Fernando Cassia wrote an article for the Inquirer today that basically says he thinks Windows Vista's Windows Speech Recognition will be the death of Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking and IBM's ViaVoice products.

Fernando wrote:

Who will buy products like IBM's ViaVoice or Nuance's "Dragon Naturally Speaking" if dictation and voice navigation becomes "an integral part of the OS"?

He goes on to liken the integration of speech recognition features into Windows Vista with the mid-90's Microsoft tactic of integrating Internet Explorer into Windows 95. He wrote:

The main question I had was: is Microsoft "doing a Netscape" on both Nuance's Dragon and IBM's ViaVoice products? In other words, how can these companies compete on desktop dictation software if the feature is "integrated" into the OS? To me, it's just like watching "IE vs Netscape" all over again.

Fernando decided to write this article after someone gave him a local demonstration of Windows Speech Recognition (in Spanish!) that he though was very good:

I have to say that the product worked quite well.

A big part of his article focuses on the lack of a mature speech recognition product for Linux, and Fernando hopes that Nuance or IBM will step up and offer a solution for Linux in the coming years.

Fernando spoke with Erica Hill, from Nuance, and she has a decidedly different take from Fernando. Erica said:

There will clearly be some percentage of users that find the Vista speech recognition acceptable. However, it's likely a greater percentage will try it, like it and look for something more powerful. I think this is very similar to imaging technology as well. Microsoft includes a scaled-back document imaging utility in Office but our Imaging business is still very profitable because with scanning and OCR – as with speech – people demand accuracy, quality and features that simply are not included in a free version from Microsoft. Our $75M and growing imaging business is proof of this!

There are several things that Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking currently offers that Windows Speech Recognition doesn't.

1. Medical and Legal vocabularies and language models -- although there's a good possibility 3rd party ISVs will start supplying these for Windows Speech Recognition in the future.

2. Integrated Macro capabilities -- Dragon Naturally Speaking Professional has macro capabilities built right in but Windows Speech Recognition does not -- yet. But ... We do have a speech SDK (SAPI 5.x) that any ISV that wants to extend the speech capabilities of the OS can use (for free). On the contrary, I've heard that Nuance charges $2000 for ISVs to use their SDK. Something that has made several ISVs I've talked to upset.

3. Microphone in the box -- In some of the DNS SKUs, Nuance includes a microphone right in the box. This is great for customers, because they can be assured that the microphone will definitely work with the software. This isn't something that Microsoft is likely to do ... but ... I can imagine a lot of OEMs including microphones with new PCs. We'll have to see just how many do that once Vista ships...

In the end, customers really do have choices. And that's what's great about having Windows Speech Recognition included in Windows Vista. In the past, customers really only had one option: Dragon Naturally Speaking. Yeah, some people still use Via Voice, but now that Nuance has distribution rights to sell Via Voice, everything is really owned by Nuance ... except what we've built into Vista.

I bet Erica is right, and for some people Dragon Naturally Speaking will be a better product. But for a lot of people, I bet Windows Vista will perfectly fit the bill. It's easy to use. It's accuracy is state of the art. And it's right there when you need it.

What do you think?