Voice Power lets users vocally guide commands on their PCs

It's handy for surfing the Internet and customizing application launches. You control
browser features in Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator by speaking your
commands. The package also has value for users with mobility problems or who are
keyboard-illiterate.


The package for Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 comes with a comfortable
headset, microphone and speaker. Providing a Sound Blaster- compatible sound card is up to
the user.


Commands are preprogrammed and speaker-independent, so Voice Power is ready to run
right off the CD-ROM. Spending an hour or so training the software, however, will improve
its performance.


Voice Power has full keyboard and mouse emulation modes.


It's no substitute for continuous-speech dictation software, though, because you must
spell out many words letter by letter--alpha, bravo ... zulu--except for command words
that perform actions.


You enter numbers directly by saying "zero," "one" and so on.
Saying "F 12" activates the F12 function key.


The microphone connects to the Sound Blaster-compatible board and replaces any existing
keyboard microphone.


Installation takes only a few minutes. Just plug the mike into the sound board and
insert the CD-ROM if you have Auto-run activated. Then, you are ready to go.


To use most commands, choose from the Command List files in the Browser, Typing Mode,
Mouse Control and Launch Pad lists. Voice commands such as "open keyboard" are
always active, but you also can make selections with a mouse.


Each list's preprogrammed commands are activated by preset words or phrases. The
largest is the Typing Mode Command list, which has about 70 keyboard control commands.


I found the biggest hurdle was learning which command terms to use. Commands, except
those in the Mouse Control list, were pretty obvious.


All commands are completely customizable during the optional voice training--just speak
a different word.


For example, users who always double-click the left mouse button could replace
"double click left" with "click." Proceed carefully here, because
Voice Power's commands were chosen to avoid conflicts and to sound distinctive when
spoken.


Adding new applications to the Launch Pad list is the best way to customize
capabilities. Users who run into recognition problems can adjust microphone and sound card
response with Windows' multimedia controls.


Also, you can lower Voice Power's sensitivity--not the same thing as microphone
level--for noisy offices or raise it for quiet areas.


Users with fast computers can direct the software to make more of an effort to find a
correct match by changing the Accuracy Setting.


If you speak faster quickly, Voice Power sometimes joins commands together. Correct
this by speaking more distinctly. You can also change the way the software measures pauses
between words by adjusting the Reaction Time setting.


Voice Power is tuned for World Wide Web browsing and does the task well. Although it's
not a dictation utility, it does give limited voice control over many applications.


I initially reached an accuracy rate of about 80 percent. After an hour's
training--repeating each character and function three times--plus adjusting the sound card
controls, I reached nearly 95 percent accuracy.


For voice dictation or optical character recognition, 95 percent isn't good enough,
because the results need a lot of manual correction. But in a control program like Voice
Power, you just repeat the command. High recognition accuracy isn't as important.


I wouldn't use a dictation program that had only 95 percent accuracy, because I can
type faster than I can make corrections. Voice Power is usable with even 90 percent
accuracy, though. I believe many people will reach 98 percent or better.


One reason Voice Power works so well is that it has a limited vocabulary of a few
hundred commands instead of 20,000 or more words. I recommend customizing it by selecting
only a few dozen commands for the Custom Command List and keeping only that list active.
The program will make fewer bad matches and will run faster.


You select the Custom Command List entries from the larger Browser, Typing Mode, Mouse
Control and Launch Pad lists. You can always access the complete vocabulary when needed,
but a dozen or so commands are enough for most tasks.


Many users will want to post and perhaps memorize the command words and phrases,
particularly special alphabet terms.


For those with mobility impairment or hunt-and-peck typing skills, it's easy enough to
enter a few letters to create Internet search strings using the special alphabet. That
makes a keyboard unnecessary for Internet use.


The built-in headphone speaker will be most useful for noisy offices and for visually
impaired users who use a separate speech utility to read the screens to them.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.


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