Review of Dragon 10

I succumbed to the recent discounts and bought Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Preferred, mainly for the promise of “increased Flash and Firefox support.” So far, I’m pretty impressed with Dragon 10. As long as I’m using Microsoft products, it’s an improvement over 9.5 particularly in word processing. However, as always, these goodies don’t entirely apply to non-Microsoft products. Again, be aware that this does not mean programs like Jarte or Firefox are incompatible; you just have to tweak them until they are. Damn monopolies, though…

I’ll start with surfing the web, because Dragon has given us the closest thing to a macro as we’ll get in the Preferred version. If you have a website that you commonly shop or search on, such as eBay, Google, Wikipedia or Amazon, you don’t even have to open your browser first. All you have to do is say “search [website] for [whatever],” and Dragon will open your default browser, take it to that site, and return the top-ranked results. This works equally well in Firefox or Internet Explorer. (Keep in mind, though, that I don’t have Firefox 3 and so I don’t know if Dragon kept up with the new version.)

In certain cases, Dragon 10 now has the ability to recognize partially-spoken links in Firefox rather than making you say the full link. However, before you think you can uninstall Mouseless Browsing, there are many instances for which you will STILL NEED IT. Primarily, Dragon for some reason STILL does not have a “text field” command for Firefox. Therefore, unless you want to repeat “Tab” multiple times, speaking the field’s Mouseless ID is the only way to get into it. Also, many pages have links that cannot be read; here you also need the numerals in order to access them. This may be more a problem of non-compliant Web design than a Dragon problem, but this taken with the lack of a text field command renders the partial-link improvement almost moot.

Word processing, as long as you’re using Word, has gotten a bit faster. My dictation is as accurate as it always has been, and I do appreciate the new quick formatting commands. For example, if I dictated something and realize that it should have been in italics, I no longer have to select that phrase first in order to give the Italicize command. I can just say “italicize [whatever].” For introducing unknown words, Spell mode has gotten a little more convenient, in that before and after you spell a new word, Dragon includes the space now instead of running everything together as it did before.

However, I have grown very fond of dictating into Jarte as my main word processor lately, and these quick formatting innovations don’t apply. (Literally; I tried to say “italicize [some word]” and was helpfully informed that “formatting commands are not applicable here.” At least they’re admitting it now!) I’m not complaining too much, though, because Jarte is just about the only cheap-yet-functional word processor that will work reliably with Dragon, perhaps because its code is similar to WordPad. You can still dictate, correct, select, move the insertion point, and spell very quickly in Jarte, and access the first level of menus (File, Edit, etc.) by natural language. To pick a subheading, just speak its first letter and/or Enter. To format something, you simply select it and then say the corresponding keyboard shortcut, e.g. “press control I.” Save, “press control S.” Learning some keyboard shortcuts never killed anybody.

On a basic installation level, I do want to mention it’s a good idea to do the Custom install. The Custom install allows you to choose only the components you think you’ll need. For example, I don’t need the tutorial file, the text-to-speech, or any accent other than US English, so for the unnecessary options I check either “this feature will be installed when required” or “this feature will not be available.” The benefit of this is that it drastically reduces the amount of space the Dragon takes up on your hard drive. I’d say this is important particularly in this edition, because the Dragon has gotten fat. Even after installing only the necessary files, Dragon 10 takes a gigabyte (as opposed to between 515 and 530 MB for Dragon 9.5). If you have a roomy hard drive, this won’t be a problem, but if you have less free hard drive space, I would also suggest getting rid of bloatware, doing defrag and disk cleanup, and/or running CCleaner or a similar program before doing the Custom install. In addition, TURN OFF AUTOMATIC UPDATES. This may prevent the C++ runtime error that some people, including me, got on their first installation attempt. I rebooted my machine after having turned off the updates and it was fine.

After installation, unless you’re going to try to port your voice files from 9.5, I would recommend doing the “short” training option. It takes five minutes, and my accuracy, at least, is excellent. If you’re new to Dragon altogether, PLEASE do a short training, and select the first option titled “Talking to your computer.” Many people — not all, but many — who negatively review Dragon on Amazon clearly indicate that they don’t know how computers process sound, and expect them to act like hearing (or perhaps hard of hearing) human beings, which isn’t the case. If you talk to your computer as such, your accuracy is going to suck. That first tutorial will explain in great detail how to talk to your computer with a normal volume and tone.

I will close for now with a very important recommendation: if you haven’t already, get a USB soundcard and connect your microphone to that, rather than your computer’s front jacks. Integrated soundcards are often full of electrical noise/static, which makes it harder for your computer to “hear” you. A selection of Dragon-compatible soundcards and microphones is sold and compared by Nuance affiliate KnowBrainer. KnowBrainer uses sales to fund their free NaturallySpeaking support forum, an excellent alternative to paying Nuance for a phone call. Maybe we can start a petition for more non-Microsoft supported programs, already…

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