Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Talking to My Computer: Speech Recognition in Windows 7

Published by Sunbelt Software FORUMS | RSS | MY PROFILE | PRIVACY  

Vol. 2, # 9 - Mar 4, 2010 - Issue # 25 
 Talking to My Computer: Speech Recognition in Windows 7

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Talking to My Computer: Speech Recognition in Windows 7
    • Follow-up: New Outlook on Social Networking
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Browser ballot screen goes live in EU; should it be global?
    • Geosense for Windows lets your PC use location information
    • Ed Bott is a software pirate? Well, sort of
    • In good company: You're one of 90 million
  4. How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features
    • How to perform a clean boot in Windows 7
  5. Windows 7 and Vista Security
    • Beware fake Twitter invitations
  6. Question Corner
    • Help! Just switched from XP and I'm lost in Windows 7
  7. Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Compatibility issues with HP Smart Web and IE 8
    • New tabs in IE 8 open slowly with Skype 4.1
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • Jaksta: The Ultimate Streaming Media Download - Recorder and Converter!

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Editor's Corner

Talking to My Computer: Speech Recognition in Windows 7

Science fiction movies always show characters interacting with the computers of the future primarily via voice. Maybe it's because none of the actors know how to touch type. Maybe it's because those computers are assumed to be so powerful that they'll be able to handle complex programs that can accurately recognize the speech of anyone, without training, whether human or alien (and maybe even those of us with Texas accents). Maybe it's because it just seems so "cool" to be able to talk to your computer and have it talk back.

Voice recognition technology has been around for a long time. There are two primary implementations of the technology on PCs: voice command, by which you use spoken words to control the computer, and voice dictation, which transcribes the words you speak into a text document.

Dragon is one of the best-known third party software companies that makes speech recognition software and its founders made their first prototype in 1982. DragonDictate for MS-DOS was pretty bad; you had to pronounce words one at a time with a pause in between. Even so, accuracy wasn't very good. Dragon released the first version of Naturally Speaking, which allowed you to speak continuously, but it still didn't do a great job of figuring out what you were saying, especially if you spoke with any kind of regional accent or dialect.

I used several different versions of Dragon's software over the years, because I like the idea of being able, in some circumstances, to dictate what I want to say. It's not an important feature for me because I'm fast touch typist, but there are times (such as when I'm holding the phone in one hand, or holding my puppy) when it would be convenient to be able to just talk to the computer instead of using the keyboard. Unfortunately, my accent has always proven to be a challenge for most voice recognition programs.

Voice recognition programs almost always allow you to "train" them by reading many passages of text (the contents of which is known to the computer) so the system can learn how you pronounce various words. It can be a tedious process, but it can greatly improve the accuracy of the transcription.

Voice command tends to work better than dictation. That's because the vocabulary that the computer needs to learn is much smaller. You use standard commands such as "Open file" or "Click Start." With little practice, you can control the computer's basic functions using your voice.

There are other third party voice command and dictation programs, such as Talking Desktop, which is available for Windows XP or Vista. It not only listens to you; it also talks back to you.

There are even free voice recognition programs, such as e-Speaking. These programs use Microsoft's .NET framework and Speech API.

However, if you have Vista or Windows 7, you don't have to install anything to get both voice command and dictation functionality. Whereas with XP, you needed to install a speech recognition engine and a program such as Office XP to get full speech functionality, Microsoft's more recent operating systems come with fully integrated voice capabilities built in.

Windows 7 calls the technology Speech Recognition and you'll find an applet for it in the Control Panel. Enabling it is easy; just click Start Speech Recognition and a little console will appear on your desktop. It may be "sleeping" at first, but you can start using it by saying "Start Listening." Then the status will change to "Listening" and the computer will respond to your voice commands. It's pretty intuitive. For instance, if you're in a Word document and you want to access the File menu, just say File. You might see numbers overlay some of the items on your menu, and you can speak the number of the one you want (in this case, the File tab). You can find a list of the common commands here:

When you want to stop using your voice to control your computer, just say "Stop Listening" and Speech Recognition will go back to sleep. Unfortunately, you might find yourself doing this a lot. If you work in an environment that's silent, speech recognition will work great. But if your workplace is a little less quiet, you may find dialog boxes opening all over the place, seemingly for no reason - because the voice command function is responding to your voice on the phone, something said by someone at the next desk over, something that comes over the radio, or even to the sound of your typing. I quickly found that I couldn't use speech recognition effectively when my husband is talking on the phone in his office next door to mine, because his voice is loud and the system keeps trying to respond to what he says.

But let's assume you have a nice, quiet place in which to work. Maybe you have carpel tunnel syndrome or you've injured your hand but you need to get a paper done. Just put your cursor wherever in the document you want to insert text, tell Speech Recognition to start listening, and start dictating. You will see a pop up box containing the words you spoke. If you're lucky, Speech Recognition will get those words right, and you can say "Insert" to put them into your document.

