Reviewed: Geetesh Bajaj
Last Updated: February 27th 2009
About Vox Proxy
About Microsoft Agent
The 'Agent' in Vox Proxy
Trial, Purchase & Installation
Testing The Waters
Doing It Yourself
Player & Distribution
Pricing And Support
Imagine characters ranging from the cute to the composed - appearing within your PowerPoint presentation, narrating or explaining content to the audience in plain English. Surely, that's not one of PowerPoint's features? If the thought makes you curious, read on...
Vox Proxy is an add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint from Right Seat Software, Inc. - a company based in Golden, Colorado, United States. Vox Proxy works within PowerPoint to bring lively interactive talking characters to the presentation media - as such, the core technologies behind Vox Proxy are based on Microsoft's Agent technology, something we'll examine shortly. Meanwhile, you might want to visit the Vox Proxy site to experience firsthand - the aptitude and possibilities of the product:
If you've seen the help wizards in Windows ME or XP or the ubiquitous BonziBuddy program, you have already experienced part of the underlying technology behind Microsoft Agent. To define in a nutshell, Agent comprises characters who talk, animate and respond - sample characters include normal men and women, as well as more exotic beings like a magician, genie, dinosaur, robot, etc. You can even create your own characters - or buy new ones online from various sources.
Depending on how you use Agent's character animation and text-to-speech capabilities, the results can be anything from highly irritating to entertainingly educative. You can find more info about Microsoft Agent at:
Microsoft Agent's core technologies make a natural accompanient to PowerPoint's presentation media - since both products originate from Microsoft's own stables, they work together seamlessly. This does not mean that it is easy to use Agent characters within PowerPoint. In fact, it is quite the opposite - mainly because you need to program the entire spectrum.
Right Seat Software has created an easy liason between Agent and PowerPoint in the form of Vox Proxy - an add-in module for PowerPoint, where you can perform most actions through simple buttons and drop-down lists. Let's explore further...
Tom Atkins is the President of Right Seat Software - he's also the driving force behind Vox Proxy. I asked him about the evolution of the product, and his response was very candid and interesting.
Although formally educated in chemical engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of California at Berkeley, Tom found earlier in his career that his interests were in designing software that was both useful and easy for people to use. As he says - " I've worked for myself designing, writing, selling, and supporting software since 1979."
"I was first introduced to Microsoft Agent
Technology in 1998 at an APL2000 progamming conference. I couldn't get
it out of my head that it could be a wonderful application for PowerPoint.
On the bus to the airport, I asked everyone I could find if they knew
whether PowerPoint supported the ActiveX features that I would need.
No one knew (they probably thought I was nuts). It turned out that PowerPoint
97 was only marginally capable (in that it did not support any events),
but PowerPoint 2000 did have good ActiveX support.
"It took me more than two years designing and refining the engine and user interface until I was ready for beta-testing in early 2001. After about 6 months of beta testing and refinement, we made Vox Proxy available through our web site on July 4, 2001. Our formal press release was made on September 6th, so it was promptly buried with everything else last Fall.
"In November, the Denver Business Journal selected Vox Proxy as Colorado's most innovative new product for 2001, and 2002 has brought great reviews and great success."
If you want to try out Vox Proxy before committing a purchase, you can download or order a CD (for US$ 5) with a free 30 day trial version from the Vox Proxy site - be forewarned though, the download weighs at 35 mb.
You can also opt to purchase the product online from their site - we'll discuss pricing later in this review.
Installation was an easy process - although I was not provided with an option to change the default installation folder or drive. The full installation of the commercial product consumed around 100 mb.
The next time I launched PowerPoint, I was presented with a Vox Proxy menu within the application - this worked with both PowerPoint 2000 and 2002. Vox Proxy support admits this might not work on all versions of Windows - fortunately, they have provided an option to launch the Vox Proxy menu separately from the Start Menu in that case.
Vox Proxy's ease of use is related to its excellent set of tutorials - all tutorials are actually PowerPoint presentations created using Vox Proxy's iin-built Microsoft Agent technology. More than tutorials, they are also a showcase of ideas you can use for yourself.
Each tutorial leads you step by step - with around two or more Agent characters conversing with each other interactively - I'm sure I would have had a tough time learning Vox Proxy, were it not for these first rate tutorial presentations.
Having seen the tutorials, I wanted to try it myself. I placed Peedy the parrot and Merlin the wizard on screen and indulged both of them in a quarrel - it was fun indeed.
I soon realised that all characters speak monotonously - this makes them sound almost mechanical. Thankfully, there is a speech tutorial, which teaches you to use emphasis, whispers, etc. Such speech rectifications can make a world of difference - conversation sounds almost real and enthusiastic thereafter.
Vox Proxy allows you to do much more - it coordinates and controls PowerPoint actions and macros - thus allowing you some control over interactivity. Using VoxProxy with PowerPoint seems more than placing talking characters - it's almost like PowerPoint on steroids.
I asked Tom about his user experiences:
"Last week I had a call from a user on his cell phone in Las Vegas. He had just delivered a live presentation using Vox Proxy and was thrilled with the response from his audience and just wanted to tell us about it."
Now that I had created a presentation using Vox Proxy with PowerPoint, I needed to distribute it to folks who had no Vox Proxy installed - how would they view all the Agent animations?
Right Seat provides a solution is in the form of the free Vox Proxy Player - something that allows users without Vox Proxy to view VP animations in PowerPoint 2000 or 2002.
Right Seat also offers the CD Prep program - the purpose of which is to create autorun CDs, which play slide shows which include Vox Proxy scripts without requiring the user to have first installed the Vox Proxy Player. CD Prep is an optional feature for Vox Proxy and can be ordered as an upgrade.
Vox Proxy is priced at US$ 249 - although they are currently running a promotional pricing of US$199 - site licenses and educational discounts are also available. For instance, the educational rate of Vox Proxy is only $69.95
CD Prep is priced at US$ 29.95 - the Vox Proxy Player is free for download, although you can order a CD for US$ 5.
Purchases can be made online through secure server - telephone and fax orders are also processed.
About support, here is Tom's response:
"My support model is somewhat different than most software vendors. When I fix bugs and write new enhancements, I release those as a free update on our web site. In fact, within the same version, users can update their software to the latest level at any time by simply downloading the latest program file.
"Also, I find that the support demand is really minimal. Our tutorials, where the characters explain how to use the software, seem to provide people with just what they need."
Let me get one thing clearly across - Vox Proxy is addictive. Until you have seen it perform, you'll never know what you are missing.
Having said that, Vox Proxy is squarely aimed at two diverse markets - business and education. While business users will prefer its more conservative characters and animations - using it interactively with builds and transitions, educational users can harness Vox Proxy's entire arsenal of capabilities.
Vox Proxy has one other ability - you can use professional studio recorded narrations as voiceovers to synchronize with Vox Proxy's character animation capabilities - this works especially well if you are distributing on a CD where space is not an issue.
Further strengths are based on Vox Proxy's foundation as a complete solution - something which allows you to create, edit, deliver and distribute Agent characters within PowerPoint, without having to buy any other product. Couple that with Vox Proxy's excellent documentation and tutorials, and you have a winner.