What is wrong with MacSpeech?

The tale of a software with potential, near-monopoly status and a lot of upset users.

MacSpeech Dictate is the only usable dictation software for the Mac. I’ve been using it since the beginning of January, and the speech recognition is pretty good most of the time. Especially considering I’m not a native speaker and have a tendency to slur. But the software has its problems. There’s a very limited set of text editing commands, and the only ones I can get to work on a regular basis are the ones for selecting words and replacing/deleting them, and moving the insertion point (but only between words). The built-in notepad is the fastest place to dictate into, but sometimes it types the words backwards, or inserts the same text repeatedly in the wrong place. And if you use it long enough it will eventually crash, leaving your carefully dictated text in binary afterlife. Dictating into Firefox leads to sudden and unexpected line breaks and spaces, same thing with Xcode, Pages from iWork is better but the only applications completely free of such frustrating appearance of unwanted whitespace are Mail and TextEdit. In TextEdit, however, moving around and selecting text is excruciatingly slow. You end up spending almost as much time waiting as dictating. Occasionally, Dictate will select all or parts of the text and remove it. The only way to teach the software new words is to write them into a text file, save it, and then open it with the Vocabulary Training command. And then hope that this time, it will work. My first user profile stopped working after two months so I had to create a new one and start from scratch. Sometimes Dictate just stops responding or starts misinterpreting everything I say, which a restart may or may not fix. It will only on rare occasions recognize the word “cell”, and never recognizes “app”. Which is inconvenient for someone who only writes about iPhone programming. And it never learns from its mistakes. There’s more, but I think I’ve made my point.

So with me and many other users experiencing serious problems with version 1.3 of a software we had paid $200 for, what do you think MacSpeech did? I will get to that, but first let me speculate about why they did it.

I imagine it went something like this: The people at MacSpeech were hard at work on the 1.5 update, fixing the bugs and implementing a much requested feature; the Vocabulary Editor. Then someone suggested they should also update the underlying speech recognition engine (Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking). Which is a good idea, it will improve both speed and recognition. Since they are no doubt paying through the nose for the right to use the latest version of the NaturallySpeaking engine, they decide they will have to charge the users for this upgrade. And since the upgrade is measured in gigabytes, their servers don’t have the capacity to host it and they’ve never heard about torrents, they decide to only make the upgrade available in physical form.

All of this is of course speculation. I don’t know why they did what they did, but I always like to see things from both sides and I think I have come up with a fairly good explanation for their side. But there are two things I can’t explain:

  1. MacSpeech UK can only ship within the UK.
  2. The shipping costs to mainland Europe for one CD and one DVD is $80. No kidding. Which begs the question “Are you kidding? You must be kidding! Tell me you’re kidding!”. But I’m not, honestly. That’s what they said. And wrote.

But enough about their side. Back to mine. This is what it means for me and many other users, some of whom are disabled in some way and more or less dependent on dictation for writing:

  1. We bought this software for $200.
  2. It barely works, and then mostly in mysterious ways.
  3. MacSpeech not only charges $55 for the 1.5 upgrade, they tell us “it’s an incredible bargain”!
  4. For those of us unfortunate enough to not live in the US or UK, they charge an additional $80 for shipping.
  5. I would like to repeat that. In the year 2009, they charge $80 for the shipping of software. For that price, the CEO should be flying around handing out each copy personally. I wish he was actually, I have a couple of things to tell him.
  6. And to top it all off, many who have upgraded have had to switch to US English to get the software to launch, the vocabulary editor only works with new words and there still seems to be a lot of problems.

In a market economy the only way a company can do things like this and get away with it is if they have a monopoly. And MacSpeech does, almost. They have the only usable dictation software for the Mac. But I have Parallels and Windows XP installed, and have ordered Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 10 for $144. That’s only $9 more than the upgrade from MacSpeech, and with it I get better recognition and speed (according to, well, the Internet), much better editing capabilities, the ability to browse the net via voice control (should come in handy when my arms start acting up) and the ability to record dictation on my iPhone and transform it to text when I get back to the computer (I’ll have to see that first to believe it though It works surprisingly well. Not as well as dictating directly to the computer obviously but still very useful).

