You were probably introduced to speech recognition when Microsoft included a native voice-recognition system inside Office XP (and Windows XP SP1). The very idea of dictating Word documents and Outlook emails was exciting enough but you soon left, largely unimpressed, because there were just too many mistakes and you were spending more time in correcting the transcribed text instead of actual dictation.

Speaking into the microphone was therefore never considered a more productive activity than typing with the traditional keyboard. Things are, however, very different now [watch the video demo above]

Download Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 ReviewDragon Naturally Speaking 9 from Nuance may change your perception of speech recognition software forever - the software is amazingly accurate and works like a charm - all you need is a Windows XP/Vista computer with enough RAM, fast processorand few gigs of free hard disk space.

And yes, you also require a good Microphone but dont need to buy one separately as the speech software ships with a comfortable noise-cancelling headset microphone already.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 installation and online activation was a snap. Once the software was installed, you can skip the training part and start dictation immediately (though we recommend reciting some training text for much accurate results).

During installation, the software scans and reads your Outlook email messages (in the Sent Items folder) and the My Documents folder to learn more about your writing style, vocabulary and even the name of your friends and contacts from emails. In fact, DNS 9 recognized and spelled i-P-h-o-n-e correctly (with I in small case) it probably learned that term from our Outlook emails [see screenshot]

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 iPhone
You will sometime notice that your dictation is not appearing fast enough on the screen - that's because Dragon listens to your full sentence, analyzes the context and then transcribes. So you may not see errors like "hear" instead of "here" or "I Scream" instead of "ice scream".

Nuance claims that Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 is over 99% accurate and that claim is probably true provided you spend time with the software - when the typed text is different from what you just said, teach the correct word to the software and it won't repeat the error again. In our case, it was constantly recognizing the words "blog" as "block" and "blogging" as "blocking" - once we trained DNS, it spelled even "blogosphere" correctly.

There are easy-to-remember voice commands for almost every computer task or you can create your own custom commands (for instance, a command like "my email" that types your actual email address).

If you don't remember the voice commands, just say "what can I say" or "give me help" and you'll see a list of available commands for that window. It is also possible to control the mouse pointer with your voice though we'll use that feature only when our mouse battery has drained and we don't have a spare one.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 Microsoft
Dragon has another useful feature that may well appeal to Podcasters and Video Bloggers - the software can automatically scan an audio file (your podcasts) and create a a text transcript (or shownotes). Google would love your podcasts and vidcasts if you add text transcripts of your shows and Dragon NaturallySpeaking does that for you without any extra effort.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 may be a blessing for bloggers who generally writing long blog entries and need to give their fingers and eyes some rest. Plug-in the microphone, lean back on the chair and start speaking your blog.

DragonPad
Dragon cannot replace the traditional keyboard but it will certainly enhance your writing life and reduce the risks of repetitive stress injuries just have the patience to correct the initial spelling mistakesand the software will keep getting better every time you use it. Wish they provided a more comprehensive printed manual of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 - a large part of the information is available only in the online help file.

We reviewed the Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Professional ($899, with Indian English support) though most of the review commentary will apply to the Standard ($99) and Preferred ($199) editions as well. There's no Mac version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9. Also, you won't find a link to download Dragon Naturally Speak 9 trial version on the Nuance website as the software is only available as a full product.

About Licensing: Though you can install DNS 9 on two computers, the license is per user - that means you and your mom cannot work on the same Dragon NaturallySpeaking License even when the software is installed on the same home computer.

Hands free computing has arrived, finally. Nuance competitors include IBM ViaVoice, Philips Speedmagic and now Windows Vista that has built-in speech recognition technology (though this Vista Speech Demo makes it is fairly tough to conclude that Microsoft will beatNuance in the speech recognition game).

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The NFR Demo copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 Professional Version 9.10 SP1 for the above review was provided by Erica Hill from Nuance Communications Inc.