DENVER, October 12, 1998 — If you’ve used one of Microsoft’s Office products, it’s likely you’ve met one of the animated Office Assistants, too. Clippy the Paperclip, Scribbles the Cat and Robby the Robot lend a friendly face to Office resources, as they pose questions and guide users to specific information. These three characters are just one example of more natural interfaces created by developers using Microsoft Agent. Today, Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft Agent 2.0 at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference.
“People are spending more time than ever with their computers,” notes Tandy Trower, senior director of the advanced user interface design group at Microsoft. “We wanted to provide a foundation of more natural ways for people to communicate with their computers.”
Microsoft Agent provides more than just powerful technology behind the animated characters in Windows software, it also helps developers add creative interfaces that leverage natural human communication such as gestures and speech. Agent is based on COM and ActiveX technology. As a result, Agent enables developers of Web sites or conventional applications based on the Windows platform to easily include support for interactive tools.
Using any language that supports Active X technologies, developers can create their own unique animated characters or use current characters. Microsoft Agent 2.0 includes a new member of the gang – Peedy the Parrot, who is featured in Microsoft’s new advertising campaign.
Another exciting, and more significant, improvement is Agent’s optional support for speech input and output. Based on the Microsoft Speech API, Agent can be used with speech engines from other vendors. Several vendors have already announced support, including IBM Corp., Fujitsu, Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products N.V., Lucent Technologies Inc. and Elan Informatique.
Other Microsoft Agent 2.0 improvements include a smaller footprint, more support for character animation (including better sound effects), better integration with an application’s interface, and increased support for international users. In addition to Agent being free, its distribution license is royalty-free, allowing developers to deploy Agent at no additional charge.
Agent 2.0 technology will be included in future programs such as Microsoft Office 2000, Microsoft Personal Tutor and the Windows 98 Update site. Agent 1.5 has been well received by the development community, with more than 500,000 copies downloaded through the Microsoft Developer Web site and Windows operating system Update service. Microsoft Agent 2.0 is now available for free download (connect-time charges may apply) at http://www.microsoft.com/msagent/ .