• March 1, 2007
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Speech Comes Standard in Microsoft Vista

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With the release, Vista became available in more than 70 countries, in 19 languages—with 99 languages anticipated by the end of the year, and at more than 39,000 retail stores and online. The release also paved the way for thousands of PC manufacturers around the globe to begin delivering Windows Vista on new PCs.

One of the key elements of Windows Vista is enhanced speech recognition capabilities, which are, for the first time, built right into the application. The speech recognition application supports eight languages—U.S. and U.K English, traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, German, French and Spanish—and includes a new human-sounding speech synthesizer. Voice recognition accuracy improves with use as the system adapts to users' speaking styles and vocabularies.

The new speech technologies in Windows Vista enable users to interact with their computer by voice, and dictate documents and email messages in mainstream applications, navigate and fill in forms on the Web, and command applications and the operating system. An interactive tutorial with guided setups familiarizes users with the voice commands, while simultaneously optimizing the system for their voices. A natural user interface provides additional choices or questions to help users along and prompts users for clarification when they say a command that the system does not recognize or that can be interpreted in several different ways.

Meanwhile, some computer experts have expressed concern that the speech recognition application could be used maliciously to copy or delete private files, for example, or that malicious audio on Web sites or sent via email could be picked up and acted on by the system. Microsoft researchers have said that while those scenarios are "technically possible," they are unlikely. The firm also said that voice commands could not be used for privileged functions such as creating a new user or reformatting the hard drive.

The new speech recognition capabilities also make Vista easier to integrate with screen readers, text-to-speech applications and other assistive technologies for the blind and visually impaired. And because Microsoft brought more than 30 assistive technology companies into its labs to give them a first look at Vista nearly two years ago, many, including Dolphin, Serotek and GW Micro, had updated versions of their products available simultaneously with the launch of Windows Vista.

Historically, customers often have had to wait six, 12, or even 18 months for assistive technology software and devices that supported a newly released operating system. "In the past, it's been challenging for the AT community to ship updated versions of our products in a timely fashion following the release of a new version of Windows or Office," says Doug Geoffray of GW Micro, developers of the screen reader program Window- Eyes. "But because Microsoft has done such a good job collaborating with us during the development process, there is a lot of confidence and excitement in the AT industry about the launch of these new products."

Microsoft began talking about Vista in late 2005, and it's been five years since its last operating system, Windows XP, came out.

In the days leading up to the launch, top-level company executives, including Bill Gates, traveled the nation to introduce the new system to potential users. Speech solutions provider Nuance Communications was one of only a handful of companies to join the Windows Vista Launch Tour 2007, a nationwide series of live events that allowed attendees to experience the new operating system first hand.

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