British start-up aQtive is releasing its innovative desktop agent software, called onCue, today.
AQtive's founder Russell Beale had the idea for onCue while he was a research lecturer at the University of Birmingham. OnCue is a small Java window that monitors the PC clipboard, and suggests desktop applications or online resources according to the nature of the information copied to the clipboard.
For example, if the users selects a word, onCue will recommend sites such as Dictionary.com and Encyclopedia Britannica Online, and search engines such as Yahoo and HotBot.
If the user selects a table of figures and copies it to the clipboard, onCue will change to offer icons to applications such as Excel, as well as offering built-in utilities such as SumIt, which calculates the sum of the figures, or Histogram, which creates a Java histogram applet that can be exported to HTML code.
Beale said that the idea was not to get in the user's way. "The whole ethos of onCue is to be task orientated rather than application orientated," he said. "Applications currently force people to change the way they work.
OnCue sits in the background and suggests (tools), as unobtrusive as the system clock, and it never grabs the focus. We made an effort to make sure it's not annoying."
It works by monitoring the clipboard, and uses heuristics to determine what sort of data the user has selected. It then suggests a selection of Internet and desktop services based on that selection.
"In principle it's easy to customise," added Beale. "We're releasing a developer's toolkit next quarter, but at the moment it uses a simple configuration file." This would allow companies to customise onCue to suggest different applications and Web sites.
It can also use the built-in functions in desktop applications, such as the spellchecker in Word, and Beale said it was possible for people to write their own services.
The basic product will always be free, Beale said, so as to gain "substantial market share".
The company will make money by releasing customised or enhanced versions with "particularly clever recognisers and services". OnCue is available now for free download from aQtive's Web site at www.aqtive.com.
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