Dragon has long ruled supreme over the landscape of speech recognition—but no more. Simpler or less expensive (if not quite as powerful) options are carving out little fiefdoms. The more choices, the better, too, given that using voice commands can stave off or reduce repetitive strain injuries. The spoken word also suits some projects better than typing.
We found five Windows-based options worth a test drive. They were tested under pretty rugged conditions, too: my native Scottish brogue, and my German accent honed by 13 years spent in Wuerzburg. While none was quite able to slay the powerful Dragon, they could still be useful for many tasks.

Windows Speech Recognition
Although Microsoft doesn’t trumpet the fact, newer versions of Windows arrive with the company’s own Windows Speech Recognition software preinstalled. I thought I was going to detest it, but I came away impressed—especially considering it’s free, and you already have it on your Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 PC.
Windows Speech Recognition is unobtrusive, free, and already installed.
To switch on Windows Speech Recognition, go to your Start menu and in the search box at the bottom, type speech recognition. Click the option that pops up, and a window will open where you can enable the feature, as well as read a short text to give Windows an idea of what your voice is like. You can also access the feature through the Control Panel. Once everything is set up, a small status box will pop up. You’ll use that to switch Speech Recognition on and off.

To begin, just say clearly into the microphone “start listening.” The app then beeps and springs into action, waiting for your next command. You can tell Windows Speech Recognition to pretty much do anything on your PC. It can open browsers (including new tabs), apps, as well as Microsoft Office documents. Once you have a document open, you can dictate text and it will instantly appear there.

You can also tell the computer to shut down or restart, as well as call up the start menu or a command line box. When you are finished, just say “stop listening” and it will go to sleep, waiting for you to wake it up again.

It’s easy to use, and the price is right, but Windows Speech Recognition’s performance could stand some improvement. I found the accuracy level dipped when I dictated long texts into a MS Office doc. Nor did it respond well to my German accent, so other accents may stymie it as well.