Dear Dragon…

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angry dragon

As you may (or may not) be aware, I’m a long-time user of your speech recognition software. I first started using it over 10 years ago as a means of resolving my RSI and am pleased to report that it did exactly that. It also helped considerably with productivity, something I’d forgotten since the days I used to dictate my translations for the typing pool when I worked in-house. I’ve written a number of blog posts on the subject of speech recognition, and Dragon in particular, notably Taming the Dragon, and I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve extolled the virtues of your product to at conferences and professional events over the years. All of which makes me even more disappointed to have to write this virtual letter of complaint…

I’d been using Dragon Home Version 12.5 until April of last year, and had kept on using it even when new versions came out a) because I was still happy with the recognition quality and b) because I’d heard from colleagues (see Good Things come in Threes (Part 1)) that later versions didn’t work as well with Trados, my CAT tool of choice. In my  Home version, when working in Trados, I could dictate commands such as ‘Select + word’ followed by ‘Spell that’ to make Dragon change the spelling of a word it had misheard or didn’t recognise. I could also ask it to ‘Move to end (or beginning) of Line’ and other fairly basic, but useful, commands, but I had heard that Dragon 15 apparently no longer offers this functionality. Unless you upgrade to the much more expensive Professional version, it only gives users basic options in so-called ‘non-compatible’ software like Trados. I’d even persevered when my version of Dragon ceased being compatible with later versions of Adobe Acrobat, which meant that every time I opened a pdf file, Dragon stopped working and could only be tempted out of its cave by rebooting the whole computer – extremely frustrating! Given that many translation requests arrive in pdf format these days, this was a not insignificant disadvantage, but I didn’t want to lose my Dragon functionality, so I persevered (cursing under my breath every time I had to reboot the computer).

However, when my computer (running Windows 8) started to play up last April as it passed its 5th birthday (are they programmed not to work much beyond 5 years, I wonder?), I realised that I was going to have to upgrade my hard drive, if not my whole computer, and that would mean moving to Windows 10. I’d steadfastly ignored the Microsoft prompts to upgrade when Windows 10 first came out, not only because I heard such horror stories from colleagues switching in the first few weeks, but also because (you’ve guessed it) my old version of Dragon wasn’t compatible with Windows 10 either. Dinosaur, moi?! No, I simply wanted to retain the functionality I had and liked…

When the old computer went off to my IT guy, ostensibly to have a new SSD drive fitted, as well as Windows 10, I reluctantly called Nuance to discuss how to upgrade Dragon, but was told you couldn’t upgrade from Home 12.5 to the latest version. They did, however, offer me a discount of just under 25%, so I ended up paying £111.99 for a new electronic download of Dragon Home 15. At no point was I told that the functionality of the new Home version was even more limited than I’d thought! In the meantime, it had turned out that there wasn’t room in my compact tower unit for another hard drive. However, the mere fact of the IT guy taking it away and taking it apart (presumably dislodging a lot of dust in the process), seemed to give my old PC a new lease of life, as it worked much better when it returned, giving it a stay of execution until November. By this time, of course, I’d bought the new Dragon version, which wouldn’t work on the old computer, so I didn’t get to try it out in earnest until I had to take the plunge at the end of last year.

Even then, all seemed good when I first installed the new Dragon. The download/installation process ran smoothly, and while I was surprised there was no option to set up a dedicated user profile or train Dragon when I first started, it seemed to be working fine when I dictated, both in Word and in Trados. As expected, I couldn’t use a lot of the Dragon commands I was used to, so had to resort to using the mouse to move to the end or start of a line or select words I wanted to edit as I typed. Not too arduous, although certainly not as convenient as before. Critically, Dragon now worked with pdf files open, so that was a huge plus!

However, I soon realised, when trying to edit a word that Dragon was persistently typing incorrectly, that I couldn’t find the Vocabulary Editor. I wanted to remove Cork (uppercase) and just leave cork (lowercase), as it was driving me mad that it persistently typed it with a capital letter. I was able to add the lowercase version under Tools/Accuracy Center/Improve recognition or word or phrase, but couldn’t delete the uppercase version altogether (apologies to my Irish colleagues, but I don’t think I’ve ever had to type Cork as a place name – and if I did, far easier to tell Dragon to ‘Cap that’ as I worked!). It was at that point that I noticed there was no option to create a US profile – not a feature I’d used much before, usually preferring to rely on a US spell check, but I did have one set up and it’s nice to know you have the option of Dragon spelling all the -ize / -or words correctly from the off, should you so wish.

champagne-cork-1350404__480

After much fiddling around and googling, I eventually sought advice from the Translators who use Speech Recognition group on Facebook, and even posted on the Knowbrainer Dragon NaturallySpeaking forum, which I’ve found very useful in the past. Gradually, it all became painfully clear: the Home version is a shadow of its former self. All the functionality it used to have has been pared away so that now it basically just recognises dictated speech – you don’t need to train it, admittedly, and it does an excellent job at recognising speech from the off, but you can no longer have more than one profile, and you can’t edit your vocabulary. Indeed to quote one respondent on the Knowbrainer forum: “The Open Vocabulary Editor menu is under the Dragon bar Vocabulary menu, unless you made the crucial mistake of purchasing the Home Edition from Nuance. The Home Edition is simply a Dragon sampler and not an upgrade…. The fact that you use Trados means that you are clearly a professional who should not be trying to save money on work tools. The Home Edition is equivalent to a mechanic attempting to do his job with an adjustable wrench. If you purchased the Home Edition less than 30 days ago, our 1st recommendation would be to contact Nuance for a refund. Our 2nd recommendation would be to purchase from a reseller who actually uses Dragon and wouldn’t let you make this kind of mistake. Dragon professional resellers (not the box pushers) do not even offer the Home Edition. From our point of view, this would be unethical.” Comments, Nuance?!

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Considering that I had in fact bought Dragon via a telephone call to Nuance after explaining my issue and the fact that I’d used Dragon for over 10 years, I feel that I was missold the Home version – why wasn’t I informed at the time of purchase that the latest version was a retrograde step and had far fewer features than previous versions? What kind of software manufacturer produces upgrades that offer less than the existing versions and expects people to pay good money for them?! When I called Nuance to complain, I was told there was nothing that could be done as I’d bought the product over 30 days ago, even though I had only started using it a few weeks earlier when I bought my new computer with the correct Windows edition. The version they should have sold me is Professional Individual, which retails at £349.99 – a price I probably would have paid had I known about the shortcomings of the Home version. Indeed, I see there is an offer on at the moment for an upgrade to Professional for £169.99, but I actually feel so aggrieved that I wasted the money on Home that I’m resisting on the grounds that I was seriously missold!

I’m still using Dragon (couldn’t not after all these years!) and it does still work, even without the fine-tuning I was accustomed to. You can get around persistent recognition problems by adding workarounds to your vocabulary: for my Cork problem, I trained it to type “lowercase cork” as cork, for example, but newer users might not be aware than you can do this.

In the meantime, I feel other Dragon users should be aware of this backward development, hence my open letter. Shabby customer service from Nuance, no apologies or even interest when I phoned to explain my predicament. Shame on you, Dragon – what price progress when it takes the form of a retrograde step?

Yours sincerely,

Claire