Get to grips with Vista's voice recognition

Talking to your PC is nothing new. In fact, it's something we've all done at one time or another, albeit with a few expletives thrown in for good measure.

However, your words will fall on deaf ears no longer. Owners of Windows Vista will be glad to hear that their PCs are at last listening to them. One of the best, but least trumped facets of Vista is the comprehensive speech recognition feature that enables your PC to respond to the spoken word.

Speech recognition isn't exactly a new venture for Microsoft. It's been available as part of Office for some time now. The big difference with Vista's implementation is that you can now use your voice to control actions within the operating system and not just the functions of an Office application such as Word. If you remember wrestling with IBM's ViaVoice app, it works much the same as that - only a whole lot better. You can open folders, select files and move and delete them if necessary. It's also possible to control the actions of other installed applications as well.

Anoop Gupta, head of the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft explains how speech recognition is being utilised the company's headquarters. "Speech technology is becoming a bigger part of the technology we use everyday."

"Last year, we rolled out MS Connect, a Speech Server-based auto attendant that answers every call that comes into Microsoft's main line." He continued, "I expect the use of speech technologies to keep growing, eventually becoming an important part of most of the products we use everyday."

Better understanding through learning

So how can you use speech within Vista? Firstly, it's important to remember your PC isn't suddenly going to understand everything to begin with, but it will learn and pretty soon you'll be able to verbalise most everyday actions.

Speech Recognition is accessed within Vista's Control Panel. And all you need in order to get started is a microphone. Click on Ease of Access then select Speech Recognition Options. Choose 'Start Speech Recognition' and you'll be able to begin carrying out voice commands straight away.

In order to make the listening aspect of speech recognition as effective as possible, you'll to perform some basic training so that Vista recognises your voice. Even if you don't go for that straight away, you can get a feel for how it all works right now by talking into your microphone and saying 'Start listening'. From now on the recognition engine will be responsive to your voice commands.

Start with something simple. Saying 'Open Internet Explorer' should have the desired effect. From then on things take some getting used to. For example you can say the URL of the site you'd like to visit and an auto correct box pops up giving a few suggestions. This is due to the recognition engine not being able to determine your voice command as well as being over helpful at the same time.

Remember, training is key to helping the engine to recognise your voice. The more time you invest initially the greater the accuracy will be.

Numbered interface

Once you start using Vista with speech recognition you'll notice that it numbers certain areas of the interface. By speaking these numbers into the microphone you can jump straight to particular program features.

There's no doubt you'll be disappointed with the precision of recognition when you first start using speech recognition. It's only to be expected but it's something that's easily rectified. Make sure you return to Speech Recognition options in Control Panel. Use the options 'Take Speech Tutorial' and 'Train your computer to better understand you' and you'll definitely progress.

For individuals unable to make use of a keyboard and requiring an alternative the benefits are clear. But even for everyday use it could be well worth your while using speech recognition. Remember though that it will take a little time and effort to become proficient in its use and gain a high level of accuracy. Paul Townsend was the former name of Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.