DENVER, Oct. 12, 1998 — At the Microsoft® Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft Corp. today announced the availability of Microsoft Agent 2.0, a technology that provides a foundation for more natural ways for people to communicate with their computers. Microsoft Agent 2.0 is now available for free download (connect-time charges may apply) at http://www.microsoft.com/msagent/ . Microsoft Agent is just one of the ways that Microsoft is working to simplify computing while providing a rich interactive experience.
Agent 2.0 provides developers with software services that enable them to include interactive animated characters as a part of their applications or Web pages, using any language, including HTML scripting languages, that supports ActiveX® technologies. Characters can be used to extend and enhance conventional interfaces as assistants, guides, avatars or computer opponents.
“Human communication occurs at very high bandwidth, including social cues such as gestures, facial expressions and intonation,”
said Tandy Trower, senior director of the advanced user interface design group at Microsoft.
“By placing an interactive visible personality on the screen, we both broaden and humanize the interaction between users and their computers.”
While there is increasing research on the internal technology that drives software agents, Microsoft Agent focuses on how humans interact with agents. Optional support for speech input and output enables developers to create interfaces that can leverage natural aspects of human communication, in addition to conventional mouse and keyboard interfaces.
“Research in the area of speech and natural language interfaces consistently demonstrates that these technologies work more effectively when used with interactive characters because characters can provide more natural forms of feedback,”
Major speech-technology vendors around the world have announced plans to provide compatible speech engines for the new version of Microsoft Agent. They include Dragon Systems Inc., Elan Informatique, Fujitsu Ltd., IBM Corp., Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products NV, Lucent Technologies Inc., NEC Corp., Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., and Toshiba Corp., as well as Microsoft’s own speech technology group.
Corporate and independent developers are incorporating Microsoft Agent into a variety of internal and commercial conventional and Web-based applications, including advertising and promotion, education and training, user assistance, and entertainment. Microsoft has even integrated Agent into its own upcoming Microsoft Office 2000 release, reducing the overall screen real estate of the Office Assistant and making it appear more as a natural part of the user’s environment. Agent is also being used in advanced research projects on intelligent personal agents.
Agent 2.0 features better performance, more flexible character input and output options, better integration with an application’s interface, increased support for international users, and an introduction of a fourth, new character, Peedy the parrot. Peedy has also been featured in Microsoft’s new advertising campaign.
Agent 1.5 has been received enthusiastically by members of the development community, with over 500,000 copies downloaded through the Microsoft Developer Web site and Windows® operating system Update service. In addition to Agent being free, its distribution license is royalty-free, enabling developers to deploy Agent on their Web pages or applications at no additional charge.
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