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Make it so: Software allows your computer to respond to voice commands
By JIM BROOKS
The forever-in-reruns TV sci-fi show "Star Trek" not only showed creator Gene Rodenberry's vision of the future, but it (and later Star Trek properties) have set some tough technical standards for those who of us in the "real world."
For example, transporters sound like a great idea -- zipping your atoms from place to place without stopping for gas or waiting at a redlight. But do I really want my molecules scrambled, hoping they'll be reassembled correctly?
In a word, no.
Granted, "Treknology" is truly science fiction stuff, but there's one part of Star Trek that's gotten a bit closer to reality: the ability to give your home computer voice commands while you surf the Internet.
Voice recognition software is still being refined, but shows promise -- especially a new offering from Conversa.
Conversa Web is software that customizes a version of the Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 World Wide Web browsing software so it accepts voice commands. In short, it's a say-it-and-surf-it approach.
The voice-recognition part of the browser detects each Web page's hot links as the page is displayed on your computer screen.
If you see a hyperlink in the text, you simply say the highlighted words aloud.
The program handles graphic links and image maps (those big clickable graphics) by overlaying numbered icons to correspond with each nontext link. To "click" on an image with a voice command, you say the number next to the graphic or image map section you want to surf to.
An on-screen "voice power" meter gives you an idea if you're speaking loud enough, and an audible beep lets you know the command was understood.
You can "turn off" the voice-activation by telling the program to go to sleep (handy for carrying on a conversation with a family member in the room or talking to the kids). Another command to "wake up" prompts the program to begin listening for commands again.
You may be surprised at how much you won't need a mouse with Conversa. The software will allow you to scroll up or down, go back, even add Web sites to your Favorites list -- all by voice command. About the only typing you'll have to do is any new URL, password or information that needs to be filled out.
Conversa Web requires Windows 95 or NT, a Pentium 100 MHz or better processor, 24 Megabytes of RAM and 10 Megabytes of hard drive space -- and of course, you'll need a sound card and a microphone if you don't already have one.
Conversa Web is available for purchase via downloading online or on a CD-ROM directly from the company. The price is $29.95 online, or $39.95 for the CD-ROM. Right now it's only works with Internet Explorer 4 (a Netscape-compatible version is in the works).
For more information, visit the Web site at www.conversa.com.
MICROSOFT MACROTROUBLES. With the release of Windows 98 a few weeks away, it looks like Microsoft Corp. is facing additional antitrust action -- this time from the attorneys general of 13 states.
According to a Reuters story on Friday, several states are ready to pursue antitrust charges with or without the U.S. Department of Justice, which is still working on its own antitrust investigation.
Legal action is "imminent" in the next couple of weeks, the report said.
The reason they want to move quickly is simple: to block the release of Windows 98, due this month to computer makers and shipping to consumers in June.
While the Justice Department's focus has been the link between the Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer Web browser, the state attorneys general are also looking at Microsoft's dominance in the PC marketplace.
Nine of 10 new computers use a Microsoft operating system, the story said, and with electronic commerce becoming more common, there are concerns that Microsoft could abuse its market stronghold.
YAHOO! PAGER. If you're a regular user of the Yahoo! Internet search directory, you've noticed promotions for Yahoo! Pager.
It isn't a telephone pager that you clip on your belt, but a software pager system that offers AOL-style "Instant Messages" and real-time chat with other Pager users.
It's free to download and use and requires only that you register with Yahoo! One added benefit is if you're a user of Yahoo! free e-mail system, the Pager notifies you immediately if you have an incoming e-mail message.
Unfortunately, Yahoo! Pager isn't compatible with AOL's Instant Messenger or any of the other chat-type software packages. Pager users are only able to converse with other Yahoo! Pager users.
For more information, visit Yahoo! at www.yahoo.com.
NET PROSE CONTEST. New York University Press has a contest for folks who enjoy weaving hypertext stories.
NYU Press's first-ever hypertext fiction contest was created to "foster a new genre of creative writing working with new technology," according to Suzanne Kemperman, NYU Press's electronic publishing manager.
The winner recieves a cool $1,000 and gets their work published on NYU Press's Web site. The deadline for entries is June 1.
For more information and examples of last year's entries, visit their Web site at www.nyupress.nyu.edu/e-edit.html.
Comments and questions about this column may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.
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