ViaVoice 10 provides speech-recognition technology for users on a budget. Antivirus software can interfere with its installation, but if you don't mind wading through setup problems, ViaVoice can save you time typing documents and forms. ViaVoice is no, but not everyone needs all of Dragon's hands-free functions or its fat price tag. ViaVoice's handling of boilerplate text and forms will take the edge off tedious typing chores, and ViaVoice takes dictation well. You may, however, need to spend extra time training ViaVoice to understand your voice commands. And be sure to read the bundled user guide, because a handful of tech calls will quickly exceed the program's $124.99 purchase price.
ViaVoice 10's CD-ROM setup is designed to hold your hand, but we ran into several glitches during the setup process. ViaVoice warned us to turn off antivirus apps before installation, but when it rebooted partway through the process, so did our antivirus software, so we had to scramble to turn off the security app. When we checked online for software updates at the end of the installation, we found IBM's Web page for updates unavailable (likely because Nuance now owns ViaVoice).
After installation, the ViaVoice VoiceCenter toolbar anchors to the top of your desktop. The toolbar includes a ViaVoice button with a drop-down menu and a microphone icon to click when you use a headset or a microphone to dictate.
Once we had ViaVoice running, it prompted us to test the bundled noise-canceling headset and create a voice model by reading a short text passage aloud. This process went smoothly. It took about 45 minutes between the time we put the installation CD in the drive and the time we started using the program. ViaVoice can also analyze documents on your computer to learn the vocabulary you typically use. File types include DOC, RTF, TXT, and HTML.
ViaVoice has moderate RAM requirements: 64MB for Windows 98 SE and Windows Me, and 192MB for Windows XP Home and Professional. You'll need an Internet connection and a 16-bit sound card as well. ViaVoice 10 also comes in a Mac-ready version, which demands OS 10.3 and 192MB of RAM.
In some ways, ViaVoice 10 is a lightweight and less expensive version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8. Nuance (formerly ScanSoft) now distributes both programs, which even share some voice commands, such as "Scratch that" (to erase text) and "Go to sleep" (to turn off the microphone). ViaVoice is a dictation program, however, not a hands-free app like Dragon. For example, you need to click the mouse to pause text as ViaVoice reads it back to you, and you can't use your voice to enter keyboard commands, as you can with Dragon. Not surprisingly, ViaVoice also has lower memory requirements--about 750KB per minute for recorded speech, which is less than the 1.5MB of memory that Dragon requires.
ViaVoice understood our straight dictation moderately well. We found that it recognized larger words, such as subscription, but fumbled with smaller parts of speech that people tend to mumble, such as prepositions and contractions. Luckily, ViaVoice is designed to continue improving its speech-recognition vocabulary by analyzing the text errors that you correct. You can also return to the User Wizard for further training.