Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 became ready for download today for us existing Dragon users who had pre-ordered. I’ll come back to the installation shortly.
For those who do not know, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a voice input program for the Windows computer, and the leader in this category. It takes dictation but also allows you to open programs, search the web, compose mail and edit existing texts without using your hands. As such, it solves an acute problem for those who don’t have hands or can’t use them. For us who have hands, it is most useful for dictation. It is fast and, with a little practice, amazingly accurate. The new version claims a 20% increase in accuracy, putting it well above 99% accuracy with 15 minutes of training. In practice, it takes longer, but the program keeps learning the more you use it. When you see an experienced user work with Dragon 11.5 (the previous version) it is “indistinguishable from magic”.
Installation: The download link from Nuance arrived by email before I woke up in the morning. A separate mail also contained link to the training video. While I am personally a fan of reading, the training video will surely be welcome by dyslexic users, another core customer group. (The program can also read text out loud, even text you have not dictated.)
The download process proceeds in several steps. You first download a tiny download manager program. It does not really matter much where you save this, it is very small. This program must be run to start the main download. The main download is a compressed file, but still close to 3 gigabytes. This must again be unpacked to a larger set of files before the actual installation. During the unpacking process, both the compressed file and the unpacked file take up space simultaneously, and that’s before the actual install into the Program Files directory. This program is not recommended for people with small disks!
It is recommended that you back up the compressed file so that you can install from this if your computer suddenly crashes or if you simply decide to buy a new at some point.
The download went without glitches, but the install itself caused me some trouble. A ways into the installation, the program warned me that several processes had to be closed down before it could continue. Three of these were unknown to me, and did not appear with the given names in Windows Task Manager. I had to break off the installation and reboot the computer, then run the install again. The install did not automatically resume, and if I had not taken note of where the unpacked file was saved, I would have had to restart from the compressed file. I would recommend you reboot your PC before you start downloading, and not start any unnecessary programs until after the install is complete.
After installation, the software offers to let you register the product online. There is also an online activation which is necessary to continue using the program. The registration and the activation are unrelated tasks.
As a user of version 11, I had my existing program removed automatically and my user account upgraded to the new version. This takes some time even on a fast computer. New users will be led through creating an account instead, and the system checks the quality of your microphone input before asking you to read a text to attune the program to your voice and reading rhythm. You can skip this step and train the program by correcting mistakes if you want. New users also get an offer to let the program read through their email and documents to adapt to their vocabulary. This is a separate task from adapting to your voice. Again, you can skip this and just train the program through use, if you are impatient, but there will be more errors during your first few days of use if so.
Accuracy training: Since Dragon was complaining about my microphone, I bought another, an analog headset to replace the digital USB headset. I established a new user account and started over from scratch with the new hardware. This microphone passes Dragon’s test with flying colors, but the new account doesn’t have any of the accumulated experience with my speaking. Newsflash: It certainly wasn’t useful right out of the box!
My experience is probably not typical, since I am a foreigner to the English language and also have a chronic problem with my vocal cords – my voice grows “rusty” many times faster than a normal human – but I think we should still consider this. After all, most people aren’t native English speakers, or if they are, they have dialects or accents. And your voice does change with use even if more slowly than mine. And my experience is that it takes several hours for a new user before Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 becomes truly useful. So don’t buy this program an hour before you need it. Set aside a couple days at least to become good friends with it before you start working together.
Not only does your voice change after you have used it for a while, but it is also slightly different from morning to evening. So it may be a good idea to do some reading training at different times, to help the computer get familiar with your voice. It is not necessary to read all the way through the exercises, you can click finish at any time. Also, try to make sure that you read the exercises in the same way that you speak to the computer when you dictate. For my part, I have found that I have a tendency to speak faster and in longer stretches when I read something, compared to when I dictate my own thoughts. For some reason I also tend to read louder – perhaps a habit from my school days? We used to be required to read aloud in class.
Features: The previous version mostly improved the user interface, introducing context-sensitive help in the form of the “Dragon Sidebar”. It also expanded support for more programs, and the engine was made more efficient. Version 12 has very few changes in the user interface; it supposedly includes 100 new features, but I don’t expect to need more than a few of them. Most of the development this time seems to have concentrated on the technical: In addition to the improved accuracy, the program also runs much faster, especially on new computers where it now takes advantage of multicore processors and extra memory. Additionally, even the home version can now take advantage of mobile phones as microphones: If you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone and it’s on the same Wi-Fi network as your computer, you can dictate to your smartphone and have the text appear on your computer screen!
One feature I thought was included in the home version, but which evidently isn’t, is playback of your own dictation. On the other hand, the program includes an excellent synthetic voice which can read what you have dictated (or any other normal text). This will begin to come in handy when the accuracy approaches 100%. Dragon doesn’t make typos; when it makes a mistake, it writes valid words, usually words that make sense next to each other, but not the words you intended to say. We who have been typing for decades, will naturally look for typos when we proofread our text. It is all too easy for us to overlook that a wrong word has been used, such as “is” instead of “isn’t”. But chances are we catch it when we hear it out loud!
That’s all for this time, but I hope to be back with glowing praise when the accuracy approaches 100%. ^_^