ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

An overview of voice recognition software for Linux, its benefits and shortcomings and its cloudy future.

Conversing with a computer has long been a staple of science fiction. Such conversations are still largely in the realm of fiction, but voice recognition technology has improved significantly over the last decade. A number of voice recognition and control products are available on various platforms. Many people don't realize, however, that it is possible to control the Linux desktop by voice, and it has been possible for some time.

Voice control can provide computer access for those with overuse syndromes or other arm injuries--users who in the past had to switch platforms to find voice support. Aside from the geek factor, ordinary users can benefit from reduced arm stress and improved ease-of-use and speed for some tasks. Although the future of the software discussed in this article is somewhat in question--and does not give a completely hands-free environment--it does work. All that is required is a modest investment of time and money.

Voice control on Linux is possible by using two software packages. IBM ViaVoice for Linux supplies the basic voice recognition engine. XVoice, available under the GPL, uses the ViaVoice libraries to provide control of the desktop and applications.

IBM offers ViaVoice for Linux (for US English) in the United States and Canada. It is available for around $40, plus shipping, and includes a headset. It also can be downloaded from the IBM web site for a small discount. A slightly newer version of ViaVoice also is available as part of the Mandrake 8.0 PowerPack and ProSuite editions. The Mandrake ViaVoice apparently offers language support for both British and American English, French and German. Mandrake versions later than 8., however, no longer include ViaVoice. This article focuses solely on installing and using the version available from IBM.

Installing ViaVoice

ViaVoice for Linux requires a 233MHz Pentium MMX or better, with at least 128MB of RAM and a 16-bit sound card. It was designed to install on Red Hat 6.2, but I am using it successfully on Red Hat 7.3. Others also have had success installing it on non-Red Hat systems. Be prepared to experience some installation problems, though.

The first step is to install a Java Runtime Environment. ViaVoice was tested with JRE-1.2.2 revision RC4 from Using this exact revision will avoid incompatibilities with a different JRE.

After the JRE is installed, mount the CD and run vvsetup in the CD root directory as root. Once installed, run vvstartuserguru as yourself to set up as a ViaVoice user, configure the right audio levels and begin training ViaVoice for your voice. I could not get myself installed as a user until I deleted the /viavoice directory in my home directory (created during installation). I then had to rerun the user guru. This move fixed the problem, but it's rather disappointing that the installation script is so frail. Judging by the accounts of other people trying to install ViaVoice, I had an easy installation.

Training ViaVoice

A base installation of ViaVoice, like other voice recognition software, does not provide great accuracy at first. Each user must train ViaVoice to better recognize his or her own idiosyncratic voice.

One training method is to read back text that ViaVoice displays in the user guru. This process is fairly easy to do, but it may not reflect the type of words and phrases that you tend to use a lot, making it less effective.

A better alternative is to use the ViaVoice Dictation Java application when working on actual documents. As you dictate, some words or phrases are recognized incorrectly. When this occurs, you use the correction facilities within Dictation to correct the errors. ViaVoice then tunes its voice models to better fit your voice. This method is more labor-intensive, but usually these corrections can be done with voice commands. A word of warning: save your work often, as Dictation is prone to crash.

An industry consultant told me that with 10 to 60 hours of training, current voice recognition technology should reach 98% accuracy. I have lost track of how much time I've spent on training, but my accuracy is only about 92-95% on arbitrary text. This may be because ViaVoice for Linux is much older than the Mac and Windows versions, or it could be for any number of other reasons. Fortunately, spoken commands are much more accurately recognized because there are fewer valid possibilities to match.

Even with only a couple of hours of training, you should notice improved accuracy. One thing I found is I needed to be more careful with my pronunciation. Bad microphones or background noise also can cause accuracy problems.



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IBM ViaVoice

Anonymous's picture

I bought ViaVoice from IBM for about $40 in the Spring of 2002. It was the worst install I ever seen! if it wasn't for internet posts I would have never gotten it working. I doesn't come with the needed black down java. You need an older version because thats all its been tested with.

No manual, just a CDROM, headset and a folder sheet of paper called instructions. I had it running on SuSE 7.2, but after installing Jbuilder it broke and I never used it much anyway. Atleast you get a headset. The audio levels are very very low. I bought the headset for OS/2 many years ago and voice type dictation (pausing in betwen words) was more impressive on my old P90 compared to ViaVoice on my Athlon 1900mhz system! The joy of Java intrepretted code! When CPUs get faster maybe thell come out with a GWBASIC version! Anyway, this product is love / hate. The continious speech works nicely, but the error rates are high one error in about 10-20 works. 95% sounds good but thats one wrong word in every 20. Atleast the words are all spelled correctly.

The gui is sluggish and pretty basic. I expected more from IBM. I seen better 0.x open source projects!

--Ed March

Re: IBM ViaVoice Vs other products

Anonymous's picture

Voice recognition has greatly improved. I have ViaVoice
for os X and WinXP and think it is great but could be
much better.

How does the CMU or other offerings compare with
these two well known standards?

I appreciate knowing that the ViaVoice for Linux isn't
worth loading. Maybe that is why IBM fired all the
linux developers and took the nix offering off their

Link to IBM purchase page

tjmather's picture

Here's the link to purchase the IBM Viavoice for Linux.

Also, there is a new xvoice-sphinx project.

