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IBM, Opera Will Create Multimodal Browser

A week after announcing its commitment to multimodal technology -- which allows users to use multiple forms of input and output interchangeably in the same interaction -- IBM said Wednesday that it is cooperating with Opera to create a multimodal browser based on the XHTML+Voice (X+V) specification.

The browser would allow users to access Web and voice data from a personal digital assistant or Web-capable phone, said the firms, who made the announcement from the Vox 2002 conference in San Francisco. In addition to bolstering the partnership between Armonk, N.Y.'s IBM and Norway's Opera, the venture also makes use of the X+V multimodal standard the firms submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium 9W3C) in 2001. X+V takes what VoiceXML started to the next level.

Multimodal allows such communication methods and tools as voice commands or keypads to work interchangeably in the same interaction. For example, off-site workers will be able to request inventory information by voice, for instance, when they're on the factory floor and need to access information - hands-free. The requested information can then come back to them in text, or as graphics.

IBM and its pervasive computing division are banking on the notion that personal computing will shift from stationary PCs to handheld gadgets and Web-enabled communicators in the coming years.

"As we move further into the pervasive computing model, where our phones, handhelds and even cars become our gateways to information access, the ability to interact with technology in the most natural and convenient way possible will be key," said Rod Adkins, general manager of IBM's Pervasive Computing Division. According to a company release, Adkins was at the Vox 2002 conference to encourage developers to take reusable dialog components -- chunks of code that can be used to build applications to different industries -- to help propel voice and multimodal development.

Research firms, such as IDC, spur the idea of mobile computing on with their appraisals of the sector, particularly as it concerns the enterprise. While it is difficult to estimate the percentage of the high-tech market who will embrace pervasive, or wearable computing, IDC said in a recent study that the worldwide mobile and wireless professional services market will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 58.5 percent to reach just under $30.4 billion in 2006.

"The wireless industry, although not new, is still an emerging market," said Sophie Mayo, director of IDC's Wireless and eCommerce Implementation Services research. "We are far from reaching any type of maturity, taking into account how technology is constantly evolving. The major forces at work in this ecosystem are devices, carriers, system integrators, mobile middleware, applications providers, enterprises, mobile workers, and consumers. Each party is influencing the success of the other, and interdependencies are numerous."

IBM has been moving forward with its pervasive computing drive. Last week, IBM announced its multimodal toolkit for developers and the addition of multimodal capabilities to its recently announced WebSphere Everyplace Access (WEA). Built on IBM's WebSphere Voice Toolkit, the multimodal toolkit will contain a multimodal editor, in which developers can write both XHTML and VoiceXML in the same application; reusable blocks of X+V code; and a simulator to test the applications.

While it is true Opera's share of the market pales in comparison to Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator, many firms prefer Opera because its is generally faster, smaller and more standards-compliant than other browsers. Opera is available on Windows, Mac, Linux/Solaris, Symbian OS and QNX.

The beta version of the Opera/IBM browser will be released this fall.