Microsoft Preps .Net Speech Platform

Fewer than 100 customers to get early look at Redmond's new server technologies, SDK.

NEW YORK—On Wednesday, Microsoft Corp. took another step toward delivering its .Net platform that will allow developers, customers and integration partners to write and deploy speech-enabled applications and Web services.

Microsoft announced at the SpeechTEK Expo here an early beta, or technical preview, of its .Net Speech Platform, which it will make available to fewer than 100 selected testers participating in the companys Joint Development Program. The official Beta 1 release of the platform is due out by next summer, with the final .Net Speech Platform offering due by the end of 2003.

The .Net Speech Platform —a bunch of technologies running on top of Windows Server—includes a Microsoft speech-recognition engine, a text-to-speech engine, the SALT (Speech Application Language Tags) interpreter, a SALT browser and a telephony interface, among other elements.

Microsofts own product groups are dabbling with the .Net Speech Platform, said James Mastan, director of marketing for .Net speech technologies. He declined to offer specifics, but confirmed that business-to-consumer speech applications might be of interest to the MSN team, while business-to-employee, voice-activated, self-service applications might appeal to the Business Solutions unit that oversees MSCRM, Great Plains and Navision products.

Microsoft also announced at SpeechTEK the Beta 2 release of the .Net Speech software development kit. The SDK can integrate directly into Visual Studio .Net and provide developers with pre-built speech components they can use to develop multimodal (a k a, speech plus visual) speech applications that can run on desktop PCs, the soon-to-be-released Tablet PCs and any other device running Internet Explorer.

The Beta 2 release includes support for the W3Cs SALT 1.0 specification, as well as support for SALT-based, voice-only telephony applications. Microsoft officials said they expect the final .Net Speech SDK to ship by mid-2003.

"As speech moved to the Web, there was a need for a standard," Mastan said. "Microsoft says SALT is the way to go for speech-enabling the Web because it can handle both telephony-based devices and GUIs."

Microsoft, Intel Corp., Cisco, Philips, SpeechWorks and Comverse were the original founders of the SALT Forum, which was launched in October of 2001. The group, which currently includes 55 corporate members, was instrumental in driving the SALT spec through the W3C standards process.

Mastan noted , however, that SALT is independent of .Net. In fact, one SALT Forum member, Philips, is building a SALT-based application based on J2EE, Mastan said.

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