When you initially set up Speech Recognition, or anytime thereafter if you're not satisfied with its performance, you can select to "train your computer to better understand you" from the Control Panel dialog box. What if multiple people share your computer and want to use speech recognition? No problem - in the Advanced Speech Options (which you can select from the left pane), you can create separate recognition profiles for different people. That way, you don't have to worry about the speech engine messing up your dictation because it's been trained to recognize your spouse's voice.

Windows 7 also supports text-to-speech, which will allow you to set up the system to read text documents to you. You configure the text to speech settings in the Speech Properties dialog box. Then you can use the Narrator application to read the screen (Type "Narrator" in the Start | Search box or navigate to All Programs | Accessories | Ease of Use to find it in the menus).

Another program that you can use to convert text to speech, and to save your text documents in MP3 or WAV format so you can transfer them to an MP3 player or smart phone, is Verbose. It will read text from Word, Outlook, IE and other programs. It works with Windows 7, Vista, XP and even Windows 2000. You can find it here:

I use voice command all the time on my Windows Mobile 6.5 smart phone (Omnia II) and it works well. It's not just convenient - it's really essential if you're going to use the device while driving, for instance. Taking your eyes off the road to use the touch screen would not be a good idea. However, I've not found voice features to be all that compelling on my desktop PC. Part of that is because of my noisy environment; I think another aspect is that I just think differently "with my fingers" than when I'm speaking the words aloud. And until voice dictation works almost flawlessly, it will always be faster for me to type than to speak and then correct the software's mistakes.

Tell us what you think about voice features in Windows 7? If so, do you use voice command or dictation? Do you use the built-in applications or a third party program? If not, why not? If voice recognition were more accurate, would you use it? Is your world noisy enough already, without adding conversations between you and your computer? Or do you think voice input is the coolest thing since sliced bread? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum at

Follow-up: New Outlook on Social Networking

In last week's editorial, we took a look at how email and social networking are beginning to converge, with email clients such as Outlook now supporting integration with SN sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Uhu59 made perhaps the most insightful (in my opinion) statement in the discussion: "I think the biggest challenge nowadays is simply the fact that we now have so many different ways of communication, all of which are useful to one degree or another." Some readers dismiss certain forms of communication out of hand, saying that social networking is "a waste of time" or only "designed to help people share their pictures with friends and family but it's really not useful for anything but that." It just depends on how you use the services.

Some people do indeed use Twitter to share their random thoughts throughout the day with the world. I use it very specifically for business purposes - to announce new articles I've published and links where people can find them. And I have over 1700 followers who apparently are interested in that. It's entirely true that many Facebook users post almost illiterate messages full of acronyms and 'net lingo - but the vast majority of those I've "friended" are older, professional people like myself who post in complete, grammatically correct (for the most part) sentences.

On the other hand, some people chose not to use some forms of communication. Toddrick said "Text message works on most every cellphone I know." Well, it doesn't work on mine, because we have had texting blocked on all our phones. That was after an incident where a friend got "text bombed" and charged several hundred dollars for unwanted text messages. The problem with texting is that you have to pay for incoming ones as well as outgoing ones, but you have no control over who sends you text messages. Since we only used two or three texts per month, we didn't want to pay for unlimited texting to avoid that problem, so we opted to block the service completely.

My friends know that if they want to get in touch with me quickly, email is the best way, since I check that on my phone whenever I'm away from the computer. When I'm at the computer (which is most all day, every day during business hours), IM is usually the fastest and most efficient way for me to communicate. But these are just my personal preferences that fit my lifestyle; one size doesn't fit all. And that's why it's great that we have all these options.

But it's sad when some of the older methods seem to fall out of favor. For instance, email discussion lists were a part of my life for a very long time, but I find most of them have withered, if not died completely, since social networking became popular. For my take on that, read my blog post at

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication for XP users called WXPnews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Look for the Win7News fan page on Facebook!

Quotes of the Week

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

"Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle." - Ken Hakuta

"The world is governed more by appearances than realities, so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it." - Daniel Webster (1782 - 1852)

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Cool Tools


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Ultra Edit New Version 15.2 - Replacing Notepad or Looking for The Most Powerful Text Editor?

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Browser ballot screen goes live in EU; should it be global?

After much negotiation with the European Commission, which objected to Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows 7, the two agreed that copies of Win7 sold to European Union customers would include a "browser ballot" screen, by which users could select the web browser they wanted from a list. The ballot screen went live on March 1 (it appears if your location is set to a country that's a member of the European Union). Some are complaining that the choices on the ballot are "too limited" (it includes 12 browsers: IE, Safari, Chrome, Firebox, Opera and several lesser-known browsers):

Others (not so coincidentally, most of whom are Microsoft rivals) are saying the ballot screen should be displayed on all copies of Windows 7, regardless of location:

What do you think? Discuss this on our forum:

Geosense for Windows lets your PC use location information

Windows 7 has an API that can be used by applications for location-awareness; that is, the machine knows where it is - without the need for you to manually set a location. Location-awareness certainly poses some privacy issues, which I wrote about in the March 2 edition of our sister newsletter, WXPnews:

