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Plain Talk on the Internet

Interested in interfacing with the Web using sound? Two browser plug-ins, ListenUp and Talker, enable you to do just that. I've used both plug-ins without crashes in both Netscape Navigator 2 and Internet Explorer 2 on my Power Macintosh 7100. Both plug-ins require that you install PlainTalk, Apple's speech recognition technology, which comes with Apple's System 7.5 and can also be downloaded from various online venues.

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Written by Bill Noon, ListenUp 1.41 enables you to follow links by speaking their names. There are a few catches: you must have a Power Mac equipped with a PlainTalk microphone, run System 7.5 or newer, and be following a link on a Web page specially coded to work with ListenUp. In addition, you must be lucky enough to have voice recognition usually work for you; I've only had moderate success in this department. Web authors who wish to support ListenUp must include a short bit of additional HTML on their pages (for those in the know, that short bit is an <EMBED> tag), and they must also place on their Web servers a text file that associates link text with URLs.


In contrast to ListenUp, which helps Web browsers listen, Talker 2.0 makes Web browsers talk. The free plug-in from MVP Solutions lets you hear the text displayed on Web page. A Talker-enabled Web page displays onscreen in the normal, visual fashion, but your Mac automatically speaks the words on the page. Web authors can even set up pages such that different bits of text are spoken, or even sung, in different voices. To use Talker, you must have the English Text-to-Speech component of PlainTalk installed. The Talker Read Me file helpfully discusses how to tell if you have the right software installed, and what to do if you don't.

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TidBITS doesn't currently support ListenUp- or Talker-savvy HTML, but I wouldn't rule it out for future issues. However, instead of HTML authors adding special HTML tags to enable their pages for speech, it would be nice to see more browsers support speech. For instance, NCSA Mosaic 3.0b2 can speak the contents of pages without requiring special HTML. A sufficiently savvy browser might even have mannerisms like emphasizing text in <EM> tags or letting you configure what voices speak when your Macintosh reads differently tagged text. For instance, you might assign headings a more authoritative voice than regular body text.

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One TidBITS reader already uses PlainTalk and his PowerBook during his daily commute in order to keep up with TidBITS and other online periodicals. He's not a Mosaic user, so it takes some setting up on his part, but apparently the time it takes to drive from his home in Redmond to his office in downtown Seattle is just long enough to listen to a complete TidBITS issue.

Disabled-Talk -- If your interest in interfacing with the Web via sound has less to do with novelty and more with necessity, or if you are generally interested in additional methods of interacting with and using a Macintosh, you might wish to join the new Disabled-Talk mailing list. The list's charter calls for discussions to center on Mac-related techniques and technologies that make life easier for people having disabilities or handicaps. Such discussions might include information about using sound to interface with a Macintosh, screen magnification, and using a Mac to automate a variety of tasks, such as turning on lights.



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