Windows 7 Speech Recognition: Say What?

Last week I had a temporary problem typing. As I was writing to deadline, I was less than pleased by the prospect of being unable to do my work.

Many years ago -- I think I was running Windows 98 SE at the time -- I had a different problem (incipient carpal tunnel syndrome) that required an extended break from mouse and keyboard use. At that time, the two viable options were from IBM and Dragon; I got a special dictation headset microphone and a copy of Dragon, spent hours training it, and was able to do my work for the next few weeks without aggravating my wrists.

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Dragon is still around, though it was acquired by Nuance. Dragon would've been my first choice, but I don't have a current version of the package and certainly nothing that would run on 64-bit Windows 7.

Second choice? I tried to turn on the speech recognition in Microsoft Word, only to discover that it was dropped between Office 2003 and Office 2007. It was replaced by the speech recognition built into Windows.

I turned that on in Windows 7, not expecting much. I told it to use the general-purpose Blue Snowflake microphone I have on my desktop for recording podcasts and doing Skype calls. Desktop microphones are not usually the best options for speech recognition, but I thought it would be worth a try.

To my delight, the Windows 7 speech recognition worked well with a minimum of training. Was it perfect? No, not at all. But it was good enough to serve the purpose. It does more than I expected, including controlling the desktop, and it built itself an index of my documents in the background to improve recognition of my vocabulary.

I'm back to typing now; however, I won't hesitate to switch to speech recognition when I need it.

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