After watching David Pogue’s New York Times video review/commentary of the new NaturallySpeaking 11 software I decided it was time to finally take the plunge. I’d been and contemplating it for quite some time but could never quite rationalize making the purchase. After Mr. Pogue’s review it seemed like a bit of a no-brainer for someone that was never formally taught how to type. That’s not to suggest that I can’t type I’m just not a classically trained touch typist and I think at the end of the day certain level of fatigue sets in as a byproduct of my sloppy keyboard style.

The package arrived late yesterday and I immediately installed the software with a high degree of anticipation and expectation. It’s actually been some time since I’ve anticipated the software purchase like I did the NaturallySpeaking 11. Mostly because it is an entirely unique package unlike recent Adobe suite products that are mostly redundant. I opened up the well packaged software and inserted the disc for installation as well as the reasonably built headset/microphone. The installation went relatively smooth up until the 75% mark where my computer decided it was no longer going to cooperate; it turns out my sound card wasn’t playing well with others. As you can imagine dictation software requires a working sound card and with that my installation came to a screeching halt. A was entirely baffled on how to rectify the problem. I eventually relented and called Nuance Support versus relying on my sheer will and ego to solve the problem myself. I’m happy to report that I got through with little or no hassle to a support agent named “Kenny” (who is probably in Mumbai). Ken was altogether helpful  & patient as he walked me well through what eventually turned into a system reboot in a variety of other tasks. He quickly identified the issue is my sound card (duh!) And with that there was very little he could do other than suggest updating my drivers or considering a USB-based headset that would not rely exclusively on my stricken sound card. Well, after about three hours of fruitless labor and a trip to my local Best Buy, I now find myself dictating this entry using the NaturallySpeaking software and fairly satisfied with the results.

NaturallySpeaking 11 seems to deliver everything it promised by allowing me to speak in a natural tone and meter and have it reliably transcribe my words. Have there been mistakes? Absolutely but most of the time I can trace it back to sloppy enunciation or stuttering train of thought. I don’t speak with any regional accent (although my former Michigan brethren may disagree) and I could get more than a few people to vouch for for my relatively clear speaking voice. “She cooks a proper cup of coffee and a copper coffee pot” was perfectly transcribed, for example. One of the nicest features I found is integrated is the Dragon Sidebar that acts as a practical cheat sheet for most every command phrase. Without exception, commands are plain English and logical but to have them listed on the right side of my screen is a benefit I’m taking advantage of is I learn the software.

NaturallySpeaking 11 is compatible with my OpenOffice software as well is my Outlook 2007. While it can perform some basic Windows 7 commands, I don’t ever anticipate using it as a substitute for my mouse and keyboard shortcuts. Predictably, the default browser support is limited to Internet Explorer and Firefox (ok that sucks less). So as a Google Chrome user I’m left somewhat out of the game. That’s not to suggest that there is no support at all, is simply not up to speed and not worth the effort of trying to substitute a trusty mouse/keyboard combination. Integration with Outlook 2007 has proven to be quite satisfying and for the most part effortless. As I make my initial forays, I can’t imagine typing out another e-mail more than two paragraphs without firing up the NaturallySpeaking software.

What’s not so great? At least a couple of times this afternoon I’ve had to stop and restart the NaturallySpeaking application as it seemed to struggle a bit. I won’t go so far as to suggest that crashed or outright interfered with other applications but it seemed greatly relieved when I chose to restart altogether. That being said let’s not lose track of the site that this is my first day using the software and perhaps I’d done something a little out of the ordinary. Additionally a taskbar spans the top edge of my monitor and someone who values every pixel of real estate I find that somewhat frustrating. However I’m happy to report that there are several options for how the task bar is displayed so I can’t really consider that too much problem. Lastly, I found that even as writing this post, my headphones are beginning to wear on my ears just a little bit. Granted that’s not a function of the software but even the most comfortable headsets will eventually become a factor. So alas, my plan is to dictate the next great American may in fact be foiled by $35 headphones versus software limitations.

Again touching base with the Dragon Sidebar, I can’t imagine using that tool with anything less than a 22 inch monitor so even on the largest laptop screens that (optional) space requirement might prove to be a bit too much. But I found it quite convenient as it toggles the visible command-cues as I switch between applications like OpenWriter, Outlook and so on.

So the million dollar question that you’re asking – the most obvious and logical question – is did I dictate this post flawlessly without correction. Absolutely not. I made some occasional along the way using my mouse and keyboard simply because it was more efficient than using NaturallySpeaking. After all this is my first day and I suspect many software Easter eggs have yet to be uncovered. Would I recommend this software to the typing impaired? Well, it’s 100 bucks and that ain’t exactly free. But when you consider the power and technology you get with that C-note, I think it’s a pretty good deal in my initial satisfaction level is strong.

Footnote: My computer isn’t top-of-the-line but it’s no slouch either. I can’t help but think the older machines would logically suffer performance hits.