As I wrote in Sunday’s article, the Speech Recognition system was the next bit of Vista that I would explore. After logging into my new machine, I went to Control Panel and launched the Speech item. All three screen readers (System Access, JAWS and Window-Eyes) performed well in the main speech recognition window.
One of the links on the Speech Recognition page said something like, “Speech Recognition Tutorial” and, as I hadn’t done anything with the Vista speech functionality yet, I decided that the tutorial might be useful. I had been running System Access as I am trying to spend a week with it as my primary screen reader in order to get a better feel for the gestalt of the Serotek product. The tutorial works like a wizard and when the first dialogue came up, SA only spoke the “Next” button. Switching to the Virtual Mouse Cursor did little to help improve matters.
I launched Window-Eyes next. Using its PC cursor, very little spoke properly. As I am not a proficient WE user, I’ll reserve judgment on its performance in the Speech Recognition program for now. I will, however, point to an issue I reported last week about what I feel is a general deficiency of Window-Eyes; namely, that it seems to have no global keyboard settings. I cannot, in my wildest imagination, figure out why anyone would want the keystrokes that move the Mouse Cursor to change from program to program. I wrote the other day that I found it annoying that System Access had no way to change one’s keymap but in WE, I seem to be forced to go to its hot key dialogue for every separate program I use. Maybe because I have used JAWS for so long, the logic behind such a peculiar user interface escapes me and, if any WE user out there can tell me how to more efficiently create a set of keystrokes that will work everywhere, please call or write to me soon. Of course, I could read the Window-Eyes manual which may tell me how to accomplish this task but, in my opinion, this shouldn’t be so hard.
Then, I launched JAWS 8.0. With its PC cursor, JAWS also only saw the “next” button but, when I switched to the JAWS Cursor, virtually everything read quite nicely. I do not have a copy of jVist from Brian Hartgen and T&T so I’m using JAWS in its out-of-the-box configuration. The JAWS “Read in TAB Order (INSERT+B by default)” feature worked tremendously well for going through the Speech Recognition tutorial.
Throughout the tutorial, the user is asked to say something into a microphone. This changes the text in the dialogue a bit, usually providing the text for what the user should say next or, if one has finished a section, it will instruct the user to say “next” to go to the next dialogue in the tutorial.
I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking for a pretty long time now. If you have RSI problems as bad as mine, dictation software provides a healthier, albeit slower, means of entering information into a computer. It also improves your spelling tremendously as dictation programs find words in their dictionary which are all spelled correctly as soon as you say them. I type very quickly so dictation slows me down a lot as it is difficult to think while talking (I believe Will Pearson wrote a comment to a BC article a while back explaining why one can think and type more easily than think while talking). The alternative, though, means that I will find my hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders screaming in pain and I will have to lay off for a couple or three days. Thus, speech recognition is very important to me.
Using JAWS, I completed the tutorial pretty quickly. I then started exploring the rest of the Vista Voice Recognition functionality and, in every part of the program I tried, JAWS performed pretty well. Even without special custom scripts, JAWS works in every area I tried better than it does (again without scripts) in the Dragon product. The best performance I’ve seen with any screen reader using voice recognition is JAWS with Dragon Pro and jSay from T&T. In the past, using Microsoft Word in “full screen” view, I have found that turning on “echo all” in JAWS provides a kludgerous way to use it with Dragon but it works reasonably well with the $99 version of Dragon Naturally Speaking which drastically cuts down on the overall cost of using voice recognition in Windows XP and earlier.
I must commend the Microsoft people on the quality of their Vista voice recognition facility. Without having trained the recognition system (something I plan on doing today or tomorrow), the Vista facility works very nicely. I was able to issue quite a few commands and hear JAWS announce that programs started, that menus activated, etc.
I didn’t return to either Window-Eyes or System Access yesterday as my work time had finished and, even with dictation, I try to keep my computer usage to a scheduled period of time so I can pretend that I have a life but, mostly, so I can read books, listen to the radio and play with the dogs.
So, even without special scripts, JAWS won the day in a part of the OS that I find particularly useful. As I suggest above, Window-Eyes might also work reasonably well in the voice recognition features but I grew so frustrated trying to understand its keymap editor that I stopped using WE but will return to it when I feel a bit more patient.
Today, I plan on trying out dictation in Word 2007. Wish me luck…