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Opera Finds Its Voice

For those tired of the carpal tunnel, tendonitis and various other stress ailments from frequent mouse clicking, help may be on the way.

Opera Software on Tuesday said it is putting the finishing touches on a voice-activated browser that uses IBM's Embedded ViaVoice speech technology to save heavy computer users from click-related repetitive stress injuries. The new browser, which a company spokesperson said would be finished later this year, will use IBM's voice libraries to help users navigate the Internet and fill in Web forms.

The Oslo, Norway-based browser software maker said new ways of accessing the Web are gaining momentum despite the reliance on traditional HTML-based Web user interfaces. Opera said "advances in the function, speed and size of both computers and mobile devices, along with today's diversity of users, has increased the demand for more flexible user interfaces."

By using XHTML+Voice (X+V), a standard for browsers in mobile devices supported by Opera, IBM, and Motorola, developers can add voice capabilities to traditional Web pages, said Opera, which made the announcement concurrently with SpeechTek 2004 in San Francisco.

For example, the company's Opera Show presentation tool can serve in some capacities as a replacement for Microsoft's popular PowerPoint application to construct presentations. In conjunction with voice-activation features, Opera Show can allow users to give presentations and tell Opera to turn to the next slide using only voice command. Such conveniences free up presenters from having to do manual functions during a presentation, which may be disruptive.

While this technology is geared to work on PC-based browsers for now, Igor Jablokov, director of embedded speech at IBM and chairman of the VoiceXML Forum, said the work will lead to voice-activated browsers on cell phones and personal digital assistants.

Meanwhile, the quest for speech-related technologies soldiers on elsewhere. Last week, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) passed the VoiceXML 2.0 specification as a standard to bring speech, touch-tone input, digitized audio and recording to the Web from any phone. The finished standard was accompanied by the Speech Recognition Grammar specification 1.0, which is the key to VoiceXML's support for speech recognition and is used to describe end-users' responses to spoken prompts.

Speaking of VoiceXML, IBM has been active in voice-related technologies of late. The Armonk, N.Y., outfit unveiled upgraded software, tools and technologies to ease speech applications into an enterprise's infrastructure at SpeechTek yesterday. The software is based on VoiceXML and feature tools built on Eclipse-based WebSphere infrastructure software.