BOOT CAMP 525 (20/05/08)

Windows Vista Voice Recognition, part 2


Most of us talk to our computers, even if it’s only to curse them when they don’t behave, but what if your PC actually did as it was told? It can be done and as we saw last week, Windows Vista has a built-in Speech Recognition system. With patience you can do just about anything using only spoken commands, from composing emails and documents to surfing the web, but first, you have to teach it to understand your voice.


It’s not as difficult as it sounds and Microsoft has cunningly disguised the voice training session as an interactive tutorial, which lasts around 40 minutes. It’s split into half a dozen bite-sized chunks, which makes it seem a little less tedious, and if you can’t complete it in one session you can come back to it at any time. 


Begin by launching the Speech Recognition program and my preferred method is to start typing the word ‘speech’ in Search on Vista’s Start menu. After a few letters Speech Recognition shows at the top of the list. Double click the icon and the Microphone bar appears on the desktop; right-click on it and select Start Speech Tutorial from the menu. By the way, you might want to create a desktop shortcut (drag the icon on to the desktop), which will make it even easier to launch next time.


Once the tutorial has started all you have to do is follow the on-screen instructions and speak words and phrases when instructed. You may be surprised at how quickly it appears to grasp what you are saying when you read on-screen messages but it’s a trick. During the very early phases of the tutorial it’s just responding to patterns of sound, rather than actual words. Try it, when asked to speak the word ‘Next’, say something nonsensical like ‘wibble’ and it obediently moves to the next page. However, as you progress it fine-tunes itself to your voice, so speak slowly, be consistent in the way you speak, especially the tone of your voice, which should be as natural and as close to your normal speaking voice as possible.


The first part of the tutorial is taken up with a guided tour of the system’s various options. It starts to get a bit more interesting in the Dictation section. Again, don’t be fooled, it’s really not that clever when it appears to comprehend relatively complex phrases like ‘Talking to the computer is easier than using the keyboard’. In the real world it could take days or even weeks before you and your PC are able to achieve that sort of accuracy. Pay particular attention to the part where you learn the commands for editing documents; you will be using them a lot! Fortunately it’s all reasonably intuitive but when you start using it for real bear in mind what I said in part one about not loosing your temper. Commit to memory the system’s two most important get out of jail phrases, ‘delete that’ which zaps the last thing you said (or Vista thought you said) and ‘what can I say?’ which brings up Speech Recognition’s command crib sheet.  


Moving on, the next section of the tutorial covers Windows commands and navigation. Launching programs is really easy. Normally all you have to do is say ‘start’ then the name of the program, so ‘start Word’, for example, does precisely that. It’s reasonably flexible too, and you can also use ‘open’ and ‘launch’ as well. It also recognises most common navigation commands, like ‘scroll up’ and ‘down’, and as you progress you’ll learn some useful refinements, like ‘scroll down four’, to increase the amount of scroll movement and ‘move to end of document’. Application toolbars are accessible by saying what you see or want to happen. To print a page, for instance, just say ‘file’, ‘print’ then ‘OK’.  


After that comes ‘Working with Windows’ and an introduction to one of Speech Recognition’s most important features, ‘Show Numbers’ and this is where you learn how to live without a mouse. (See also this week’s Top Tip).


When you say the command ‘Show Numbers’ the clickable buttons or links on a window, page or document are overlaid with a number. All you have to do is say the number then OK, and it is as if you had clicked on it with your mouse. It saves an enormous amount of time, especially when navigating menus but it really comes into its own on complex web pages, which can have dozens of links and hot zones.


The final Summary and Conclusion sections run swiftly through what you have learned and once you say the word ‘Finish’ you are on ready to give it a whirl.


For the record Part 1 was written almost entirely using Speech Recognition and I estimate that it took around ten times longer than typing it. I needed to do a fair amount of editing afterwards, as it became apparent that my spoken thought processes are quite different to the ones I use when typing... Needless to say, whilst I can still use them I won’t be ditching my keyboard and mouse anytime soon, but it was an interesting exercise and on occasions, or to impress friends and neighbours, I could see myself using it to dictate the odd email or surfing web pages.       



Next Week – User Accounts, Amnesia and Password Recovery





Hyperlinked area of a web page or graphic; clicking on it takes you to a new page or another part of the same page



Large desktop icon for the Vista Speech Recognition program



Speech recognition program’s configuration process



Another handy mouse substitute is ‘mousegrid’. When you say it the screen is overlaid with a semi transparent 3 x 3 numbered grid. Say the number of the square containing the button or link you want to click on and progressively smaller grids appear. Repeat saying the numbers until you have zeroed in on the feature you are interested in, at which point you can say ‘click’ followed by the number (or, ‘right click’ or ‘double click’ as appropriate).


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© R. Maybury 2008, 3004

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