The lowdown on speech recognition

What is it? Speech recognition lets you give commands or dictate to your computer. It also forms the core of telephone voice response and directory assistance systems. Some Web applications already benefit from the addition of speech recognition tools.

Why do I need it? Whether in the office or on the road, many users can improve text input rates and reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries. Combining speech recognition with the new generation of tablet PCs can enhance productivity. It also is especially useful on desktop PCs when users have their hands full going through documents and taking notes. Some professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, can greatly improve productivity using dictation systems tailored to their special needs.

Must-know info? This technology has finally come of age, rivaling even a typist's productivity. If the software included with Microsoft Windows XP Pro isn't enough for your users, then ScanSoft Inc.'s Dragon NaturallySpeaking is about your only choice; even IBM's ViaVoice is now sold through ScanSoft. The low-end versions are probably sufficient for many office workers, although they don't offer much more capability than that which comes with XP.

Executives, professionals and technical workers will benefit from the more-expensive professional versions, with their specialized vocabularies and customization tools. PC applications normally include good-quality, text-to-speech engines.

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