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Web-Based Environment

The last type of development environment we will describe is Web-based. Web-based tools and sites are a little difficult to describe, kind of like an online Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

This kind of environment is especially interesting to us as new VoiceXML developers due to its ease of installation, minimal configuration, and, for now anyway, low cost (in most cases free with registration in an online developers' community).

Though we will discuss some of the basics of using these tools, they are remote and likely to change. The only official versions are on the Web, and changes are difficult to predict.

For ease of setting up and price, Web-based tools are hard to beat. If you select this route, you will be faster getting into the business of developing VoiceXML than any other approach—just register for one of the developer programs, and you will be writing and running VoiceXML in a few minutes.

In addition to the provisioning tools we used to map a telephone number to our application and run our VoiceXML code earlier in this chapter, Web-based VoiceXML toolkits may include some or all the following tools:

  • Code validator—This tool checks the syntax of your VoiceXML code and reports errors. This may be part of a larger text editor or may be a standalone tool you paste your code into for a quick check.

  • Log viewer—Lets you examine the log that results from your code being run on the VSP's VoiceXML gateway. The log contains detailed information about your application, including errors, variable evaluation, program control flow, HTTP header data, speech recognition status, and others. Logs may be viewed dynamically as an application runs or stored and retrieved from previous application runs.

  • Text interface—Provides a text interface in place of the actual voice interface. Using a text interface, when your application prompts you for information, you can enter your input at the keyboard. Though this is far removed from the experience your actual users will have, it is useful for certain debugging situations and almost essential when using a Web-based toolkit via a dialup modem.

  • Support—By joining a VSP's developers program, you can use its technical support, including documentation about how to use the toolkit itself. In addition, standard information such as the VoiceXML specification is often provided in better organized formats than a single, large PDF document. Most important are documents that describe in detail what VoiceXML elements and attributes are supported, which audio formats the VSP prefers, programmer FAQs, newsgroups, tutorials, and other useful information.

The next section of this chapter examines some of the features of different Web-based toolkits available. We will look at some of the sites we are already familiar with for their work as VSPs. These Web-based development environments include a variety of tools, but there are some common ones that we will discuss before looking at each VSP's environment individually.

BeVocal Café

You can find BeVocal Café at (cafe.bevocal.com). Its File Management provisioning interface, shown earlier in the chapter, also supports uploading your application to its Web server in addition to linking to your application URL as we did.

Additionally, Café has a code validator called VoiceXML Checker, log viewer called Log Browser, text interface called Vocal Scripter, and support. You select individual tools from the navigation menu on the left side of the screen; the tool itself is in the main frame.

Café's code validator, VoiceXML Checker, is quick and reports line number of errors.

The log viewer, Log Browser, reports trace messages from a number of sources, including

  • General flow trace
  • Custom message
  • Event trace
  • Parser
  • Field fill trace
  • Platform
  • Variables trace
  • Recognition info
  • Error message
  • HTTP header info

The log color codes trace messages according to the previous categories for easy scanning of the log during debugging. You can filter log entries by selecting the types of trace messages you want to see and deselecting ones in which you are uninterested.

Café's text interface is called Vocal Scripter. Besides just letting you interact with your applications using a text interface, Vocal Scripter has an interesting feature that lets you work in "bulk" mode, supplying a file that includes multiple responses to your application's prompts for a given scenario. This is a great feature for regression testing and takes some of the monotony out of other kinds testing as well.

In addition to the sorts of tools already discussed, BeVocal provides a Port Estimator for determining the number of ports needed to support your application. You tell the estimator how your application will be used, such as call arrival rate and call duration, and the estimator tells you how many callers would be turned away for a range of port numbers.

Café includes good support, including documentation, newsgroups, a FAQ, links, and release notes.

HeyAnita FreeSpeech

Earlier we described how to use HeyAnita's FreeSpeech VoiceXML IDE (available from freespeech.heyanita.com) to link to your application's URL and run your VoiceXML code.

The IDE also supports a RapidApp method of coding, where you enter your code into the text screen, and the code is stored on HeyAnita's Web server (see Figure 3.7). Enter code in the screen and click the Update button, and you can test your code immediately. This is helpful for learning and trying one-document applications.

You can also upload multipage documents to HeyAnita's servers by using the FileApp tab. This lets you upload all your VoiceXML and supporting files, such as recorded audio and grammars, rather than hosting the files on your own Web server.

Figure 3.7 After logging in, HeyAnita's FreeSpeech displays the VoiceXML IDE defaulting to the RapidApp tab.

HeyAnita's code validator is integrated in all the places where you can direct the gateway _to VoiceXML code in the VoiceXML IDE. You can run the validator by clicking the Check Syntax button when you update code in the RapidApp screen, when you select files to upload to HeyAnita servers, and when you enter your application's URL in the URLApp tab.

To access HeyAnita's log viewer, click the Debug Log button from the RapidApp, URLApp, or FileApp tab.

HeyAnita does not currently support a text interface.

