Monday, January 15, 2007

I say I say I say!

It must have been about six years ago last time I looked at “speakwrite” software, and at that time it was a bit useless! A speakwrite machine, you’ll remember from George Orwell’s novel 1984, was a device allowing the user to speak into a “mouthpiece” (microphone) and his spoken words would be written onto the page. Such a device would be really useful for us bloggers – we could record a podcast (OK, Orwell never mentioned these) and let the speakwrite machine create this text that you’re reading!

I know there are an enormous number of products currently available that can take commands from voice, but I thought that the leaders in this area were probably IBM with its ViaVoice and Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance. I decided to give Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking a try. To be honest, I was not expecting too much.

Previously, I had spent time reading through pages of text, training the software to respond to my dulcet tones. Following that, I had said a couple of sentences and been amazed to see what words the software had written on the screen. I would then read out these new words from the screen and see what the software wrote next. As you can imagine, this could go on for a long time as the software produced sentences less and less like my original.

To be fair, I did know of one IT worker who, having damaged one wrist in a car accident and suffering RSI in the other, turned to voice recognition software as the only way to continue working without having to type. He did use the software successfully, but his work rate was much slower than before.

Anyway, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is now at Version 9 and was released last summer (2006). One interesting development is that there is no longer a need to train the software to recognize your voice patterns. It also comes with a wireless headset to make dictation easier – you’re less likely to rip the headset off as you move your head away from the computer!

The advantage of speaking your text into the computer is that you can get up to 160 words per minute, whereas typing is less than that. As well as being useful for lazier people (like me), voice recognition software is ideal for people like my friend who are unable to type. Nuance also makes a business case for its use by illustrating how much time can be saved.

The big question that’s hovering at the back of your mind now is, “does it work?”. Is it any better than six years ago or is it still just a bit of a fad? Well, I can honestly say that I was very impressed with the improvement in the technology. It does take a little bit of getting used to as you switch from dictation to command mode and back, but once you get the hang of it, it’s very good. I’m not sure whether I’m writing any faster yet, I’ve still only been using it for a little while.

So if you do a lot of typing into your computer (words rather than program code), I think it is worth giving it a try.

BTW you might have noticed that Xephon’s MVS Update and MQ Update journals have changed their names this month. They are now called z/OS Update and WebSphere Update. This reflects the fact that most people are referring to z/OS as z/OS these days rather than the sort-of generic title of MVS, and, secondly, changing to WebSphere reflects the additional content necessary to satisfy users of WebSphere MQ. Full details about the publications can be found at


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