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Repost: Dictation Software (and a ton of history)

Originally posted April 13, 2007, now archived here.

For further explanation why this post exists, see Intro to Experience Dump. This is the dictation related section. This is a short category. In no particular order, the list as best I can remember…

Dragon Naturally Speaking
IBM Via Voice
L&H Voice Express
Phillips handheld dictation/transcription software

There may have been other software that would fit this category, but these are the big three voice recognition products, plus the one digital device and its associated software I am currently supporting.

Voice recognition software is of special interest to me dating back to 1984 or 1985. For my major we had to take two computer science classes, plus a “data processing” class that fell under the Management Science department rather than the Math department. At the time, the class was a relatively basic “all about computers.” Which was pretty weird, because most management students were taking a very similar computer class offered just for them by the computer science people, then taking BASIC. A semester or two after I took it, they got PCs, courtesy of a donation from Shaw’s Supermarkets in thanks for a big study done for them by the marketing students, and the class changed completely. They taught segments on Lotus 1-2-3, some word processor, I believe some other packaged software, and some elementary RPG (Report Program Generator) stuff. Which I might not have known, but I actually helped a couple of classmates with their work for that class, even though I had never taken it or learned the stuff myself. Classic me. When I took the class, we had a great professor named George Ladino, who not long after left to work in “high tech.” Which seemed to me the thing I might want to do, but I thought I’d always be behind the curve and never have adequate qualifications, connections or whatever. Heh.

Given my terror of speaking before a group such as a class, it is particularly notable that he required us each to do a presentation to the class on an assigned topic. Mine was voice recognition. After all, computers were getting all advanced and stuff by then, so why should Scotty have to settle for quaintly typing. Talking your computer down from the ledge had to be right around the corner.

That was how I learned about Ray Kurzweil, the work he was doing, along with the work IBM was doing, and how tricky an exercise it was. The fascinating subject helped ease the pain of public speaking, to the extent that was possible.

Flash forward to 1998. Well, sometime before then, really, when I first saw Dragon being promoted at computer shows and thought here was the eventual result of all that early work on voice recognition. In 1998, though, when we first connected with the big client, they’d been dabbling with voice software. Several of the attorneys had Pentium 200 machines, for which they’d seriously overpaid, with Windows 95 and awful no-name sound cards, on the idea they would dictate using IBM Via Voice. Between the hardware, the state of the software at the time, and the natural dragging of heels that never stopped, that didn’t go over so well.

They were still interested in the idea. At least, the more tech savvy people were, though the owner, who never participated until recently, had been partially behind the original push. He dreamed of paperlessness from way back, before it was remotely as possible as now. It’s a schizophrenic dichotomy, bouncing between grand vision and revulsion at spending to even get part way there.

It was the desire of some to dictate using voice recognition software, and the clear failure of the earlier software and hardware at the task, that prompted them even to think about starting to replace computers in 1999. There were computers that were obsolete in 1999, the last of which was not retired once and for all until November 2006. The last retiree was replaced by a machine that had been new in 1999 and was obsolete in 2006, but hey…

In early 1999 we purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred 3.0, and the corresponding current versions of IBM Via Voice and Lernout & Hauspie Voice Express. We and a couple of the lawyers tested them. Dragon won, no contest. It wasn’t even close. As I recall, IBM was the next best option. Varying numbers of people have used Dragon ever since; 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 8.0 and now 9.0, which is as astonishingly good as the reviews say it is. If I didn’t type so fast, I would want to use it. Sometimes I think about it even so. It’s been one of the things I’ve supported all this time, though it’s required minimal support. Usually the problem is that sound quality goes and there are ways to test and only so many things it can be. Headsets and microphones die or get frayed cables. Sound cards die, if rarely, and these days the sound is usually integrated into the motherboard and is both adequate and stable. User profiles get corrupt and new ones have to be created, much as it sucks to lose all the training you’ve done. That kind of thing. Windows Sound Recorder can give an idea how the hardware is working. It’s so big now that installation can be fun, and the hardware needs are great. Dragon 9.0 won’t run on Vista, so you have to download a major update. That’s how I came to support Vista without having actually used it myself yet.

Who knew that a tiny category list would generate so much commentary and history.

Experience Posts (links to reposts):

Intro to Experience Dump
Hardware Experience
OS Experience
Word Processing Experience
Spreadsheets and Accounting
Graphics and Presentations
Database and RDBMS
Dictation Software
Communications, Internet, PDA, Blogging
Legal Industry Software
Backup and Compression Software
Miscellaneous Software
Security, Spam, Malware…
Call Center and Tech Support Tools
Languages and Programming Tools
Server Software
Software Creation

Employment and College
Experiences and Accomplishments Scratchpad

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