In addition to the standard tools we have discussed, FreeSpeech also includes two interesting grammar tools, Grammar IDE and Grammar Wizard. The Grammar Wizard simplifies the task of writing grammars, especially when you are beginning to work with them, by taking you through a few input screens and generating a grammar. You enter the name and purpose of the grammar, and then supply the individual grammar entries. After you have created a couple and become more familiar, you may choose to create grammars in an editor more quickly.

The Grammar IDE is useful for writing grammars for larger applications. Using this tool, you can check the syntax of grammars without the overhead of your application.

Tellme Studio

Tellme Studio is available at studio.tellme.com. Besides its Application URL tab for linking to your application, Studio also has a Scratchpad (see Figure 3.8) for running one-page VoiceXML documents. Here, you can enter VoiceXML code directly into the editor, click the Update button, and immediately call Tellme to run the code.

Figure 3.8 Tellme's MyStudio opens to the Scratchpad where you can run one-page VoiceXML documents.

Studio's code validator, text interface, log viewer, and other tools are integrated into the Scratchpad and Application URL tabs. From those screens, you can invoke these tools from a row of buttons beneath the tabs. The tools accessible here are

  • Debug Log (log viewer)
  • Check Syntax (code validator)
  • Grammar Tools
  • VoiceXML Terminal (text interface)
  • Record By Phone

Tellme Studio's Debug Log presents five main types of trace messages:

  • General Flow Trace
  • Event Trace
  • Field Fill Trace
  • Variables Trace
  • Errors and custom messages

Log messages are color coded and can by filtered by type.

The code validator, whose detailed results are accessed by clicking the Check Syntax button, simply checks your code and reports errors and line numbers. The validator is invoked when you update the Scratchpad or Application URL screens.

Using the VoiceXML Terminal you can interact with your application and respond to text prompts on the terminal with text input.

In addition to standard Web-based features, Studio has Record By Phone and Grammar Tools. Record By Phone allows you to call Tellme and record a message. The audio file is then e-mailed to you attached as a file.

Grammar Tools includes several useful tools for building grammars. The Grammar Tools IDE is similar to the VoiceXML interface, with grammar-specific menu buttons for

  • Scratchpad—The default grammar tab, this screen allows you to enter a grammar in the text window and click the Check Grammar button to validate the grammar code you entered.

  • Grammar URL—Performs grammar validation on grammars located on your Web server.

  • Parse—Allows you to enter phrases and find out how they will be recognized using the last grammar you validated.

  • Generate—Displays all the phrases your last validated grammar can recognize or a random sample of recognizable phrases.

  • DTMF—Generates the DTMF sequences for a word or comma-separated list of words.

Tellme support includes reusable source code modules and documentation in addition to its Web-based IDE and standard support methods, such as a FAQ, newsgroups, and release notes. Very useful are Tellme's libraries of audio files and grammars.

VoiceGenie Developer Workshop

VoiceGenie Developer Workshop is available from developer.voicegenie.com. The welcome screen to VoiceGenie's Developer Workshop introduces the main navigation screen in the left frame (see Figure 3.9). The main frame gives high-level descriptions and links to the environment, support, and developer resources.

Earlier we described how to use the Manage Extensions screen in VoiceGenie's Developer Workshop to provision your application's URL.

Figure 3.9 VoiceGenie's Developer Workshop opens with descriptions of the major tools and resources, and the standard navigation menu.

Developer Workshop's code validator is called VoiceXML Validator. The validator does not have a text entry window; instead, you either enter the URL of the file or select a file on your PC to be validated. The validator not only checks your code but also displays your application visually in the form of a flow diagram.

The log viewer for Developer Workshop is Call Log Explorer. Using this tool, you can browse previous call logs by time and access detailed information about a particular log.

VoiceGenie takes a different approach in its text interface, GenieTracer, a text-based VoiceXML interpreter useful for developing your applications locally or offline. It accepts either an URL or local file and allows you to interact with the application both in batch and interactive modes. GenieTracer is available for download from the Developer Workshop site. This tool is currently a beta release but looks promising for those simulating their applications offline.

In addition to the expected development tools, VoiceGenie Developer Workshop offers an Audio Converter and Record By Phone. Audio Converter converts your audio files to the Dialogic Vox format supported by VoiceGenie's platform. You can record audio files by calling the Record by Phone tool, which e-mails you the final recorded file in Vox format.

Developer Workshop has a range of support and resources including sample code, tutorials, white papers, developer forums, links, and a FAQ.

Voxeo Community

Earlier we walked through the steps of provisioning an application at Voxeo using the Account Manager (available from community.voxeo.com). The Voxeo IDE does not support uploading your code to its Web servers.

Voxeo's log viewer is accessed through Logging in the Account menu. The log displays trace messages.

Voxeo Community offers no text interface.

Support and documentation are at the Voxeo Community site. Resources include tutorials, sample code, newsgroups, and a library of recorded audio files.

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