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As yet another year dawns, technology once again promises to make our lives easier than they ever have been before.
Although your computer won't be doing all your work for you in 1999, it's going to come pretty close. Already, Web users have become complacent as their favorite browsers, add-ons and services have been beefed up with the ability to download information and Web pages without ever having to surf the Web. The news and data you've requested automatically appear on your screen. Soon, instead of typing, you'll find yourself barking commands at your computer with the help of voice-recognition software.
The software that runs your computer is set to make some impressive leaps as well--with the easy-to-program Java showing up everywhere and a new version of Microsoft NT making its appearance, too.
Cassandra Cavanah is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has reported on the computer industry for 10 years.
Although last year was touted by many techies as the year of voice-recognition software, 1999 will likely be the year we begin seeing this technology used as a solution to common computing problems.
Already, voice recognition--the ability to speak to your computer and have it recognize words and commands--has been a boon to the physically disabled, a description that could easily apply to those of us who are beginning to show symptoms of repetitive stress injuries. Now, instead of typing or using a mouse, you can dictate e-mail, letters and other documents and even open programs with oral commands.
Voice recognition can save you and your employees time. Say, for example, you're on the road with time to spare but no laptop to use. Now you can use a tape recorder to dictate a letter and then use voice-recognition technology to upload your dictation into your computer as a letter.
When you're ready to take the plunge into voice-recognition technology, look no further than Dragon Systems' NaturallySpeaking. Since its release in June 1998, this product hasn't stopped thrilling journalists and users alike, winning numerous awards over the past year. For about $100, users can talk into a microphone at more than 100 words per minute and have the words translated into text in just about any Windows application, including Corel WordPerfect, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange 97, Microsoft Word 97 and Qualcomm Eudora. NaturallySpeaking comes in numerous versions.
The souped-up version, NaturallySpeaking Professional ($695), includes some interesting additional features, such as the ability to learn a user's dialect, accent or unique pronunciations. Dragon NaturallySpeaking Mobile ($299) allows you to transcribe dictation that's been recorded on a handheld recorder directly to your PC. There's Dictation Playback for checking the accuracy of content and intent by listening to what you said as it's played back to you in your own voice. If you have text or speech software, your computer will also be able to read text to you as it appears on your computer screen. With the professional version, you also get multiuser support so multiple users can create their own voice-recognition files and store them on one computer.
Businesses with call centers will appreciate NaturallySpeaking Call Center Edition. This program lets call centers of any size automate the data entry process by having their operators simply speak the information into the computer.
NaturallySpeaking is currently available in American English, British English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. The program runs under Windows 95/98/NT and requires a 16-bit sound card and about 200MB hard-drive space.
If you have a need to cruise the Web hands-free, check out Conversational Computing's Conversa Web 2.0 voice-recognition software. This program works only with Microsoft Windows-based Internet Explorer 4.x and lets you start working right out of the box (unlike NaturallySpeaking, which you have to spend some time training). For $29.95, you'll get a system that lets you scroll, search and more without ever laying a hand on the keyboard. The only real drag is that you'll still have to input URLs.
Lotsa Java Brewing
Although you've probably heard the term "Java" a lot over the past few years, it's likely you have no idea what it actually means. Java is a programming language originally developed by Sun Microsystems. (Microsoft has also put forth its own version of Java.)
What got people excited about Java in the first place is its "cross platform" capability. Unlike typical programming languages, such as C++, that are limited to creating programs for one platform (like Windows or Macintosh), programs written in Java can run on any machine. That's why so many Web sites sport Java-based programs.
The reason Java is mentioned in this column is that you're likely to see and hear the term thrown around a lot this year. Not only is it becoming more widely used, but Sun Microsystems and Microsoft are in a court battle over Microsoft's current use of Java code in Windows 98. Expect to see much in the way of Java-enabled software and even Java-enabled hardware in the months ahead.
Your Next OS?
Microsoft might be having its share of problems in the New Year, what with all the litigation problems that continue to haunt it. But that doesn't mean its software engineers haven't been hard at work developing new products to inspire us to shell out some cash for upgrades. The Windows 98 operating system created a buzz last year--in 1999, expect a lot of talk about Windows NT. The word at the time of this writing is that Microsoft wants the next version of its business-oriented operating system to replace the consumer-based Windows 98.
Windows NT has long been touted as the favorite operating system for corporate customers due to its stability and security features. And it comes in two flavors: NT Server for IS administration and NT Workstation for everybody else.
Windows NT's format will look a lot like that of Windows 98, sporting the Internet Explorer desktop and making your whole computing experience feel like you're cruising the Web. Because this system was designed with corporate clients in mind, NT sports far more business-oriented features than 98. For example, NT's security function lets you establish accounts for multiple users on the same machine so they can maintain their own unique settings, preferences and access rights. It also makes it easier for your system administrator to maintain the machine's integrity. NT's other big bonus is stability. If an application you're running on NT crashes, it won't crash your entire system.
New and Notable Software.
- Buying Chain: With the combination of the Internet and software from Trilogy, your office manager's life is about to get a little easier. Trilogy's Buying Chain provides companies with a fast, easy way to buy products from a list of more than 100 online suppliers, including Office Depot (http://www.officedepot.com) and Beyond.com. Visit Trilogy's Web site (http://www.trilogy.com) for a full list of suppliers. (Expect that list to continue to grow with the support of partners like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard behind Trilogy.)
The software can be easily installed on your company's server and allows employees to buy through a browser on their desktops; your company will still maintain approval routings. Buying Chain is available for a 30-day free download at < ahref=http://www.buyingchain.com>http://www.buyingchain.com. If you like what it does, you can buy it for $995.
*Norton SystemWorks: Symantec, the company that brought you Norton AntiVirus software, has introduced Norton SystemWorks, a suite of utility and antivirus software that's designed to keep your computer safe and reliable. SystemWorks features the newest versions of Norton Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, Norton CrashGuard, a free six-month subscription to Norton Web services, and even WinFax and PCAnywhere for remote computing. At $99.95, users get all the protection they need, plus some great utilities.
- Business Analyst: Are you ready to get your business in order? Think you need to hire a business consultant to tell you what you're doing right and wrong? Before you take the plunge, check out RedFlag's Business Analyst. For $150, Business Analyst examines a company's historical financial statements to identify and help restructure weak areas and generate increases in cash flow and profitability. Business Analyst provides a historical financial analysis of up to five years, presented in dollars, percentages, ratios and averages. You'll be able to set goals and budgets to get your bottom line in line. The program supports data imports from most accounting programs.
Conversational Computing Corp., (888) ITS-HERE, http://www.conversa.com
Dragon Systems Inc., (800) 4-DRAGON, http://www.dragonsystems.com
RedFlag Inc., (888) 473-3352, http://www.redflag.com
Symantec Corp., (800) 441-7234, http://www.symantec.com
Trilogy, (512) 794-5900