Review: HeyAnita FreeSpeech Developer Network

Monday Sep 9th 2002 by Hitesh Seth
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In this review, we'll look at the FreeSpeech Developer Network, a hosted VoiceXML developer community which allows developers to develop and test VoiceXML-based applications through a combination of a browser-based interface and a normal phone.

VoiceXML Version Support

The FreeSpeech Developer Network supports VoiceXML 1.0-based applicationdevelopment. The hosted development platform, however, does provide extensivesupport for XML-based grammars. As we will see later, the key highlights of theenvironment is its extensive set of grammar development and testing tools.

First looks - VoiceXML IDE

Similar to other hosted development tools, the FreeSpeech Developer Networkprovides basic mechanisms to rapidly develop and test VoiceXML applications. Thecore VoiceXML IDE part of the environment includes three tools: RapidApp, which allows you to create a VoiceXML application using a scratchpad; URLApp, which allows you to link an externally hosted VoiceXML Application (using your own web/application server); and FileApp, which allows developers to upload up to 2MB of VoiceXML, grammar and promptfiles. The FileApp component is particularly interesting, as it allows multipleVoiceXML documents to be uploaded and any one of them can be set as the startdocument; typically one would use that start document as an introduction tothe application and/or get login/user information. 

Common to the three components is the built-in syntax checking, autoformatting of VoiceXML content and a debug log of the currently executingapplication. The three components of the IDE are illustrated in thesescreenshots (click on a thumbnail to see an enlarged version.) 

  
RapidApp URLApp FileApp

Grammar IDE and Parser

Similar to the RapidApp, the Grammar IDE allows developers to create andrapidly test XML-based grammars. Whereas the Grammar IDE includes a tool tovalidate the basic syntax, the grammar parser allows the developer to test thegrammar by entering test utterances. 

Grammar IDE Grammar Parser

Grammar Wizard

Complimentary to the other grammar tools (IDE/parser) is the Grammar Wizard.The Grammar Wizard is simple yet useful tool that provides an easy mechanism for developers to generate simple grammars for their prototype VoiceXMLapplications. A usage scenario of the tool is shown in the screenshots below(click the thumbnails to enlarge the image). A feature of the tool is that italso optionally generates a JSGF (Java Speech Grammar Format) version of theXML-based VoiceXML grammar as well.

"Call your Application"

Once you have developed a simple scratchpad-based RapidApp, or linked yourremote VoiceXML Application (or uploaded a VoiceXML file) you are ready to callyour application by dialing (866) 44-Anita (442-6482). A typical dialog of calling your application is something like the following: (Note: When you register on the FreeSpeech Developer Network, you are prompted to provide a 10 digit Developer ID. A nice feature of the application is that if you use your 10 digit phone number as yourdeveloper ID, then you will not be prompted to enter it when you call thetoll-free number to test your application).

  • User: Dials (866) 442-6482.
  • FreeSpeech Developer Network: Enter your pin.
  • User: enters the pin.
  • FreeSpeech Developer Network: Choose from the following menu options. Press 1 or say Rapid App...
  • User: presses 1
  • FreeSpeech Developer Network: Here you go
  • Hello World... (your application executes).

Conclusion

Apart from the VoiceXML IDE, Grammar IDE and the Grammar Wizard, the core toolsthat form the development environment, the FreeSpeech Developer Networkincludes documentation on developing VoiceXML applications, grammars and a smallVoiceXML/grammar code library which can be used by the developers.

HeyAnita was one of the early adopters of XML-based grammars for VoiceXMLapplications. The integrated set of grammar tools is the definitely the keyhighlight of the environment. From a feature enhancements perspective, I wouldsuggest support for VoiceXML 2.0 and enriched debugging/tracing tools. 

Interestingly, HeyAnita recently announcedtheir support of the Speech Application Language Tags through their FreeSpeechSALT browser. It wasn't clear from the press release if the same support will beavailable in the FreeSpeech Developer Network but if it is, it would definitelybe a welcome addition.

Resources

About Hitesh Seth

A freelance author and known speaker, Hitesh is a columnist on VoiceXML technology in XML Journal and regularly writes for other technology publications including Java Developers Journal, Web Services Journal and The Computer Bulletin on emerging technology topics such as J2EE, Microsoft .NET, XML, Wireless Computing, Speech Applications, Web Services & Enterprise/B2B Integration. He is theconference chair for VoiceXMLPlanet Conference & Expo. Hitesh received his Bachelors Degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK), India. Feel free to email any comments or suggestions about the articles featured in this column at hks@hiteshseth.com.

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