The technologies to be developed will be based on the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specification, which enables users to access these applications via the telephone and multimodal devices such as cellular phones, wireless PDAs, and emerging new technologies such as the Tablet PC.
"The strategic alliance is a welcome commitment to move SALT forward," said Bill Meisel, president of TMA Associates, a speech industry consulting firm. "It accelerates the availability of an integrated multimodal solution. Web-oriented developers who don't consider themselves speech experts will be particularly motivated to look into speech interfaces as an important extension of their skills."
Under the terms of the agreement, SpeechWorks will become a designated ISV and marketing and professional services partner for the upcoming Microsoft .NET speech platform. In addition to Microsoft's internally developed speech technologies that will ship standard with the platform, SpeechWorks will configure its speech technologies to support the SALT specification and integrate with the Microsoft speech platform. The alliance also will give developers access to a number of SpeechWorks technologies, including SpeechWorks' Speechify TTS engine. Speechify produces high-quality, natural-sounding speech in multiple voices, in a variety of languages. Microsoft licensed Speechify in April 2001 and now has extended that license to the new speech platform.
SpeechWorks also will add support for the latest version of the Microsoft Speech Application Programming Interface, SAPI 5.1, to its OpenSpeech Recognizer and Speechify engines and will initially port eight OpenSpeech DialogModules to be compliant with the Microsoft platform, including OpenSpeech DialogModules for managing dates, times, "yes/no," digit strings, phone numbers, alphanumeric strings, item lists, and custom contexts.
OpenSpeech DialogModules are reusable software building blocks that assist developers in delivering a consistent and proven user interface for high-quality speech-enabled applications. The companies also will work together to promote the Microsoft .NET speech platform for building and deploying telephony and multimodal applications, as well as design and deliver education and training programs for developers building speech applications on the new platform.
"Microsoft chose to enter into a strategic alliance with SpeechWorks based on its market-leading speech technologies and its expertise in deploying high-quality speech solutions around the world," said Kai-Fu Lee, vice president of the Natural Interactive Services Division at Microsoft. "The Microsoft .NET speech platform, combined with the performance benefits of SpeechWorks technologies, will further our goal of bringing speech into the mainstream, and revolutionize the way developers and enterprises build and deploy Web-based speech applications."
"SpeechWorks' technologies and leadership position in the speech arena combined with Microsoft's leading software platform technologies, development tools, and vast pool of developers are a winning combination for the speech industry," said Stuart R. Patterson, president and CEO of SpeechWorks. "We are particularly excited about the multimodal capabilities the SpeechWorks and Microsoft alliance will bring to developers worldwide."
Microsoft Platform for Speech Applications
The Microsoft .NET speech platform is a SALT-based multimodal and telephony-enabled solution for developing Web-based speech applications that will span multiple clients such as PCs, telephones, wireless personal digital assistants (PDAs), and next-generation laptop computers such as the Tablet PC. The platform is a central component of the company's comprehensive SALT-based product offerings that will expand and facilitate speech-enabled Web applications for the broad market. Incorporating both telephony and speech recognition technologies, the Microsoft platform offers infrastructure for building, deploying, and operating speech-enabled Web applications and services.
Among its many features, the Microsoft platform will offer world-class speech recognition functionality and support both telephone and multimodal devices, according to the company. For telephony applications, the platform will contain SALT-based voice browser software that will support speech-only access through normal telephones and cellular phones. To enable multimodal access and effectively provide both speech and visual input and output, a SALT-based speech interpreter may be added to clients such as GUI cellular phones, PDAs, and smart clients such as the Tablet PC and Pocket PC.
The platform also will offer third-party vendors the ability to add existing speech recognition and text-to-speech engines and provide scalable, reliable, and secure core speech processing services. Speech-enabled Web applications running on the platform may be developed using extensions to Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, consisting of SALT-enabled ASP.NET controls for speech programming, as well as sophisticated grammar and prompt editing tools for speech application creation.
SpeechWorks and Microsoft are founding members of the SALT Forum, along with Cisco Systems, Comverse, Intel Corp., and Philips Speech Processing. SALT is an open, platform-independent standard that is based on existing Web standards. The SALT Forum intends to submit SALT specifications to formal standards bodies by mid-year.