By Noah Matthews
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
For the past few days, I've been telling my Windows PC a thing or two. When I'm tired of writing, for example, I tell it to launch Internet Explorer. When I want to know the time, I simply ask for it. When I go back to writing, I simply say, "word," and Microsoft Word comes back.
I'm doing all this with the aid of an inexpensive microphone attached to my sound card and a program called Voice Director. Each time I want to browse my favorite Web sites, I simply say, "Director," and ask for the Web site. About the only thing it doesn't do is bring in my morning newspaper.
Setup is simple. You only need to plug in a microphone (which you can buy at any electronics store for as little as $5) to your sound card, then associate your favorite programs, Web sites and desktop shortcuts. Voice Director comes with a list of obvious ones: Say "my computer," and all the drives on your computer are displayed. Same goes for "my documents," "control panel" and the like. As it's installed, it searches for obvious programs, and it's easy to add new ones. Its voice recognition sometimes needs some tweaking, though. When I tried to add a program called Ad-aware, Voice Director confused it with the "back" command. That may have something to do with my Midwestern accent, but I fixed it easily enough by calling the anti-popup ad program "popups." In fact, you can train Voice Director to launch your Internet browser by saying, "surf." If you have a template for letters to Mom, just say "mom," and Word will launch the template.
Just how useful is Voice Director? For one thing, you can give your mouse hand a rest. For folks with disabilities it really would make computing easier. And for software junkies like me, it's useful and fun. As I finish writing this, I'll say, "done," and Voice Director closes Word and brings me a glass of ice tea. Actually, a voice from the kitchen says, "Get it yourself, you lazy bum." But Word did close.
Voice Director will run on Windows 98, Me, NT, 2000 and XP. It also comes with the Merriam Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus. For a copy of the two-CD set, send $20, plus $5 for shipping, to WashingtonCD, PO Box 17356, Long Beach, CA 90807. Or by credit card at www.washingtoncd.net or 800-395-7797.
© 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.