Anyone can talk to their computer--or their refrigerator or their shoes--but Kurzweil VoicePlus actually makes your computer listen and obey. Whether you're trying to avoid carpal tunnel syn-drome, want to add figures to a spreadsheet while feeding the baby, or would like to impress a client, VoicePlus is a useful tool. Just a few years ago, voice technology involved an expensive speech recognition board, but VoicePlus works with your own sound card, speaker and microphone. (There's a headset in the box in case you don't have a speaker and a mike.) While the headset's earpiece was loud and clear, its microphone was too weak to use with my sound card. But my inexpensive Radio Shack mike and speakers worked just fine, as always. The headset mike that came with VoicePlus worked on a friend's sound card without any additional hardware. A pamphlet about the headset suggests adding an Andrea APS-100 headset if your sound card's mike port is weaker than 1.25 volts.
VoicePlus is pre-trained for a huge variety of Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 operating system commands, plus application commands for Microsoft, Lotus, Corel and other Win-dows programs. You can dictate English words with the pre-trained vocabulary and add words the program doesn't know; navigate through word processors, spreadsheets, database programs and e-mail applications; and even add blocks of boilerplate text with simple voice commands. Words must be spoken with a pause between each, and if VoicePlus gets a word wrong, you have the opportunity to correct it by choosing from a best-guess list or by typing another word. Although the program has to learn how you pronounce some words, it recognizes a surprising number of them.
List price: $99.95
Requires: a Pentium computer with Windows 95 or a 486 DX4 75 with Windows 3.1 in Enhanced Mode, 16MB RAM, 35MB hard-drive space, a VGA monitor, and a 16-bit Windows-compatible sound card
Alpha Software Corp.
List price: $14.95 plus $1.95 postage ($14.95 for 2-day FedEx)
And It Does Windows...
If you're ready for your computer to run the office--and the rest of your house--the IBM Home Director Starter Kit will hook you up. The package lets you control lamps and other appliances from your PC, and ties all of that together with a universal remote that also works on your television and VCR. If the phone rings, you can click off the television with the remote as you answer, then use the same remote to click on the coffee maker when you learn it's a client en route to your office. Protect your home office equipment with dusk-to-dawn or timed lighting--even when your PC is turned off. Home Director can even "learn" your routines to make it appear you're using your home office when you're not there.
The starter kit contains a PC connection module, which plugs into a wall outlet and connects to your PC's 9-pin serial port, a lamp module, a remote module for an appliance or piece of office equipment, and the universal remote. You can add other modules to support up to 256 appliances. The software uses a graphical representation of switches to make programming appliances easy. You can set up different events for different days, and even have a light come on dimly and then brighten after you've been awake a few minutes. Demo routines help you explore all the possibilities.
IBM Home Director Starter Kit
List price: $99.99
Requires: a 386 computer, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95, 4MB RAM, 8MB hard-drive space, an open serial port, six AAA batteries
(800) 426-7235, ext. 4340
WebEdit Pro 3.0
List price: $89.95 (free 30-day trial download)
Requires: a 486 computer, Windows 95 or NT 3.51 or 4.0, 8MB RAM, 10MB hard-drive space
Luckman Interactive Inc.
Cracking The Code
When it's time to give your company a presence on the Web, you'll want a Web page editor that's easy to use and lets you see results right away, while giving you direct control of the HTML code when you want it. Luckman's WebEdit Pro 3.0 generates the basic HTML structure for a Web page with the touch of a button and lets you add everything from font formatting to background sounds with easy drop-down command lists. WebEdit Pro is stuffed with tools that help automate tasks, including Home Page Wizard, Form Builder, Multimedia Wizard, Frame Wizard, Map Builder, HTML Validator and Download Time Estimator.
Some Web editing programs hide all HTML, so you have to open Notepad to make simple changes. WebEdit Pro always puts the HTML in the plain text window so you can edit it directly. (That's the best of both worlds.) There's even a link checker to make sure visitors aren't running into dead ends from your site.
Publish Or Perish
Broderbund's Print Shop Publishing Suite lets you crank out brochures, signs, business cards, letterhead, envelopes, calendars, banners, news-letters, labels, certificates and more with a two-CD set crammed full of designs, templates, more than 26,000 graphics and photos, 180 True Type fonts, and 2,000 quotes and verses. This mega-package includes an on-screen previewer of images arranged by category and keyword for easy hunting, but you're not pinned to your computer chair to see the images as you are with so many programs--the graphics come in two hard-copy books that you can cart off to the couch or dining room table to peruse in comfort. You can also import your own images or scan pictures directly into the program if you have a TWAIN-compliant scanner installed.
Print Shop Publishing Suite is actually a combination of two other packages--Print Shop Premiere Edition and Print Shop Press Writer. Both packages let novices create eye-catching materials without having desktop publishing experience. The Print Shop series has long been popular among fans of quick and colorful results. Get started by choosing and modifying one of the more than 1,000 designs, or pick a project type and build it with step-by-step help . . . or be bold and start from scratch. The suite offers matching envelopes, letterhead and business cards to help you achieve a consistent look for your company. Print Shop Publishing Suite owners with modems and ISPs can download free additional seasonal images online and send online greetings.
Rebecca Frances Rohan has been a computer and Internet journalist since 1988. She is a contributing editor for Internet Shopper and Intranet Construction Site.