The next version of the browser is due in "a couple on months", according to Opera chief executive Jon von Tetzchner, which means that it's likely to debut at about the same time as Microsoft's Speech Server, which is designed to improve the way that servers handle spoken commands.
Opera's browser, which will incorporate IBM's Embedded ViaVoice speech technology, will be available as a free download with adverts, as well as a paid-for version without advertising, said Tetzchner.
"One part of this is about being able to control a browser by voice, but it is also about using pages with XHTML+Voice (X+V) coded into them," Tetzcher said, referring to the voice specification that Opera, IBM and Motorola submitted to Web standards body the W3C in 2001. The ability to read back a Web page is unconnected to whether the page is X+V, but the browser will be able to do this too, he said.
Aside from the obvious accessibility benefits, said Tetzcher, there are applications for in-car computing: "In a car, you would like a combination of screen and voice but you don't want to be watching a screen while driving. Being able to perform tasks by voice, and get voice feedback, will be very useful."
Opera also rolled out the time-honoured slideshow as an example of a possible application for the voice function. By combining Opera Show with voice, said the company, users will be able to give presentations and tell Opera via voice commands to turn to the next slide without having to approach the computer and pressing the 'page down' key.
"This new offering can allow us to interact with the content on the Web in a more natural way, combining speech with other forms of input and output -- first on PCs, and in the near future, in devices such as cellphones and PDAs," said Igor Jablokov, director of embedded speech at IBM and Chairman of the VoiceXML Forum. "Developers can also start to build multimodal content using the open standards-based X+V markup language, using development skills a large population of programmers already have today."
Opera will make the IBM integrated voice browser available in English for Windows, and it will initially be targeted at enterprise customers and developers.