Review: ViaVoice Millennium Edition
Company: IBM Corporation
Street Price: $79.95
Requirements: G3- or G4-based Mac, 48 MB of RAM, 200 MB available disk space, audio input jack compatible with Andrea NC-71 microphone.
I’ll be darned it works. Paragraph. I mean
Let’s try again. I’ll be darned, it works.
See, I messed up before when I said and, “Paragraph,” because the proper command for a new paragraph is “New paragraph,” and to speak that phrase into text you have to say “New” and then pause and say, “Paragraph. “ this is going to take some getting used to do This is going to take some getting used to.
I’m letting ViaVoice write its own review. Here I sit, with my little plastic headset on my head and my fingers least behind my back. I’m talking, and my words appear—proof—right there on my monitor. I’ve had this dream since March 2nd, 1984, and though this stream has taken much longer than I expected to come true, here it is at last, of voice recognition program worth using.
Note: The text above is the raw and uncorrected transcript of my first ViaVoice session. From here on out, I’ll correct my mistakes.
OK, I’ll admit it, my typing is faster and more accurate then my ViaVoice dictation. It ought to be, since I’ve been stroking keyboards for a living for 15 years and talking to ViaVoice for an hour. To be fair, we should compare this session with my first day as a typist, and by that standard I am smoking!
And in this hour, I’ve seen enough to believe this is more than a technical oddity, more than a gee-whiz-what’ll-they-think-of-next. My first impression is that this is going to be a workable system once I get up to speed with it.
So I’m going to do some Reviewing Beyond the Call of Duty. I’m going to spend a month with ViaVoice. As a novice touch-typist, it took me a month before I could find the ‘B’ key with any consistency, but I eventually got with the program, and I’m going to give ViaVoice an equally fair trial.
Voice recognition is an interesting challenge. Voices are different, accents are different, and it’s not likely that a system customised for me will work for you. ViaVoice has a clever initial training routine, where you read a story to your Mac. ViaVoice knows the text, and it matches your voice with the words it expects to hear. After I read it a short story, I opened IBM SpeakPad (the text-recognizing mode of this program) and said, “I’ll be darned, it works,” and the rest is history.
The voice recognizer will mis-recognize a word or two at first, and it’s worth the trouble to correct it so it can get it right next time. If you correct by selecting wrong words and spelling them right, ViaVoice will add them to its vocabulary (for example, earlier this evening it didn’t know “poof” was a word, but it does now). Still—utter non sorghum stenches—never send out a ViaVoice document without looking it over closely for words that sound pretty close but aren’t quite right.
Even more important than training ViaVoice is letting ViaVoice train you. It has some special commands for punctuation, cursor movement, and the like; and you have to memorize these commands or you’re wasting your time. I can press the return key much faster than I can look up the New Paragraph command, but now that I have it memorized, it takes no time at all.
How do I rate ViaVoice? To quote the 8-balls of my youth, “Reply hazy, ask again later.” It looks promising, but let’s find out if it can keep its promise. I’ll see you back here in May.