by Thomas Koller
ANNEX is a web-based annotation exploration tool to display and play back annotated resource bundles (incl. video, audio and annotated text) stored on local or remote language archive servers. TROVA is a web-based search tool to search for simple or complex annotations (incl. regular expressions) on resources residing on local or remote language archive servers.
In autumn 2008 we started to redesign the user interfaces for ANNEX and TROVA to make them more usable and to allow for more functionality to be added at later stages. We decided to use a programming technology called Flex for the redesign of ANNEX and TROVA. A web application developed with Flex will run in the Flash Player browser plugin which is already installed on a vast majority of web browsers due to the use of plugin on popular web sites such as Youtube.
Using the Flash Player as the delivery technology for ANNEX and TROVA has a number of advantages for ANNEX users. First of all, video-based resource bundles can now be played back not only on Windows and Mac computers but also on Linux systems. Linux support for audio-based resource bundles requires some additional changes on the server side and will be available in the near future.
With Flex-based ANNEX and TROVA, we can now provide a more homogeneous look & feel. HTML-based web pages often look different to some extent in various browsers because of the way HTML is rendered differently across browsers. This can also cause yet unknown problems over time as a single browser may change the way HTML is rendered. Flex-/Flash Player-based applications, in contrast, look and work in the same way across browsers and operating systems.
Using Flash Player as the delivery technology, there is a noticeable improvement in ANNEX in its ‘timeline’, ‘waveform’ and ‘combined’ data views. In the previous ANNEX version, these data views were displayed as static image files, which had two disadvantages: First, when a user wanted to change the order of tiers in the ‘timeline’ or ‘combined’ view, this action had to be executed by selecting appropriate values in two dropdown lists which were located in another part of the ANNEX screen. In the new ANNEX version, the user can directly change the order of tiers via drag & drop. Second, the static data view images were not updated as soon as the video or audio playhead reached the time displayed on the right margin of the currently displayed data view (i.e. the playback went on but the data view stayed the same). In the new ANNEX version, the currently displayed data view is automatically being updated when the video or audio playhead reaches the time displayed on the right margin of the currently displayed data view. Therefore, the user will always be presented with an updated data view when playing back resources of any time length.
The new ANNEX version provides context sensitive help for different parts of the graphical user interface (such as the ‘Video display’ and ‘Media information’ panels). To access the help content for a panel, the user can either press the H key on their keyboard (this will display the help content for the panel below the mouse cursor) or they can drag the question mark (located at the top of the screen) to a user interface panel. The help content for this panel will then be displayed as soon as the question mark has been dropped.
Another important improvement in ANNEX and TROVA is the addition of a font chooser dropdown list. The user is now able to apply any font installed on their computer to the annotation text of the currently selected resource(s). This is particularly useful for the display of languages with uncommon fonts. A newly selected font will immediately be applied to currently displayed annotation text without having to reload ANNEX or TROVA.
Soon, there will also be standalone and embedded versions of ANNEX available. The embedded version will support the embedding of a smaller ANNEX version with a preselected resource in any web page (similar to the way Youtube videos can be embedded in other web pages). This youtube-like feature helps resource authors to showcase their work without making their readers leave their web site. Instead of pointing directly to the IMDI browser on a language archive server, authors can then describe their resource on their own web page in any way they like. Only freely available language resources will be able to be used with the embedded ANNEX version.
A standalone desktop-based version of ANNEX will provide the opportunity to use ANNEX when for example an Internet connection is not available. This can be useful while travelling on planes or trains or as a fallback strategy for the presentation of language resources at workshops or conferences. It can also be useful to work with data-rich language resource bundles which otherwise could prove to be too demanding for proper display in ANNEX when being used over the web.