Rosetta Stone's installation is entirely automated: merely insert the CD and click through a few onscreen prompts. The software runs on any flavor of Windows from 95 to XP and on Mac OS 8.6 or later.
The interface has an intuitive design, with a column of tabs along the left that let you select basic skills to focus on and console controls in a right-hand column that allow you to bail out of lessons. Speakers and a microphone aren't required, but you will want them to take advantage of Rosetta Stone's listening and pronunciation modules. You can also make custom program configurations, such as changing the sounds for program alerts telling you whether you've answered a question correctly.
All language versions include a pronunciation feedback module for each lesson, which lets you record a phrase or sentence after it is spoken by a native speaker. Comparing your own verbal skills with those of a native speaker can be humbling, but it is an excellent way for you to isolate pronunciation problems. All versions also include a similar feature for honing your writing skills. You listen to a spoken sentence and are then prompted to type that sentence into a text box. If you make a mistake, the software points out the problem and asks you to correct it. One feature that we particularly like in the Chinese version is the ability to shift text between Chinese characters and pinyin, or Romanized spellings. This lets you begin with easier phonetic spelling cues in pinyin, then tackle simplified or traditional Chinese characters once you you've attained some rudimentary listening comprehension skills.
Rosetta Stone expresses confidence in its language-learning products by allowing you to return the product within six months of purchase for a full refund, should you decide it's not for you. The software also comes with toll-free tech support that's good for the life of the product and available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Rosetta Stone also hosts a well-designed support Web site that is easy to navigate and populated with useful information, such as contact info, downloadable user guides, and even the company's toll-free number, a sign of Rosetta Stone's commitment to customer satisfaction.