Your words, your voice, your e-mail

May 03, 1999|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Mom, Happy birthday to you.

Looks awful in print, doesn't it? It's certainly not the kind of greeting you'd write in a birthday card to your mother. But delivered with gusto by one or more slightly off-key voices, "Happy Birthday" always conveys its message -- your love and best wishes.

So why not deliver it via e-mail?

It's easy to attach a voice message to electronic mail, whether it's a birthday song or an explanation of a business plan. Unlike a digital photograph, a voice message doesn't require special hardware or software -- all you need is the microphone that came with your computer and a program called Sound Recorder that's packaged with Microsoft Windows.

If you want to make things easier, you can find inexpensive software designed to package your voice for electronic mail (and spare your recipient a lengthy download). But we'll discuss that later. For now, let's do it the cheap way.

First, make sure your microphone is attached to the proper jack on your sound card at the back of your computer. You'll find several identical jacks there, but the microphone jack is labeled "MIC" or with an icon of a microphone.

Now make sure the recording volume is turned up. Most Windows 95/98 desktops display the volume control as a small picture of a speaker on the system tray in the lower right-hand corner of your desktop. Double-click on the icon and a box will pop up with slide controls for your computer's sound devices. Slide the volume control for the microphone about halfway up and make sure the Mute box does NOT have a checkmark. If the volume control isn't in your system tray, you can find it in Windows 98 by clicking the Start button and following the menus through the Programs, Accessories and Entertainment folders. In Windows 95, the final folder will read Multimedia.

That done, it's time to start the Sound Recorder, which is also in the Entertainment/Multimedia folder under Accessories. When it's running, you'll see a window with buttons that looks like a VCR or cassette recorder.

To record, click the red button and speak clearly into the microphone. To stop recording, click the square black Stop button. Hit the Rewind button to return to the beginning and click Play to hear your voice. If it's too loud or too soft, you may have to adjust the volume, rewind and record again.

Once you've recorded a message, click on the Recorder's File menu, select Save, type a name for your voice file and click the Save button. Remember where you've stored the file -- the Recorder normally puts it in your Windows folder, but you can choose another location. When it's done, your voice will be stored in a file with the three-letter extension "wav," the standard for Windows sound recordings.

To send your voice to someone else, create a message in your e-mail program and click on the attachment icon (usually a paper clip or a menu choice labeled "Insert" or "Attachments"). This will bring up a file dialogue box -- browse through your folders till you find your voice file and click on it to attach it to your message. When your recipient receives the message, all he or she has to do is double-click on the attachment icon at the bottom of the message. Windows will launch its media player and your voice will fill the room.

Just beware of wretched excess. Voice files occupy a lot of disk space (about 11 kilobytes per second of sound) and can take a long time to upload and download as e-mail attachments over a slow modem line. In fact, the "Happy Birthday" song takes up about 125 kilobytes of space. So keep your messages short.

If you try this and like the idea of voice messaging, you might want to invest $20 in a program called VoiceLink from Softlink Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. (408-970-3370 or The VoiceLink package includes a desktop microphone if you don't have one already.

VoiceLink is a specialized e-mail program that records your voice message, compresses it to 20 percent of the size of a normal sound file, and sends it over the Internet. Since VoiceLink uses a propriety recording scheme, the first time you send a VoiceLink message to a particular recipient, you'll have to include a free player that your correspondent can install on his computer. This doesn't take much doing -- just check off a box on the VoiceLink e-mail screen.

In practice, VoiceLink worked reasonably well -- its voice files sounded a bit rougher than the messages I created with the Windows Sound Recorder -- a function of the high level of compression. But my voice was understandable. The compression is worth the trade-off: "Happy Birthday" in VoiceLink format occupied only 26 kilobytes.

Softlink claims that VoiceLink will work with most e-mail programs, and I was able to use it with Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and Lotus cc:Mail (which is surprising because almost nothing works with cc:Mail). When sending VoiceLink messages using America Online's e-mail, I got error messages informing me that the voice file had not been sent. However, the voice messages did arrive at their destinations. If you have trouble, you can save your VoiceLink message as a file and attach it to AOL mail in the usual manner.

Either way you do it, give voice messaging a try. It's fun, cheap and a lot more personal than regular e-mail.

Omissions Department: In last week's column I forgot to include the Web address for Kodak's PhotoNet service:

Pub Date: 05/03/99

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