ViaVoice, by IBM
Posted: 1-Jul-2002

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: IBM Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Stan Hadley Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Introduction
The Mac OS has long included software that allowed voice control of the operating system or any software that was scriptable with AppleScript, but third party software was needed for converting dictation to typed text. IBM's ViaVoice 3.0 allows a user both to speak commands and to dictate text into any program. It works pretty well, but requires an investment of time in training your voice as well as learning the commands available. While the accuracy is pretty good, the extra time taken for editing may be more trouble than just typing, depending on your typing speed and accuracy.

Installation
The boxed version of IBM ViaVoice software I received was for Mac OS 9, not Mac OS X. Fortunately, IBM has a free upgrade to the OS X version available for download. Since it's a 200MB file, thank goodness for cable modems. I installed it on my TiPowerBook 667 Mhz and attached the microphone headset that comes with it. The software then walked me through a series of readings that train the program to your voice. Since it knows the words I'm reading, it can adapt to how I say them.

Operation
The application has two main functions, dictation and voice commands. It can also operate in a combination of both. Dictation can be done into the accompanying SpeakPad text program, or you can dictate directly in to other programs such as Word or Eudora. It operates best with its own program, and if you use it, you can have ViaVoice learn from the corrections that you make. It also has a number of additional commands that can be used in SpeakPad that are not available if you're dictating into another program. This can cause confusion, or a lot of extraneous words, if you try to speak commands when you're not in the SpeakPad program

The program has macros built in that transfer any text from SpeakPad to Word or Eudora. One drawback I found was that it transfers the text into a new document rather than the current document. You can also add macros to Viavoice, either text shortcuts or AppleScript commands. However, the documentation was wrong in what folder you put the applescript in, and I had to call the Tech Support line to get it figured out. It is not as easy to add commands as with Apple's Voice Recognition. With Apple's software, you can put aliases of files you would like to open in the Speakable Items folder and thereby make them speakable. ViaVoice requires you to write a little AppleScript to tell the Finder to activate the program or open the file. The program does come with several commands that are useful for surfing the Web. In fact, one voice command it has is "Surf the Web". When I dictated "Surf the Web" to ViaVoice, it launched Internet Explorer.

So how well does it work? Pretty well, but it still requires that you pay attention and make corrections soon after you dictate; otherwise, you won't be able to tell what you had originally planned to say. You need to speak slow enough that it keeps up with you. For example, speaking too fast,

I spoke:
This can slow down your thought processes.
Result:
This is loaded and the thought processes and *.

Difficulties might arise if you start to use technical language that the program is not familiar with. When it isn't sure, it will put in its closest approximation, which may make no sense at all. If you have your own documents, you can submit them to the learning program. It will list unusual words for you to read and add to its vocabulary.

The command system allows for controlling the computer, but can be temperamental sometimes. It may type out the command instead of carrying it out, or, conversely, may think some dictation was a command. If a spoken command is recognized, it will put the command in a tooltips-type popup, but you sometimes need to say a command multiple times before it understands. You need to switch the operating mode of the program or tell the microphone to turn off to avoid having strange things happen on your screen when you start talking to someone who comes in the room.

Summary
IBM ViaVoice does what no other software does: it accepts voice input into your computer, and uses it's advanced technology to translate the voice into text or commands. If you don't like typing, and are willing to invest the time to learn the commands and teach the program any specialized words, IBM ViaVoice hits the mark. It definitely has the "Gee Whiz" factor when you see the words you say show up on the screen, or have the computer obey your voice. This is a cool piece of software, and despite it's flaws, IBM ViaVoice makes a good companion for the Mac.

Pros

  • Good accuracy of dictation and responsiveness to commands
  • Trainable to achieve greater accuracy
  • Extendable using Applescripts
  • Comes with USB headset (headphone and microphone)

Cons

  • Slow translating dictation to text in some programs
  • Editing commands only available in SpeakPad text editor
  • Commands may require repeating to register


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice