Neither Microsoft nor Apple has ever been content to let their operating systems be just that. Instead, they've progressively added their own versions of the most useful third-party software to new versions of their operating systems. While the speech recognition tools in the Mac OS and past versions of Windows and Microsoft Office were not regarded as useful by reviewers, Windows Speech Recognition in the Vista and Windows 7 operating systems is nearly as accurate and easy to use as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the leading third-party program. (Windows next operating system, Windows 8, is expected around the end of 2011; it's expected that a version of Windows Speech Recognition will be included.)
Even if it pales somewhat in direct comparison to Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium, Windows Speech Recognition fares relatively well in the majority of reviews. Accuracy hovers around 96 percent, and nearly all experts speak highly of the program's out-of-the-box performance. The training modules and user interface are especially praised and are generally considered to be an improvement over Dragon's equivalents. In a lightweight observation on PC World, Martin Heller expresses pleasure at how adequately Windows 7 Speech Recognition performed with very little training. BrightHub.com's Glen Salzman, who uses speech recognition because of mobility limitations, calls Windows Speech Recognition "fine wine on a beer budget," and defines it as "fast, intuitive and powerful." Personal development blogger Steve Pavlina is unapologetic about preferring Windows Speech Recognition over Dragon NaturallySpeaking, explaining that Windows Speech Recognition's ability to rapidly learn from its errors dramatically reduces the learning curve.
Microsoft has incorporated some subtle upgrades in the version of Windows Speech Recognition that is bundled with Windows 7. Those include expanded dictionaries and a text-to-speech option that may be particularly useful for visually impaired users. TechRadar.com's John Brandon tests Windows 7's version of Windows Speech Recognition and finds it performs "slightly better" than the version included in Vista. Brandon doesn't define what exactly makes Window 7's speech recognition better; while his brief review seems to focus on speed, he indicates that the most important performance factor is the computer being used.
Nate Anderson of Ars Technica, in a comprehensive look at the Windows 7 version, says the navigation and operating system controls "are the best features of the built-in recognition engine, and they worked almost flawlessly," although he notes some problems controlling third-party applications such as Google's Chrome browser. Steve Pavlina echoes this comment in his review of the Vista version, reporting that voice recognition was "a little unreliable" in non-Microsoft applications. While Nate Anderson spends plenty of time complimenting Windows Speech Recognition, he ends up concluding that the dictation engine is just slightly less accurate and slightly more complex than Nuance's offering, with an error rate similar to standard typing. He ends up recommending NaturallySpeaking for serious dictation users.
Reviews indicate that while Windows Speech Recognition in Windows 7 has some upgrades, it's really not that much different from the version included in Vista, so reviews of that version remain highly relevant. PCMag.com's Michael Muchmore offers an extensive comparison of Windows Speech Recognition in Vista versus the older Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10. He concludes that Windows Speech Recognition is stiff competition for Dragon, with a superior tutorial and the obvious advantage of being bundled into the operating system. Beyond those factors, though, Muchmore finds that NaturallySpeaking 10 offers better accuracy, speed and features – and reviewers report Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 has improved in all those areas. David Pogue, technology columnist at The New York Times, reaches a similar conclusion, calling Windows Speech Recognition "really good -- quite similar to NatSpeak," before saying that NaturallySpeaking remains the better program when it comes to accuracy, features and power.
With so many accolades given to Windows Speech Recognition, it's not surprising that many professional reviewers devote their energies to trying to decide at what point it's worth it for users to spend the money on NaturallySpeaking -- or whether they should at all. While a handful of Microsoft purists give Windows Speech Recognition a blanket endorsement, most draw the line with PCMag.com's Michael Muchmore, who decides that for emails and other casual dictation Windows Speech Recognition is sufficient, but for anything more intensive it's worth the upgrade to NaturallySpeaking.