In the not-too-distant future, children will look at keyboards and mice with a mixture of amusement and derision. Advances in speech-recognition and dictation technology have quietly made stunning leaps forward in recent years; and although it isn't perfect yet, speech recognition has suddenly achieved very good usability. Here's how to take advantage of Windows 7's built-in voice command tools and make a break from the keyboard and mouse.
To get started with Windows 7 Speech Recognition, click Start, Control Panel, Speech Recognition, or simply type
speech recognition into the Start search bar and press Enter.
The first time you start Windows 7 Speech Recognition, it will walk you through some basic configuration and customization options. The Welcome screen kicks things off and explains the basic functionality of speech recognition.
Use a Good Microphone
One of the most important elements of speech recognition is the quality and position of the microphone. If Windows 7 Speech Recognition can't hear or clearly understand your voice commands, your efficiency and results with the tool will suffer greatly.
You can use any microphone as an audio input, but a headset microphone is highly recommended because it places the microphone directly in front of your mouth even as you move your head. If you're not interested in wearing a mic on your head all day, consider springing for a good USB condenser mic, such as the Blue Yeti.
Windows 7 Speech Recognition can learn to recognize your speech patterns and common words by reviewing written documents and e-mail on the PC. The more Windows 7 understands the words and phrases you use, the more accurate and effective it will be in recognizing your speech. Of course, some people may consider it a potential breach of privacy to allow Microsoft's speech recognition to sift through files, so you can choose to disable the document-review option.
Sometimes you might not want the speech recognition turned on and listening to everything you say--there's no telling what sorts of things you might make Windows 7 do if you leave the speech recognition enabled while you're on a phone call with your spouse, for instance. You can set the activation mode to determine what happens when you tell Windows 7 Speech Recognition to "stop listening." If you choose manual activation, you must click the microphone icon or press Ctrl-Windows to start it back up. But if you set it for voice activation, speech recognition enters a sleep mode where it can still hear, and you can activate it by saying "start listening."
Windows 7 provides a list of frequently used commands to guide you through basic operations with speech recognition. Rather than using a mouse to click an icon on the desktop to highlight it, you can simply say "click." For example, you can say "click Computer" to highlight the Computer icon on the desktop. If you want to open it, you can say "double-click Computer" instead of using a mouse to double-click it. If you are at a loss for how to work with Windows 7 in a given context, you can say "What can I say?" and Windows 7 Speech Recognition will provide a list of available commands. You can print the list as a handy reference guide.
The final step of the initial setup is to determine whether Windows 7 Speech Recognition should run automatically each time Windows starts, or only when you manually execute it. You can review all of the settings that you just configured by clicking Advanced Speech Options in the left pane from the Control Panel Speech Recognition console. You can also say "Show Speech Options" to display the speech-recognition properties.
Train Your PC's Ear
The first thing you should do with Windows 7 Speech Recognition is train the software to understand the nuance of your enunciation and voice patterns. Select Speech Recognition Voice Training from the Speech Recognition control panel to begin.
Once you've completed the initial configuration and training, it's time to go through the tutorial to learn how to use the software to control Windows 7. The Speech Recognition Tutorial walks through Basics, Dictation, Commanding, and Working with Windows.