Comdex Report: Dragon Unveils Mac Speech Software

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The long wait for continuous-speech-recognition software on the Mac may soon be over. At this week's Comdex trade show, Dragon Systems offered the first public demonstrations of NaturallySpeaking for the Mac. The software has some rough edges, and the company still won't say when the Mac version will be released--or how much it will cost--but the core speech-recognition technology appears to be working.

Unlike earlier forms of speech recognition, Dragon's continuous-speech technology lets you speak at a normal pace instead of pausing between words. Along with Dragon Systems, IBM has announced that it will bring its own continuous-speech software, ViaVoice, to the Mac.

During a Monday evening press event, Dragon Systems engineer Adam Weiss fired up the company's new Mac-based word processor and spoke several sentences that appeared accurately on the screen. Then, using only voice commands, he selected text and changed the font size and type style. He also demonstrated the software controlling Apple's SimpleText and AppleWorks programs. NaturallySpeaking will work with other Mac software as well, Weiss said, but with most programs you'll be limited to entering text by voice whereas Dragon's word processor will also recognize formatting commands. Using the Dragon word processor, you'll be able to save files that you can then open in Microsoft Word with formatting intact.

Weiss admits that the company has faced some unforeseen challenges in developing a Mac version of its software, which is well established in the Windows market. Speech recognition is a memory-intensive technology, and Weiss says the company's development efforts have been slowed by differences between the way Macs and Windows PCs handle memory. One problem, he says, has been adapting new training algorithms developed for the Windows version. All speech-recognition products must be trained to recognize an individual speaker's voice, a process that took a half an hour with earlier versions of NaturallySpeaking. Dragon has developed a training function that reduces this to four or five minutes, but moving this capability to the Mac has proved difficult, he says. However, Weiss adds that the Mac version of Dragon's word processor will have one advantage over the Windows release: the ability to open multiple documents.

Dragon Systems has also announced NaturallySpeaking Mobile Organizer, a digital dictation device about the size of a hand-held organizer. Using the device, you can dictate articles, memos, e-mails, and other documents, then transfer the data to your computer, where it's converted to text. However, the company hasn't decided whether it will offer it in a Mac version.

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