Something about dictating to a computer awakens all kinds of unrealistic expectations in people. If you expect it to serve you breakfast in bed, you’re out of luck. This article wasn't written by saying “Computer, write a book about NaturallySpeaking.” The author had to dictate it word for word, just as she would have had to type it word for word if she didn’t have NaturallySpeaking.

So what are realistic expectations? Think of NaturallySpeaking the way that you think about your keyboard and mouse. It’s an input device for your computer, not a brain transplant. It doesn’t add any new capabilities to your computer beyond deciphering your spoken words into text or ordinary PC commands

Just because your computer can understand what you say, don’t expect it to understand what you mean. It’s still just a computer, you know.

Here are five specific things you can expect to do with NaturallySpeaking:

  • Browse the web. If you use Internet Explorer and NaturallySpeaking together, you can cruise around the web without ever touching your keyboard or mouse. Pick a website from your Favorites menu, follow a link from one web page to another, or dictate a URL (web address) into IE’s Address box, leaving your hands in your lap the whole time.

  • Control your applications. If you see the name on a menu, you can say it and watch it happen — not just in NaturallySpeaking but in your other applications as well. If your e-mail program has a Check Mail command on its menu, then you can check your e-mail by saying a few words. Anything that your spreadsheet has on a menu becomes a voice command you can use.

    Ditto for hotkeys: If pressing some combination of keys causes an application to do something you want, just tell NaturallySpeaking to press those keys.

  • Control your desktop. Applications will start running just because you tell them to. Use your voice to open and close windows, switch from one open window to another, and drag and drop stuff from here to there.

  • Dictate into a digital recorder and let NaturallySpeaking transcribe it later. You need NaturallySpeaking and a digital (or very good analog) recorder.

  • Write documents. NaturallySpeaking is darn good at helping you write documents. You talk, it types. If you don’t like what you said (or what NaturallySpeaking typed), tell NaturallySpeaking to go back and change it. You can give vocal instructions to make elements bold, italic, large, small, or set in a particular font.