Voice recognition software sings with satisfied customers, despite parent company's financial woes


January 22, 2001|By James Coates | James Coates,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

About three weeks ago, you wrote a review of the best speech recognition program available, but said that the parent company had declared bankruptcy. I cannot find the review and I'd like to know more.

Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products NV of Belgium asked for federal bankruptcy protection not long after buying U.S.-based Dragon Systems, maker of Dragon Naturally Speaking 5.0, the highly reliable and user-friendly computer voice recognition software that makes it possible for this somewhat disabled newspaper writer to turn out these columns without depending upon the computer keyboard to enter text.

From almost the beginning, Dragon Naturally Speaking (www.dragonsystems.com) has been the most popular of the PC voice programs. It enjoys a large installed base of satisfied customers. The software uses Universal Serial Bus ports on a high-powered Windows computer for sound-canceling microphones that are far better than the analog audio microphones used by earlier voice recognition systems. The software with USB modules comes in versions costing between $60 and $250.

I have a Dell Dimension computer with Windows 98, and the problem is how excruciatingly slow it is to move between file folders. It's OK at start-up, but with every folder move, it gets slower until it takes minutes to move to a new folder. I have 256 megabytes of RAM, but it feels like I've got a paltry 256 kilobytes instead. I've tried reinstalling Windows 98 but no improvement. Fortunately, the problem doesn't affect Web browsing.

The first thing you should do is defragment that slow poke hard drive of yours. Hopefully the only problem is that the drive has just about filled up and, as you move things about, the operating system must scurry to find an ever-dwindling amount of free space to store bits of every file in every folder.

Computers don't store information in any rational order the way humans using ink on paper do. Instead they break large documents up into smaller chunks and scatter them about on the hard drive. As the user continually saves a file, the computer scatters these chunks into whatever available hard drive space might be found. As more and more of these fragmented documents build up, the machine takes longer and longer to find free space to store stuff and to read it later on.

Defragmentation software takes over the computer for a few hours and methodically rewrites every file so that the various elements are right next to one another and thus can drastically improve the machine's access speed. The Windows defragmentation software can be found by clicking the Start button on your desktop, choosing Programs and then Accessories and then System Tools. Set aside a big block of time, and your machine should restore the kind of speeds you enjoyed when the PC was fresh out of the box.

I have a Hewlett-Packard running Windows 98SE that comes out of suspend mode whenever the phone rings. I have contacted HP five times, and every time I end up worse off than I was before. They have got me so that I can't log on to anything. When I got a tech support guy who said, "I have one at home that does the same thing," I knew I was in trouble and hung up on him. I have been told by HP that I should never use suspend mode. HP says it is a Microsoft problem; Microsoft says Windows was a factory installation so it is HP's problem. Do you have any ideas on this?

As you were told, people with computers that have suspend settings should avoid using them like the plague on humanity that they have become. The idea is to have your computer go into a form of hypertext hibernation with the monitor turned off and the hard drive at rest awaiting to kick back into life once a key is tapped or a mouse moved.

In reality, the suspend option works about as well and as long as those little handles on the floor of automobiles that are supposed to unlatch the trunk when you pull them.

Some people use them for years without a problem, while others have trouble from the start and often get told by the mechanics that they have the same problem with their own cars.

Suspend? Fuggedaboutit. More trouble than it's worth. Actually, the original problem you had with phone calls waking up the PC is fairly minor compared to the more common problem when people put their machines into suspend and then find they won't come back to life no matter what, short of pulling the plug from the wall, which causes Windows machines to run that nagging ScanDisk routine we know all too well.

Send e-mail to jcoates@tribune.com.

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