Review: Nuance V-Builder 1.2
OverviewI've been evaluating a number of VoiceXML tools over the past few months and will be sharing theresults of my research here on VoiceXML Planet. An important part of developing VoiceXML applicationsis deciding which environment and toolset to use. In this article, we're going to take a look atNuance V-Builder, version 1.2. Right now, Im grouping VoiceXML development tools into three categories:
Complete VoiceXML development environmentThis is an application that has almost all of the tools necessary to build, test and deply aVoiceXML application. This includes tools to build static VoiceXML files, dynamic VoiceXML scripts (JSP, ASP, etc.) and grammars. A complete development environment must also provide the abilityto test the application without having to deploy and test it by dialing into a VoiceXML gateway.To accomplish this, the tool must have a TTS and ASR engine as well as a VoiceXML interpreter.Testing dynamic scripts does require a Web server, such as IIS or Apache, both of which can runon a development machine.
Basic VoiceXML development environmentThis category includes tools that have VoiceXML and grammar editing/validation functionality aswell as some testing capabilities; TTS but not ASR capabilities for example. These tools make iteasier to catch common errors before copying the code to a test server, but they do not allow oneto perform all tests within the application.
VoiceXML editorThese applications provide VoiceXML and grammar editing/validation capabilities, but do not allowdevelopers to test the application within the editor.
V-Builder falls into the first category. It is truely a complete VoiceXML development environment.
InstallationV-Builder can be downloaded for free from their developer site at http://extranet.nuance.com. You will need to register as adeveloper first before you can download the tool. For me, the installation process was painless. I installed it on a fresh Windows 2000 box without having any other Nuance tools installed. The application is written in Java, but comes with a copy of the Java Runtime Environment, so the installation should be easy enough for anyone that has experience installing Windows software (by hitting the Next > button).
The hardware requirements are fairly high, which is understandable considering the fact that thetool basically provides you with a desktop VoiceXML gateway complete with a TTS, ASR, and VoiceXML interpreter.Because of this, you will not be able to use it effectively with anything less that 256MB of RAM. Iran my tests on a 1GHz PIII processor with 256MB of RAM. If you will also be running an application and/or Web server for dynamic scripting, you will probably want 512MB to prevent the machine from swappingmemory to disk, which renders V-Builder unusable for testing purposes. V-Builder will run well with aslittle as 128MB of RAM if it's only used to develop, but not test, applications.
Once V-Builder is installed, there are a number of additional packages that need to be installed, including one or more language packs. Fortunately, Nuance provides built-in support for over 30 languages and dialects, so chances are, your target language will be supported inV-Builder. You will also want to install Nuance SpeechObjects and the sample grammars and VoiceXML applications that will help get you started.
One of the highlights of V-Builder is the ability to automatically download and install packagesfrom within the tool with the AutoUpdate Wizard (screen shot). The wizardconnects to an update server, queries for a list of packages based upon the packages you've alreadyinstalled, and provides a list of available selections. Once you've made your selections, the packages are downloaded and installed for you. This really makes the installation process a breeze.
Interface LayoutThe interface is very intuative and is simple to learn. Icons representing each of the VoiceXML elements aredisplayed in a menu on the lower left side of the screen. Building a simple VoiceXML document is a matter of dragging an element from the menu into the main composition window. One of the neat things about this feature is that it wont allow you to drop elements where they don't belong. This provides simple enforcement of the VoiceXML standard and reduces the hours that would have been spent troubleshooting bugs as a result of improperly nested elements.
A set of menus on the right-hand side of the screen changes based upon the element that is currently selected in the main composition window. It provides fields to fill in values for the element attributes. In some cases where the attributes have been pre-defined in the specification, a dropdown list or set of radio boxes appears. This reduces the learning curve and transition into developing VoiceXML documents and applications for authors that are just getting started with VoiceXML. The Sourcetab in the main composition window provides source editing capability for developerswho want direct control of the code. Thankfully, you can switch back and forth between Designand Source modes without losing your changes. If you were to add a form in the source for exampleand then switched back to design mode, the new form would be represented as a new box in the dialog.
The top left side of the application contains a number of folders that contain the dialogs (or VoiceXML content), grammars (in GSL format) and prompts (recorded prompts). You will also see SpeechObjects menus for prompts and grammars if you installed the SpeechObjects packages. These pre-made components providea great deal of functionality that would otherwise take you tens of hours to develop on your own. From the Project menu, you can add new or existing prompts, dialogs and grammars to your project. Once new componentshave been added to a project, they can be selected and dropped into a dialog in the compose window.