Talking to your PC

I've just got back from a break in sunny Majorca, where one of my favorite things was strolling around the marina ogling the superyachts and idly deciding whether I'd have mine fitted out with a step-off dive deck or an onboard jacuzzi. (Both, obviously.)

On my return home, I took a look online at who owns these incredibly luxurious boats. It turns out that IT and luxury vessels are inextricably linked. Indeed, Microsoft's Paul Allen and Oracle's Larry Ellison are locked in a rivalry over whose yacht is the biggest.

For the record, Ellison is king of the high seas with the 252ft Rising Sun. And it seems that profits from database companies should keep him afloat for some while.

Where once the demise of this less-than-gripping area of technology was widely touted, now profits are up and data specialist Sybase is boasting a bank balance of US$1 billion. Thanks to the latest developments in this area it seems we could be in for a future where databases become more, rather than less, relevant.

At the recent Techwave conference Sybase was touting the concept of the unwired office, providing us with access to all our work data wherever we are via mobile devices.

This will bring Sybase into another war. Once again it's the database guys up against Microsoft, which has dominated until now.

If this revitalization of the database market continues its success then perhaps Mr Ellison will be able to rethink his planned sale of the Rising Sun!

Anyway, to the Office. I've been using NaturallySpeaking Preferred 9.0, Dragon's voice-recognition software. Long a nice idea that didn't work well in practice, speech recognition is becoming a useful productivity tool. Read on to get more from this package -- including increasing its vocabulary and customizing commands.

How to use commands in Naturallyspeaking

1. Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 9.0's Command Browser allows you to view and train commands. To access it, click on the Tools menu in the DragonBar and select Command Browser. Here you can browse the commands available in every application NaturallySpeaking supports.

2. You can opt to view only those commands that work in a specific application. To do so, click on the arrow beside the Context box. A drop-down menu of apps will appear. Select the application you want to use and a list of application-specific commands will appear onscreen.

3. To find a command, go to the Context menu and select the application to which it relates. Click the Only Available button and from now on you will see only relevant commands. Click the Filter button and type in the word used in your command, for example 'italic', to see all commands relating to this type of formatting.

4. When you have found the word or words you are looking for, click Add to place them on your filter list. You can remove one or all words using these commands in the Filter dialog box. Click Done. A list of all the commands relating to adding italic formatting within your chosen application will then appear.

5. You can find out more about each command by clicking on the icons in the lefthand menu. Click on a specific command and the available options will be highlighted. To find out more information about what each expansion option will show, click on the Help menu as it has full explanations of each option.

6. Once you've found the command you're looking for by following the previous steps you can train the software to recognize it. To do this click on the Train button in the lefthand menu. Then train the command as before, by clicking on the Go button, speaking the command and clicking on Done.


Record maker

TextAloud is another tool that can be used to read aloud text on your PC. It can also be used to convert this speech into audio files to download to a portable player. It supports MP3 and WMA formats. You can download a free trial or buy the full version for around £16.

Voice control

E-speaking allows you to dictate to your PC and control most popular applications and browsers via speech. The free version includes 100 commands, but to add to or edit these you will have to buy a full version for around £7.50. E-speaking offers a free 30-day trial of its software to download.

Take command

VR Commander 3.1 allows you to create voice commands to control virtually any Windows application. You can use it to use a voice command to simulate keystrokes, run files, input text and so on. You can download a free trial and licences cost around £5.

Cool tool

Cool C is a speech-recognition tool that records what you dictate to your PC and reads it back to you. It requires Microsoft's Speech Engine, which is installed as standard in Windows XP, but users of earlier versions may need to download it. A free trial version is available for download.

Email chat

Speak-to-Mail speech-recognition allows you to dictate and send emails using your voice. When you launch the software it reads your contact list and opens an email template. You can then dictate your message. A free trial version is available to download or you can buy for around £19.

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Ursula Seymour

PC Advisor (UK)
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