Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 is the most full-featured consumer software for dictating to your computer. Dragon types while you talk so that you can let your fingers rest while writing, and it lets you surf the Net by voice. For the first time, Dragon allows you to start using this program without walking through dictation setup, and it works in the Firefox browser in addition to Internet Explorer. This application can be a hand-saver for anybody who types a lot, including journalists, lawyers, and anyone with repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Dragon 9 runs only on Windows XP or 2000 SP4 or higher, so Mac users are out of luck, and it requires 512MB of RAM and 1GB of free hard drive space. (Attempting to run Dragon with less RAM will result in a sluggish system, as we discovered in our tests on several computers.) We tested the $149 Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 9. Home users who don't need support for mobile devices can opt for the $99 Standard. Offices that want to run Dragon on a network should choose Professional. Legal and Medical editions are also available.
If you choose Typical/Complete installation rather than Custom, you can bypass the dictation training and shave off as much as half an hour from the setup process. Installing Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 from its two discs took about 15 minutes in our tests, with another several minutes spent to set up the included line-in microphone and headset. You'll have to buy a supported USB or Bluetooth headset separately if your PC lacks line-in jacks.
During its installation, make sure you select the check box that lets you bypass dictation setup; we wish this were selected by default, but it's not. Otherwise, you'll be forced to read a long passage of text as required by prior versions of Dragon. When we chose Custom installation to load Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 on another PC, we still had to do the dictation training. We couldn't quit the dictation and save our work up to that point, either; any interruption would mean starting over from scratch. However, if you don't speak clearly, it might be a good idea to read the training script anyway. If not, you may find yourself constantly correcting Dragon to help it adjust to your lisp or Texas twang.
Make sure not to talk with overbearing emphasis, like C-3PO from Star Wars, when you use Dragon, because it's built to understand your natural patterns of talking. People have caused voice damage by shouting at speech-to-text software, no joke if you already suffer from repetitive stress injuries. We recommend walking through the tutorial, which showed us, for instance, how to tell Dragon to "Go to sleep," and then say, "Wake up," to begin dictating again without having to touch the keyboard, as in Dragon 8.
Before you run Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 for the first time, you'll have to walk through the New User wizard to select your vocabulary--either General, Commands Only, or Teens--and to allow time for Dragon to fish through files on your hard drive for words and phrases you commonly use. Dragon scans writing samples from Outlook, Outlook Express, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, and text files, which took about five minutes on our well-worn personal laptop.
Once Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 is running, it displays as a slim toolbar on top of your screen, smaller than in version 8. Dragon 9 operates in tandem with other software you're running, so you can dictate within pretty much any text editing program, including Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect in addition to Lotus Notes, Outlook, Outlook Express, and America Online. We were even able to make selected text bold inwithout touching the mouse or the keyboard. You can dictate e-mails, too. In addition, voice commands enable you to surf the Net by voice. Dragon handily labels Web links by number; just say the number to "click" the link.
Dragon types faster than most fingers can, at up to 160 words per minute. During dictation, we were delighted with Dragon's performance with multisyllabic words. In a flash, it even spelled "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Dragon would probably perform better than most high schoolers in a spelling bee, except that it can confuse homophones. Dragon's intelligence often helps it to determine the context in which you are speaking, so that it won't type, say, "I like to eat chocolate, and I scream," when you mentioned "ice cream."