Let's hear it for MacSpeech voice software


NET RESULTS:Writing with MacSpeech voice software for the past two weeks has turned out to be a blast, KARLIN LILLINGTON

PAIN IS a great motivator. Last May I wrote a column about dealing with my own case of repetitive strain injury (RSI) which drew a large number of reader e-mails in response.

Many people kindly recommended physiotherapists, keyboards, exercises, chairs and other solutions.

I received a comprehensive packet of information from Dublin’s Back Store on Suffolk Street, which sells a range of ergonomic chairs, including many that are custom-made.

I’ve made a number of changes that have helped, but my arms and hands keep getting worse to the point where I knew it would be far better for me to switch over to using voice software.

In the past there haven’t been many good choices for voice applications on the Mac, and I had decided I would probably need to move back to using the Windows installation I have on my Intel chip-based Mac for all my writing.

The critics’ choice for voice software has long been Dragon Software’s Naturally Speaking, which only came for Windows. I didn’t want to have to futz around with something that was more hassle than help.

But then I stumbled across MacSpeech, which makes a product called Dictate, that now uses the Dragon engine. I obtained a copy (which comes with a headset) but in the meantime read that it would be better to have at least 2GB of memory on my Mac to run this somewhat demanding bit of software. I only had one on my vintage 2006 iMac. So everything came to a halt while I ordered an extra gig of memory and installed it.

That let me and MacSpeech kick off our working relationship.

We got off to quite a good start – it’s easy to install off the two disks and the software walks you through the introductory parts, setting up your account and then very briefly training the software.

The training element used to be quite time-consuming with older versions of voice recognition software, but this didn’t take me more than two or three minutes.

However, there was a slight frustration in that the user needs to choose the accent they speak with and then choose the type of English spelling they need.

In the accent menu you are not allowed to be Irish. If you speak with an Irish accent, the best choice is probably American.

But this then introduces the second issue of choosing spelling because if you choose an American accent you are not allowed to select anything except American spelling.

Similarly, if you choose a UK accent you can’t choose American spelling.

For someone with one accent living in a different country and needing to conform to a different spelling format than that in their own country, this means you rely on the spell check.

I opted for an American accent and American spelling and the spell check. I do realise it’s an unusual situation but there must be many international workers who would face a similar problem.

With that out of the way, I could start writing. I’ve been using MacSpeech now for about two weeks for everything I have written, from blog posts to journalism to Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

And I must say, I am having a blast. Not only has the software itself been about 98 per cent accurate, it does definitely improve with training. For example, without me actually training the word, it now will correctly spell my first (rather unusual) name when I say it.

It also recognises an extraordinary range of vocabulary, including many personal names, company names, slang terms, and specialist vocabulary items. It is rather fun to lean back in your ergonomic typing chair with your headset on and your arms behind your back and just talk at your computer screen.

MacSpeech also allows you to control your entire computer by voice.

You can open pretty much any application and when you do a semi-transparent command window that floats to the right onscreen immediately displays the commands that you can use with that particular application.

Applications include the basics that come with the Mac and the iWork suite of applications, but also a huge range of third-party applications.

That means you can also use iTunes, browse the web, run QuickTime, create spreadsheets, all by voice.

If anything, the range of things you can do it so vast it can be confusing as the commands window offers a daunting range of possibilities. I noted this on Twitter, and MacSpeech replied immediately with a tweet explaining that you can edit the commands window to display only the commands that you find most useful.

I am still learning my way around this fantastic bit of software, but can give it a big thumbs up. It not only saves your poor aching arms and hands, but is a fascinating new way to interact with your computer regardless of whether you have RSI, wish to prevent it or just want to have an awful lot of fun. MacSpeech also does specialised products for lawyers and doctors.

MacSpeech can be ordered from Apple.ie, or see www.macspeech.co.uk