REDMOND, Wash., June 18, 1997 — With today’s release of Microsoft® Agent beta 2.0 software, developers now have access to simple, easy-to-program technology that supports highly animated, interactive software characters as the next generation in application interfaces.
Microsoft Agent software gives people a richer, more natural way to interact with their computers, through interactive character interfaces for ActiveX
technologies-based applications on the desktop and across the Internet. These conversational or social interfaces are more appealing, approachable and intuitive because they’re based on the ways people naturally speak and interact socially.
The new beta software is available now for free to developers (connect-time charges may apply) from Microsoft’s Site Developers Workshop at http://msdn.microsoft.com/workshop/prog/agent/
“Interactive software agents and speech recognition are crucial new technologies that will help provide people with a more natural interface for software,” said Paul Maritz, group vice president, platforms and applications at Microsoft. “This release of Agent has been optimized for the Web and gives developers unprecedented functionality in building the most interactive and easy-to-use applications.”
Microsoft Agent character interfaces enhance, rather than replace, existing application interfaces. They can be used in a variety of ways: as part of help systems, or to provide interactive guides, shopping assistants or the front end for search engines. The characters can lip sync to spoken output, providing a highly lifelike and entertaining form of interaction.
In addition to animation services and speech recognition, the new technology supports conventional input through the keyboard and mouse. A cast of sample characters comes with a library of gestures and animations that can be easily downloaded to users’ machines. In addition to the Genie, developers now can choose Merlin the Wizard or Robby the Robot, or developers can compile their own characters to meet site- or application-specific needs using the new Microsoft Agent Character Editor. Because Microsoft Agent interfaces are based on ActiveX, they can be used with HTML Web pages and applications written in any language that supports ActiveX, including C++, Java
The new beta 2.0 version adds these benefits for developers:
Smaller download footprint makes it faster and easier to use on the Web. Newly rewritten core animation services reduce the size of the server and control components. Animations, as well as speech recognition and output engines, can be downloaded as needed.
Richer, more powerful API support provides click-and-drag events, lets developers show or hide their characters, and provides better synchronization of animation and speech output.
Multiple character support lets applications display several characters at once, so each client application can have its own character and characters can be synchronized to respond to each other as well as to the user.
Microsoft Agent beta 2.0 requires a Pentium 100 MHz computer with 16 MB of RAM, running the Windows® 95 or Windows NT® 4.0 operating system, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0. A Windows-compatible sound card, speakers and microphone are recommended.
The beta software includes Microsoft Whisper C & C Speech Recognition Engine and a special version of the Centigram Communication TruVoice Text-To-Speech Engine. The technology can also be used with other compatible engines that comply with the Microsoft Speech API.
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