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VoiceXML Web-Based Environment: Options and Tradeoffs

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Several VSPs have moved beyond simply providing voice services to also offer web-based tools in a web-based environment. Peer into the workings of the BeVocal Cafe File Management provisioning interface; run the HeyAnita FreeSpeech VoiceXML IDE; and learn the secrets of the VoiceGenie Developer Workshop.
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Several VSPs have gone beyond just providing voice services to also offer web-based tools. They include web-based environments that provide everything you need to write applications. Some even remove the need for putting your VoiceXML on a web server by hosting your VoiceXML, while also allowing you to link to a remote server if you want—for example, if you're writing server-side code, which would require you to use a hosted environment.

Web-Based Environment

For ease of installation and configuration, the web-based tools available through the developer programs of these companies are the way to go. We'll call this a web-based environment. If you select this route, you'll be faster getting into the business of developing VoiceXML than with any other approach. If you're only interested in working with VoiceXML at a high level, and not interested in the underlying technologies, you can even avoid the discussion of simulators, XML editors, and such—just join one of the developer programs, and you can be writing and testing VoiceXML code in a few minutes. Whatever approach you decide to take, visit the simulator and VSP web sites and check out what they're doing. Each vendor offers valuable tools, whether or not you decide to use its complete environment.

So why not just register for some of the web-based toolkits and be done with it? In many cases, this is the best course, but often circumstances require assembling a custom environment. If you use dialup Internet access and have a single phone line, you may not like a web-based environment. If that line also provides Internet access, you must disconnect your Internet session, dial the phone number to test your application, and then reestablish an Internet connection.

In addition to the provisioning tools used to map a telephone number to your application and run your VoiceXML code, web-based VoiceXML toolkits may include some or all of 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 stand-alone 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. With 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 end users will have, it's useful for certain debugging situations and almost essential when using a web-based toolkit via a dialup modem.

  • Support. By joining a VSP's developer 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.

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