Monday, January 12, 2009

Vista tools

You want to find a program you do not use very often, you know it is installed, but you just cannot find it. Windows Vista lets you search straight from the Start Menu and you do not even need to take your hands off the keyboard because the first result is already selected.

This means that you can cut down on the number of shortcuts you need to create, but it does not come naturally to some people.

Since the desktop metaphor was invented, navigating your way around a computer has been about using the mouse, and having all the icons on display. It is like having all your books and tools out and within arms reach.

The more stuff you have, the less useful this method becomes, so it is only natural that we are moving to search-centric navigation.

The search begins as soon as you enter the first characters. You can search for e-mails and websites you have visited. It searches within other documents too, so you are not limited to searching for the filename of a Word document, you can look for matches inside all the Word documents you have.

Speech recognition

There are actually some features about Windows XP that I miss because they are still the quickest way of doing things for me. It is the File Menu I am talking about here. It has been so familiar, so long I feel a bit lost without it.

If you feel the same way, just tab the ALT key and it comes straight back. In fact, you can avoid pressing the keys at all, because Windows understands your voice.

Speech recognition within Windows is not actually new. There has been support for it hidden inside Office since 2002 and you have been able to buy off-the shelf software which does this for years. But now, Windows can do all that itself.

It is still not the easiest to start though, you have to go to the Control Panel, select Ease of Access, then Speech Recognition Options.

First you have to select the kind of microphone you are using, and then train the computer to recognise how you say different types of words. Normally this involves spending 20 minutes or so reading passages from out-of-copyright books. This can get very tedious, but it is necessary if you want the results to be anything like accurate. The only other thing you will need is a good microphone.

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