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Review: Ultra Hal Digital Assistant 6.2

Ultra Hal Digital Assistant 6.2 is an application for Microsoft Windows that gives the user a 3D interactive character.

Some folks want to give their computers a bit of personality, all the while simplifying general operation. Applications known as "digital assistants" try to fill this role for the desktop PC, much in the same way Siri has done for the latest Apple iPhone.

However, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of virtual assistants, given their rather iffy track record. For instance, many will recall the ill-fated Microsoft Agent technology used in some older Microsoft Office products as nothing more than a nuisance. Clippy anyone?

Hal

Zabaware, a small software outfit based out of Erie, Pennsylvania, has an interesting approach to the digital assistant phenomenon. Ultra Hal Digital Assistant 6.2 is an application for Microsoft Windows that gives the user a 3D character they can interact with. According to Zabaware, it can carry on simple conversations, mind your dates, open files and webpages, and more.

You can customize your default character and even reprogram the "brain" using VB Script for good measure. As you interact with Hal, it gathers more information and gains intelligence in the process. Though during my short time with the utility, Hal couldn't seem to keep a train of thought and would go off into strange tangents.

When you delve into extra features such as voice recognition for commands, be prepared to spend a great deal of time training the software to recognize your voice. Even then, the success rate for Hal's ability to recognize your voice is not terribly good out of the box using Microsoft's speech recognition engine. For best results, I would strongly recommend using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking engine by Nuance instead, as it tends to have much higher accuracy rates. Unfortunately, Nuance's tech is not cheap, coming in at $99 for the home version.

Bottom line

There's no denying that Ultra Hal Digital Assistant has some cheeky charm to it that would make for an interesting digital assistant utility. But for any serious work, it's probably best to overlook this tool and save your money. Although it can seem like a business-oriented application on the surface, I see it much more as a toy rather than a serious office companion.

For those of you who are curious, Zabaware does offer a 30-day, free trial on their website or you can download it from CNET.

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About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

4 comments
soncory
soncory

IMHO Windows 7 speech recognition blows Dragon away!

mhoff1387
mhoff1387

In college and even today, I love voice recognition to get large amounts of thoughts on paper relatively quickly. Did it save time? A little, probably. i still had to go back and reread, edit, etc. As for quick tasks like scheduling appointments, I'm still unimpressed with the technology we currently have. The little I've used it, I often have to fight to get the correct time and names of the involved. There are improvements all the time to voice recognition and natural language programming, so I'm hopeful that in a few more years we'll have something that is truly a must have instead of a nice to have toy.

a.portman
a.portman

Being that it is the Friday before spring break for my students, I am going to give it a try. Considering my speakers are off almost 90% of the time, this might be interesting. I like the concept, but if I need three hours to set up my reminders, what am I being reminded of? And, I keep the speakers off so if I hit a website with an ad, I don't have to hear it. What would a room with 20 desks and 20 HALs sound like?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I have seen Siri in action and was amused but not impressed. I find the concept of a digital assistant to be a non-productive passing fancy that remains interesting for about five minutes. Am I wrong? Do you see the benefit of a digital assistant? Is the technology ready or is there still some work to do? Are Ultra Hal and Siri indicators of the future of device interaction?