Microsoft Releases .NET Speech SDK

Microsoft recently released a beta version of the Microsoft .NET Speech Software Development Kit (SDK). This is a set of application development tools and speech controls based on the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specification. It integrates into the Visual Studio .NET development environment and is intended to make it faster and easier for developers to incorporate speech functionality into Web applications. Microsoft’s stated purpose is to create new opportunities for the speech technology community by leveraging developers’ existing Web programming knowledge and skills. “The Microsoft .NET Speech SDK is a major breakthrough for the industry,” said Brian Strachman, senior analyst for Voice Applications at Cahners In-Stat Group. “Expensive, proprietary speech systems have kept speech application development to a niche market. Now, millions of Web developers will be able to draw upon their programming skills to add speech functionality to Web applications, opening up opportunities for enterprises to develop new offerings and extend their Web investments to a larger customer base.” “Microsoft is committed to bringing speech into the mainstream by making it a more accessible, easier-to-implement technology,” said Eric Rudder, senior vice president of Developer and Platform Evangelism at Microsoft. “The .NET Speech SDK is an indispensable tool for Web developers seeking to speech-enable their applications and offer new value-added Web services.” Does this help or hinder the speech technology industry? James Mastan, director of marketing for the .NET Speech Technologies group at Microsoft said, “We want to engage speech and Web developers\ in a common partnership.” Mastan also added, “We are excited about speech-enabled Web applications becoming mainstream. We hope this SDK makes a big splash in the developer community.” By deploying the beta SDK Microsoft is offering the industry’s first product based on the SALT markup language, but does this confuse or better enable developers interested in using speech technology? "Nuance believes open standards are best for customers, and best for the speech industry at large," said Lynda Smith, vice president and chief marketing officer, Nuance. "In contrast to SALT, VoiceXML 2.0 has already been approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and has been widely adopted by carriers and enterprises around the world as the defacto speech programming language. We urge Microsoft and the SALT Forum to work with the W3C to create cohesive standards for the speech industry." Steve Parsons, director of strategic partnerships for NMS Network Solutions, also commented on SALT’s presentation to a standards body. "SALT has great potential for bridging the programming gap between speech and the Web and to be a catalyst for a whole plethora of exciting new voice and data applications to the communications industry,” said Parsons. “That is why NMS is a contributing member of the SALT Forum. However, telephony applications have entered into a pragmatic world where open standards are not only accepted, they're required. Wide adoption of SALT, like VoiceXML, will only occur once it proves itself and achieves the status as a standard by a recognized standards organization such as the W3C, which NMS strongly encourages." “Microsoft’s commitment to the SALT specification and to making speech a mainstream technology is evidenced by its deployment of the .NET Speech SDK, the industry’s first developer tool based on the SALT specification,” said Steve Chambers, chief marketing officer at SpeechWorks International Inc. — a SALT Forum founder. “The SALT Forum is focused on delivering a unified standard for telephony and multimodal Web application development, and fully supports Microsoft’s leadership and demonstrated commitment to providing the software necessary for authoring speech-enabled Web applications that will be accessible to millions of developers.” The beta version of the Microsoft .NET Speech SDK is currently available to developers interested in building speech functionality into Web applications. “We want the speech community to work with this beta SDK and provide valuable feedback to assist us in making this a product that positively influences developers to use speech technology,” continued Mastan. “This is a unique opportunity to make speech mainstream.” The .NET Speech SDK is intended to allow developers to write combined speech and visual Web applications in a single code base, and test those applications at their workstation. It includes tools for debugging and creating simple and robust grammars and prompts, as well as sample applications and tutorials. It also includes a set of SALT-based ASP.NET controls that will allow developers to add speech capabilities into their HTML and XHTML Web applications. The SDK will ship with speech extensions for Microsoft Internet Explorer browser software, effectively extending Internet Explorer to support speech and visual, input and output, as well as a desktop version of Microsoft’s new speech recognition engine and a test-level version of the Microsoft TTS engine. The SDK is available on Microsoft’s Web site www.microsoft.com/speech/stmag, and is free to anyone requesting it, but quantities are limited.
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