Dictating into a Windows application running under Parallels virtualisation of course means I will have to use copy and paste to get the text to where I need it, but with the exception of Mail I’m already doing that.

At least i won’t have to do any more business with a company like MacSpeech.


18 comments

  1. I too strongly dislike the situation with MSD. I purchased the product earlier this year and while it can often do a reasonable interpretation for a while, it just runs off the rail after a time and comes up with stupider and stupider errors. My dictation is good (as you can get it to play back a recording of what you said).

    I often find if I stop using it for about 10-20mins and come back it won’t transcribe and I have to repeat my opening phrase about 5 times before it starts. It then dictates me cursing it.

    Most times when I shut down the Mac at the end of the day I get the message “MSD unexpected crashed”. No it didn’t I say. It does it every time.

    Its an insult to have to pay for an upgrade for this product. I only had it for a few months and they stingely set the free upgrade for purchases only in the month before.

    I posted a cheeky reply on their forum stating that what was in the upgrade box was in fact DNS and now my posts are getting deleted – get a sense of humor guys. So they do read all posts, but rarely reply.

  2. I switched from Windows to Mac before investigating the problems with MacSpeech. Since I’ve been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking since version 3, I was shocked that any company would publish defective software like MacSpeech. I’m not going to upgrade because I don’t trust a company that would publish software up with such pervasive problems. I’m going to sell my Mac and move back to Windows so that I can use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a superb software published by a company that stands for quality.

    • Actually I’m writing this using Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred running under Windows XP, which is again running under Parallels 4.0, and it is working beautifully. You can’t control Mac applications with it obviously, but if you only need to use dictation for writing I can wholeheartedly recommend it. It would be too bad if you had to give up your Mac just because of MacSpeech.

  3. Dear Kare,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. Actually, I do have Dragon NaturallySpeaking preferred running under Windows XP, which runs under parallels. However, it runs very slowly and I’m wondering if that is also true with your application. Once again, thanks. Bob

    • It used to be very slow, then I followed this advice from http://forum.parallels.com/showthread.php?t=31909&page=2&highlight=Dragon:

      1. Make sure at all times that you USB mike is NOT the selected mike in the Mac prefs. You should have “internal microphone” selecetd. This is important – you will have trouble if the USB mike is connecetd to the VM and the Mac at the same time.

      2. Open the VM and in the menu Devices>USB choose your USB mike.

      3. Then, in the menu Devices>sound choose the USB mike, or, if it doesn’t appear, click “configure”, make sure the box “connected” is ticked, then choose your USB mike in the pop-up “input” menu. (Note: it doesn’t seem to matter what you have selected for “output”).

      4. In the Windows XP control panels (don’t ask me about Vista) click on “sounds and audio devices” and in the “audio” and “voice” tabs choose your USB mike for input. Do NOT choose “intel integrated audio”. Again, it doesn’t seem to matter about output, but probably best to match it to what you have chosen for output in the devices menu, eg probably default).

      5. Go back and check your USB mike is not the chosen input in your mac sound prefs!

      6. Double check anything else you feel the need to check!

      7. Set up a new voice user for your new configuration.
      (I didn’t have to do this)

      Hope that helps.

  4. Mac horror story re: Macspeech. Was still using a Power PC eMac and needed voice to text software. Only thing available for Mac is Macspeech. Didn’t know it only worked on Intel Macs. This expedited the move up to an iMac. By then after testing Macspeech for a short time I then upgraded to Snow Leopard and Macspeech suddenly said it can’t work in Snow Leopard- not long after buying Macspeech at its unbelievably high price.

    After much searching of Macspeech site – it’s not immediately clear how/where to find the 1.5 update, it generally says there is an unblocker update for 1.3.1 to allow it to run on Snow Leopard, but in ‘limited functions’.

    It’s outrageous they want about $60 Canadian plus nearly the same for postage to ship 1.5 upgrade discs via the faster/safer route…. amounting to about $120 cdn for a mere UPGRADE – almost the same as the original disc!

    From the favorable comments here about ‘Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred running under Windows XP’, it’s almost worth it to buy a netbook just to run Dragon NS instead of being continually gouged by a a software that’s full of bugs and operating issues – no to mention he unbelievable overcharge for simple upgrade – and how many have they planned every six weeks in future?