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

IBM took the Linux page off its web server, but if you want to buy it you can still order it over the phone at IBM Direct:


Also, if you are concerned about the future of Linux voice recognition, get involved.

Join a mailing list and keep up to date.

Harass IBM. Current law REQUIRES that businesses make reasonable accomodation for disabled employees, and VR software will soon be a mandatory offering of each business. It will not be possible for them to make inroads in the office desktop market without it.

sphinxTrain :(

Anonymous's picture

I am working on a project which is using sphinx II as speech recognition. But I am too stupid to understand the its training produre (although I have read its documentation over and over again) so if anyone who know how to train sphinx II using sphinxTrain please email me at

Please clarify me how the work go on step by step and how to set up things for it (the more detailed the better)

I know this will take a lot of your time but...PLEASE HELP ME. I WOULD HIGHLY APPRECIATE.

Thank in advance.

ViaVoice for Linux is still available!

Anonymous's picture

According to IBM, ViaVoice for Linux is available over the phone at 800-426-2255. For some reason they have removed it from their web store. If you're tempted to try out serious voice recognition on Linux, I suggest you purchase a copy and let IBM know that there is a market for the Linux version.

No thanks, I'm sticking with

Anonymous's picture

No thanks, I'm sticking with the idea of open source on linux, and padding IBMs pocket isn't appealing to me. Maybe sphynx will work out, or i'll just keep typing.

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

What about CMU Sphinx?

nobody ever seems to realize that there IS an open-source continuous flow speech recognition engine out there.

actually there is two

CMU Sphinx-II, which deals with limited domain speech, and

CMU Sphinx-III, which deals with unlimited domain speech for dictation purposes.

google for them.

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

In March they pulled without comment the ViaVoice Linux SDK, which XVoice needs to compile.

So, like, then what's the point of this article? "There's this cool technology but it's no longer available and old versions are no longer supported" is hardly a tutorial or "that it is possible to control the Linux desktop by voice, and it has been possible for some time" -- this is just Linux propaganda: The correct statement is that it was almost available under linux, but the vendor lost interest before the product was viable. For what its worth, numerous postings to the IBM ViaVoice list have pleaded for a contact address where we can purchase this mythical $40 Linux kit; if the author knows something the IBM engineers don't about where to get this, please post it -- that would be information worth publishing!

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

If you download the XVoice RPM, you don't need the SDK. (You will need ViaVoice of course.) I have been using this set up for 8 months. With more users or more interest, IBM may have continued to support ViaVoice on Linux. It appears that the article came out just after they pulled ViaVoice for Linux. Bad timing.

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

Not just propaganda. Check out cvoicecontrol:

It converts spoken words to commands to be executed. It's a little dated and not maintained anymore, but it's available and I've found it work nicely.

ViaVoice/XVoice isn't the only piece of software capable of controlling the computer by voice.

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture


How easy is it to use the CVoiceControl with standard Soundblaster and pentium III 450 MHz CPU?Could it recognize the word "One" and execute the command "ls"?

IBM Does Support Linux

Anonymous's picture

IBM Linux Portal

But IBM is not a charity with unlimited funds able to afford to

keep every product going forever, even if no one buys it.

Clearly people are buying Win and Mac versions of ViaVoice.

I guess not enough people were willing to pay actual money

for ViaVoice for Linux.

Re: IBM Does Support Linux

Anonymous's picture

comon now... open source demagogy is not about "charity" it's about developement and that's why IBM should provide the SDK version at least. They ARE a megacorp but they risk getting worse...

Well done IBM! May bancrupcy hit your stands!

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

xtifr's picture

At a recent Linux tradeshow, IBM was demoing some products using ViaVoice, and they had a few copies of ViaVoice they were giving away in drawings. I asked if they had any copies for sale, and they said no. So I asked if they had any literature or sales brochures, and they said no. I asked if there was any way to get more information, and nobody in the booth knew. I walked away, bemused.

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

IBM doen't support Linux anymore, they fire all the Linux staff, and don't sold or distribute any Linux Software.

Support Linux, don't buy IBM stuff

Re: ViaVoice and XVoice: Providing Voice Recognition

Anonymous's picture

It's true. And Microsoft hired all the ex-IBM Linux people to produce Office for Linux, which will be out next month. Also, Elvis lives in my dog Buddy's dog house! Stupid elvis! I kick him out, but he keep moving in!

ViaVoice for Linux no more

Anonymous's picture

I started to play with ViaVoice a few times. I sure don't mind paying for software, but I hate the thought of depending on proprietary stuff for anything important. It could go *poof* at any time. Looks like that time has come for ViaVoice for Linux.

I'd like to get some *simple* voice recognition for a limited (aviation) vocabulary.

Re: ViaVoice for Linux no more

Anonymous's picture

Try out CMU Sphinx...

You can create your own simple vocabulary pretty easy. With some of the ones I have made, it is so good at recognizing that it is scary...

Call up 1-877-268-7526 and give it a try.



No ViaVoice!

Anonymous's picture

Good article, but from what I can see IBM no longer offers any version of ViaVoice for Linux. Unless they've carefully hidden it away on their site, that is.


Anonymous's picture

So, where is possible to find the free ViaVoice rpm version for Linux? I try to find it on the net, but all the link are to the IBM's page.


Anonymous's picture