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Microsoft bolsters speech tech plans

The Microsoft Speech Server is part of the Windows Server 2003 product family line, and can exploit the security features of the operating system to protect critical company data, said James Mastan, director of marketing at Microsoft's Speech Technologies Group. Microsoft released a technical preview version of the speech server in January, but the company is now opening it up to the broader enterprise community, Mastan said. Pricing plans and a final shipment schedule have not been disclosed.

The server is built on the Microsoft-sponsored Speech Application Language Tags (SALT), which allow developers to add speech recognition and prompt features to Web applications. It also comes with a speech recognition engine, text-to-speech engine and a prompt engine that plays back prompts from a database so that a user hears a human voice. Two Microsoft partners -- Intel and Intervoice -- will be offering call-control middleware called Telephony Interface Manager. The software sits below the MS server and on top of the Intel Dialogic Telephony Card to enable connectivity into enterprise telephony infrastructures and to handle call-control services.

The big idea here, Mastan told eADT, is to combine technologies with which enterprise IT managers are already familiar, and to deliver them in a Microsoft Office-like package. "It's definitely an 'Office' approach," he said. "We've taken these related functions and put them together into an integrated package and made it easy to install and deploy. It's another way to lower the barrier between taking a technology that's generally more niche and proprietary and shifting perceptions of it as a mainstream technology."

The Speech Application Software Development Kit (SASDK), formerly called the .NET Speech SDK, is a set of tools and ASP.NET controls designed to allow developers to build speech-enabled applications that can be accessed from a variety of devices, including PDAs, cell and smart phones, and Tablet PCs. The beta 3 version includes support for the Visual Studio .NET 2003 development environment, a Pocket Internet Explorer add-in for developing speech-enabled Pocket IE on Pocket PCs, and a Speech Application Wizard that walks less speech-tech-savvy developers through the process.

Microsoft also introduced the Speech Partner Program (SPP), which Mastan said is something of a cornerstone in Microsoft's overall speech strategy. Microsoft intends to provide developers with both the tools and the marketing know-how to drive their speech-enabled software into mainstream markets, Mastan said.

"Not only are we going to have the products in place to help make speech a pervasive technology," he said, "but we're putting into place the programs and marketing support to take that technology into the mainstream enterprise market."

The SPP is aimed at telephony value-added resellers and distributors, systems integrators, Web developers, ISVs and Microsoft Certified Partners, Mastan said. To qualify for the program, partners must complete three training courses: Planning and Voice User Interface Design, Developing Speech Enabled Web Applications Using the SDK, and Deploying and Administering the Microsoft Speech Server. According to Mastan, more than 40 companies, including First Data Voice Services, Enterprise Integration Group, Envox, Ateb and Cadre, have signed up. Mastan said Microsoft is gearing up to accommodate hundreds of partners in the program.

For more information, please go to www.microsoft.com/speech

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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