    I really feel I’ve been HAD by Macspeech and wrote and told them so.
    I will NOT pay such an absurd price for a mere upgrade for software that operates so poorly.

    • Are they still charging that much for an upgrade? I would have thought they had come up with a better option by now. Unbelievable.

      But the good news is you don’t need to buy a netbook. I am writing this using Dragon NaturallySpeaking running under Windows XP, which again is running in Parallels Desktop, and it is working beautifully. It can of course get a bit tedious to have to copy and paste between Parallels Desktop and OS X all the time, but apart from that I have no complaints. And if you’re lucky you know someone who has a copy of Windows XP they don’t need any more.

  5. I just lost two post attempts because of the captcha positioning. Please consider putting it above the “Submit Comment” button.

    I am in the same boat: I am using parallels desktop to run Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10. I’ve had the opportunity to try out MacSpeech, and it is outright horrible. I believe MacSpeech could be saved with some simple fixes, but they seem to be very out of tune with their user audience, which is unfortunate.

    I have hacked TightVNC, stripping out its mouse and video functionality, rendering it a mere keyboard transporter. Fortunately for me, this does the job. In fact, I am dictating into Firefox running on my Mac using Dragon NaturallySpeaking running in parallels desktop.

    If there is sufficient interest in such a setup (and there are a few issues with it, but not nearly as bad as MacSpeech in my opinion), I will release a copy of it along with the source code of my modifications.

    What’s really cool, is I’ve written a few dragonfly macros that work over it. I’m feeling motivated to write some other extensions using NatLink to control Macintosh applications from Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

    Tim

  6. I have lost 4 posts with your commenting system. Please fix it – open ID breaks because it says it can’t find the captcha cookie, the captcha is located underneath the submit button, so when either of those fail, the text is lost as when I use the back button the comment text box initializes to empty again (must be some javascript you are running).

    I am not going to type it all again. Roughly: I’m in the same boat, I’ve written some extensions and some code making it possible to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking with my Macintosh applications, and I’m currently dictating into Mozilla Firefox on my mac using Dragon NaturallySpeaking under parallels desktop 5.0.

    • Hi, sorry you had trouble commenting, I tried it myself, couldn’t find any problems but disabled the captcha nonetheless.

      Re: dictating directly into Mac applications using Dragon NaturallySpeaking; That sounds fantastic! I am very interested in seeing what you have put together. Where can I find it?

  7. I’ve posted the code, along with a downloadable compiled version, over here:

    http://github.com/timcharper/tightvnc-dns

    Please read the README.textile file (available towards the bottom) for known issues, and a few workarounds.

    Let me know how it goes! I plan to create a more permanent solution, as time allows, but I’ve been able to get 80% of the results with 20% of the work, so I’ve opted for it.

    If it gets working, and you’re motivated to try more, I have a script that automatically focuses TightVNC-DNS in the Parallels VM when your focus leaves Parallels Desktop (as it stands, you have to be sure to set it each time you leave, and this is impossible in coherence mode)

  8. Pingback: How to dictate in Mac applications with Dragon NaturallySpeaking @ NotTooBad Blogging

  9. Pingback: Dragon Dictate 2.0 for the Mac @ NotTooBad Software

  10. Ok, I heard that DragonDictate is an acceptable solution, so a few weeks ago I bought it. I’ll report that it still isn’t as good as the windows version, not close. However, it gets a few things right and it is acceptable. Not good for someone who is looking to dictate code to their computer or browse web, but for writing articles, emails, and IMs it really succeeds. The AppleScripting and command editing abilities are OK as well (not NatLink, unimacro, dragonfly etc, not even close, but what you can do with appleScript and command editor is enough to fix a few of the minor annoyances).

    I wish dragon doctate folk would embrace open source community using macs and give us better developer tools for their product on the mac, we would all win. Its just a matter of time before google does.

    • I completely agree. I upgraded myself a while back and it is definately usable. I haven’t launched windows since. But some features are missing, first of all something as simple as highlighting in bold the differences between the suggestions in the correction window. But this and other features from the windows version will hopefully be added later.


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