. For that document, it's 100 percent.)

I love this idea that the company just spent the last two years doing nothing but trying to improve its software's core feature. It's almost hilarious! It's like a digital-camera company coming out with a new camera that doesn't have a single new feature, except that it takes much better pictures.

In this case, ScanSoft grew understandably weary of hearing about how people bought NatSpeak, got all excited, tried it, didn't get the results they hoped for, and then gave up on it. "We got one consistent message, from both users and abandoners," a product manager told me. "Fix the accuracy." Turns out they did. NatSpeak 8 really, truly is more accurate, right out of the box.

You still have to train it-that means reading a canned five-minute script while the software analyzes your voice. And you still have to correct it whenever it makes an error; only then will it improve. But the more you train, the more you feed it copies of documents of the sort that you write, and the more you correct it, the better NatSpeak gets.

To see what NatSpeak is capable of, have a look at today's Pogue video, which shows the program in action.

Keep in mind, though, that I'm probably an extreme case; I've been using the software for years, so NatSpeak and I have a certain mutual understanding. Your experience on the first day won't be as good, but it will be a lot better than anything else on the market can give you.

Which, by the way, isn't much. The field is dwindling. Philips got out of the speech-recognition game, and IBM's Via Voice is now distributed by, if you can believe this, ScanSoft. That development makes me think that keeping Via Voice cutting-edge is not, ahem, at the top of anyone's priority list.

There are only two programs for the Macintosh, and they're not, in my estimation, ready for serious daily work. (NatSpeak does NOT work on the Macintosh, even with VirtualPC.)

Now, there are SOME feature improvements in version 8, primarily in the more expensive versions ( But even if they did nothing to NatSpeak 8 but work on the accuracy, I'd still buy it. In a dictation program, accuracy is about the best new feature you could wish for.

Visit David Pogue on the Web at

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