MS and SpeechWorks team on voice-to-Web tools

MS and SpeechWorks team on voice-to-Web tools

The effort to integrate speech recognition technology with Web-enabled applications for mobile phones and personal digital assistants got a boost last week with the announcement of an alliance between Microsoft and SpeechWorks.

The companies said they're creating open standards to be used by developers to build applications that will tie speech to Web-enabled programs, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, using Microsoft's .Net speech platform. The financial terms of the deal weren't released.

Steve Chambers, vice president of worldwide marketing at Boston-based SpeechWorks, said such technologies could cut costs and save time for firms that provide information to users over the Internet.

For example, users could surf the Web using voice prompts rather than typing, ultimately benefiting businesses ranging from airlines to insurance companies, he said. "That you can navigate with your voice makes it that much speedier," Chambers said.

Technology produced by the alliance will be based on the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specification being developed by the SALT Forum, an industry group that includes Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Intel.

The specification will be submitted to standards groups for approval upon completion. Under SALT, developers will be able to integrate speech functions into XML or HTML-based applications. A beta version of the specification is due out by the end of this year, the companies said.

Chad Robinson, an analyst at Robert Frances Group in Conneticutt, said the creation of speech-enabling standards for the .Net platform will make it easier to meld voice with Internet-based applications. But he said that wider use of such products is still in question. "This is going to be the first opportunity to do something in a standardised manner" based on the SALT specifications, Robinson said. "It's a little hard to say whether this is going to be a hot item."

Dan Miller, an analyst at The Kelsey Group in New Jersey, said the Microsoft/SpeechWorks deal could provide a real boost in bringing speech capabilities to Web applications, because it will provide additional tools to the approximately 6 million developers who are using Microsoft's Visual Studio application and the company's .Net standards.

"What Microsoft is really trying to do is to encourage a larger development community to start thinking" about such possibilities, Miller said.

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