February 22, 2019

Giving Voice to Linux with ViaVoice - page 6

Open the Pod Bay Door Please, HAL

  • December 26, 2000
  • By Scott Courtney
Poor HAL. When David Bowman started pulling his memory modules out, he started fading into oblivion. ViaVoice shares HAL's passion for memory use, and may even exceed it. Starting the dictation application on my system caused it to spawn around 14 Java processes and one "engine" process. The Java processes guzzled 28 megabytes of virtual memory each, though about 5.6 megabytes of each instance appear to be shared by all of them. The engine required 27 megabytes of memory, of which about 17 megabytes were shared. Oddly enough, CPU usage was not very high except during the enrollment process. My 'top' display showed only around 20 percent CPU usage during dictation, though I'm sure there were much higher instantaneous peaks.

IBM says ViaVoice needs a Pentium 233 as a minimum CPU, but I would recommend my 400 MHz configuration as a reasonable starting point. I have 128 megabytes of RAM, which is enough to run reasonably well. ViaVoice consumes a lot of virtual memory, but it doesn't seem to mind if quite a bit of that is swapped. I never had problems with its performance unless I tried to switch from ViaVoice to something else (like Netscape), in which case the swap disk chugged away for several seconds.

Resource use wasn't the only problem, though. When I commanded the software to 'begin read', in other words, to replay my text as synthesized speech, it spoke a few words in a phoneme-based voice reminiscent of the General Instruments chipsets used in the 1980s. Then it hung the application, requiring a manual 'kill -9' on each of those Java processes and on the engine.

That was the only serious error I encountered, but there were a number of minor annoyances. If you use the verbal commands to delete paragraphs, for instance, you are left with a diacritical 'y' character with a single dot above. Why this character appears in place of the deleted text is a mystery, but it can easily be deleted using the backspace key ("A keyboard...how quaint"). There was some general strangeness to cursor behavior in the main text field, too. Text selection and cut-and-paste operations worked, but weren't exactly the same as in other Linux applications. This probably has more to do with the Java runtime's widget library ("Swing" in Sun's parlance) than with ViaVoice itself, and in any case it is not a show-stopper. The console from which the application was run also displayed repeated, short lines of garbage characters as I used the program. Finally, ViaVoice didn't get along well with the screen/window grabber from xv. I made it work, but there were some cases where ViaVoice windows would minimize or lose their content when the xv grabber was activated. In fairness, I must restate that I was running a newer version of the Java runtime than what IBM officially supports, so more conservative users might not experience these problems.

Installation, once I cleared up the problems with my own sound configuration, was basically smooth and required only the ability to follow IBM's instructions. One thing that I would add, though, is a choice of installation directories. At the very least, the installation script should tell you where it put things. This is a pretty big piece of software and knowing which filesystem will contain it is important to the system administrator. Being able to control which filesystem will contain it would be even better.

Overall, I found the code to be stable enough for daily use but not quite bug-free yet. I'm sure most or all of these issues will be addressed with service patches. IBM has, in my experience, done a pretty good job of releasing patches to squash bugs.

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