Desktop wizardry

Launch programs verbally with this fun desktop addition.

The Windows Start menu definitely isn't the easiest way to access particular programs or folders, but many people don't want to clutter their desktops with shortcuts, either. MerlinStart is a fun alternative that can open many commonly used applications and folders using voice commands. Although we wish it were customizable, it's still a pretty useful--if slightly goofy--tool to have around.

MerlinStart employs Microsoft Agent technology, which supports speech recognition and text-to-speech functions in the guise of animated characters. In this case the character is Merlin, a cute and friendly-looking wizard. MerlinStart can open 20 different applications and directories using voice recognition; speak the word "documents" and My Documents will open, or say "Mozilla" and Firefox will be launched. The program can also open Notepad, Google Chrome, picture and music directories, and more, as well as copy and paste text. Three custom text fields let users save text and paste it automatically. We had no trouble getting MerlinStart to recognize our voice commands, and its reactions were incredibly fast. We do wish that the program allowed users to enter their own custom commands; although MerlinStart comes with some pretty popular commands built in, customization is always a nice option. MerlinStart also lacks a Help file, which wasn't a huge problem, but it could be useful for people who don't have experience with this kind of software. Overall, we think that MerlinStart is an amusing and time-saving addition to our desktop, and we recommend it.

MerlinStart comes as a ZIP file but installs and uninstalls cleanly.

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