However, location-awareness can also be handy. Your applications can use that information to make search results more relevant, bring you traffic information, or even tag your social networking posts with your location. If you want to use this capability, you need a geolocation provider. A new tool, Geosense for Windows, is a free download that you can use for this:

Ed Bott is a software pirate? Well, sort of

One perk of being a writer is that, in the name of research, you get to do things that you otherwise never would engage in. Ed recently decided to see just how easy or difficult it is to defeat the Windows 7 activation technology and discovered that it's certainly doable - but it can be dangerous. The people who distribute tools aimed at pirating software usually aren't the most upstanding 'net citizens and you might find that your cracked copy of the OS includes a few "extras" you didn't bargain for - such as nasty rootkits. Read more about Ed's experiences here:

In good company: You're one of 90 million

Microsoft reported this week that 90 million copies of Windows 7 have been sold thus far, making it the fastest-selling operating system the company has ever made. So if you're using Win7, you have plenty of company. The age of XP plus the fact that so many people resisted upgrading to Vista, along with much positive public response to Windows 7 has created a perfect sales environment for the new OS.

How to: Using the New Windows 7 Features

How to perform a clean boot in Windows 7

When you're troubleshooting problems, sometimes it's helpful to do a "clean boot," which means starting Windows with only the minimal drivers and startup programs needed for it to run. Here's how to do it:
  1. Log on as an administrator.
  2. Click Start.
  3. In the Search box, type msconfig.exe and press ENTER.
  4. At the UAC prompt, click Continue.
  5. Click the General tab.
  6. Click Selective Startup and clear the Load Startup Items check box.
  7. Click the Services tab.
  8. Check the box labeled Hide all Microsoft Services.
  9. Click Disable All.
  10. Click OK and Restart.
This keeps networking, plug and play and other Microsoft services running. Disabling Microsoft services can cause you to lose your system restore points.

Windows 7 and Vista Security

Beware fake Twitter invitations

The popularity of the Twitter microblogging service is being taken advantage of by malware authors. Just yesterday, I received a message announcing that "Your friend invited you to Twitter!" Well, first of all, I wouldn't be responding because I already have a Twitter account - but if you don't, and you're tempted, take a moment to scrutinize the invitation. The tip-off that it just might not be legit: You're told that if you want to join or see who invited you, you need to open an attachment called Invitation Of course, you know better than to open attachments from unknown email senders. But they try hard to convince you that it's real; for instance, if you hover over the "Sign up now" link, you'll find it really does link to However, if you look at the full Internet headers, you'll see that the sender address is spoofed. This is not a new scam, but it appears to be making the rounds again. Read more about it here:

Question Corner

Help! Just switched from XP and I'm lost in Windows 7

I've read that Windows 7 is great but I just switched from XP (never used Vista) and I'm a little lost. For example, I can't figure out how to move a file from one drive to another. If I drag and drop, it copies instead of moving. There's no menu to move it. Why would they take away the ability to move files? And I can't see the file extensions to tell what type of file it is. Can you help? - George M.

You aren't the only one who has been a bit confused by the new interface. Most of the changes occurred in Vista so those who have been using it for the last couple of years don't have a problem upgrading to Windows 7, but for former XP users, it's a whole new world. The good news is that you can do everything with Win7 that you did with XP - and more. But some of it is done in new ways. To move that file, hold down the right mouse button while you drag. Then when you let it go, a context menu will pop up, asking if you want to copy, move or create a shortcut.

You can also make Windows 7 behave in a more familiar way by restoring the menu bar. In Explorer, click Organize and then Layout and put a check mark by Menu Bar. Now you'll see the old familiar File | Edit | View | Tools | Help menu at the top. And in the Edit menu, you'll find "Move to folder." If you highlight a file and select that, you can pick the folder to which you want to move it.

I don't like having the file extensions hidden, either. The first thing I do when I install a new instance of Win7 is change that. Now that you have the menu bar back, click Tools and then Folder Options. Go to the View tab, scroll down in the list of Advanced Settings and uncheck the box that says "Hide extensions for known file types." Now your extensions will show in Explorer. Hope this helps!

Windows 7 Configuration and Troubleshooting

Compatibility issues with HP Smart Web and IE 8

If you have an HP printer and you installed the HP Smart Web Printing add-on from the HP CD, you may find that the add-on isn't compatible with Internet Explorer 8. The solution is to either disable Smart Web printing or update the HP software. For instructions on both methods, see KB article 969227:

New tabs in IE 8 open slowly with Skype 4.1

If you have the Skype 4.1 IE add-on installed on your Windows 7 computer, you might discover that new tabs open very slowly in IE 8, and that browsing is much slower, too. You can fix the problem by removing the Skype add-on, or you can simply disable it. Find out how, or click to have it done for you, in KB article 973818:

Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: VistaNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

Product of the Week

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