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Germany

Breaking the Silence on the Web

Except for audio-on-demand and sound-enhanced flash files, the internet is a silent medium. Webpages are meant to be seen and not heard. But that could change in the future when your favorite site starts talking to you.

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Let your computer do the talking in an internet cafe

Until now programs that could turn hyper text into talking language represented only a tiny fraction of browser software capabilities. They were designed primarily as computer aids for the blind and visually-impaired. And for the mass market, such special programs were too expensive. The IBM browser, one of the market’s leaders, cost around $149.

In the open spirit of the internet and free competition, several small websites have begun offering free software for talking websites. The freeware can be easily downloaded from the websites and applied to nearly any webpage for reading aloud. The WebFormator from Frank AudioData bills itself as the "new generation of PC-access-technology" and offers a web reader in six languages from German and English to Dutch and Swedish.

The Logox WebSpeech Reader from G-Data offers internet users the possibility to download up to four different voices and singing. With the oral avatars Bill and Johanna, the surfer also gets the choice between male and female voices and even dialects. Unfortunately the freeware is only suited for the German language.

The goal of the text-to-speech synthesizes, as the software is called, is to increase web access and to explore the various possibilities of the sound-text interface. The programs are designed to read and interpret the full range of web content so that the user can hear text, frames, images, links, tables, and even Java Script.

Despite all the claims to "human-voice" quality, the programs still sound mechanical. But for anyone who ever dreamed of the speaking computers in Star Trek, the talking web sites are a leap into the future.

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