Opera gives voice to Web browser

Opera Software ASA will include voice capabilities in its updated browser software, using IBM Corp.'s embedded ViaVoice technology, it said Tuesday.

The upgraded browser, which will continue to be offered at no cost, will be available later this year, Opera in Oslo, Norway, said. Initially, it will offer support for ViaVoice in English only, but other languages may be developed in due course, Opera Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jon von Tetzchner said.

Voice capabilities could well become the preferred way of interacting with a computer, according to von Tetzchner. While it is obviously useful for people with disabilities, it will also be popular with many other users who prefer voice to using a keyboard and mouse, he said.

For the voice technology to work well, a Web page has to be created using X+V (XHTML+V, or Extensible Hypertext Markup Language and Voice), a standard for browsers in small and mobile devices backed by Opera, IBM and Motorola Inc. The X+V standard has been developed by the VoiceXML Forum, which received recommendation status from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) last week for its VoiceXML version 2.0 software standard.

The X+V standard competes with the SALT (Speech Application Language Tags) standard being pushed by Microsoft Corp., von Tetzchner said. SALT is used in Microsoft's Speech Server products, due to launch this week.

Asked whether X+V will gain support from developers who mainly design pages for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, by far the dominant browser software, von Tetzchner said he is confident that "we can drive things too."

"We get feedback from people saying they think (the voice-enabled browser) is great, and it's just another feature that sets Opera apart," he said. Eventually, von Tetzchner expects embedded voice to be used in devices such as in-car technology and cell phones.

One other possible use for voice is in presentations; speakers using Opera's Opera Show presentation software can simply tell the software to move to the next slide, rather than having to walk over to the keyboard and press 'Page down,' Opera said.

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Gillian Law

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