SALT Submission to W3C Could Impact the Future of VoiceXML

by Jonathan Eisenzopf

The SALT specification was recently submitted to the Voice Browser and Multimodal Interaction working groups of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This article discusses the implications for VoiceXML developers and those companies who currently provide support for the VXML standard.

On July 31, 2002, the SALT Forum submitted the SALT specification to the Voice Browser and Multimodal Interaction working groups of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

This new development and the benefits that SALT brings to the W3C could alter the direction of the Voice Browser working group as well as commercial support and developer support for SALT.

The SALT Forum was established by Microsoft to create an XML language for developing multi-modal applications that can accept speech, typed or written input on computers, telephones, PDAs, wireless devices and tabletop PCs. The Voice Browser group has been supporting the VoiceXML standard since it was submitted to the working group in 2001 by the VoiceXML Consortium.

SALT provides a number of benefits to the Voice Browser working group that the VoiceXML specification lacks.

First, the SALT specification is licensed royalty-free. While the W3C has stipulated that standards must also be licensed royalty-free, several contributors to the VoiceXML specification--including IBM, Motorola, Avaya, Lucent, Mitsubishi, Nokia, Nortel, Philips and Telera--have only agreed to license their intellectual property under Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (RAND) terms, which means that VoiceXML cannot become a Web standard in its current form.

Now that SALT has been officially submitted to the W3C, the W3C could decide to offer up SALT as the voice browser standard instead of VoiceXML. This, of course, doesn't prevent companies who are not part of the SALT Forum from perusing patent claims that may also pertain to the the SALT specification.

Secondly, SALT is an extension of HTML and enables developers to create multi-modal applications. VoiceXML doesn't possess any multi-modal capabilities, however, IBM, Motorola and Opera jointly proposed what they call, "XHTML + Voice." The proposal dictates that VoiceXML would be re-formulated as a collection of XHTML modules, which could then be imported into an XHTML document, thereby providing the capability to incorporate spoken and visual interactions.

While the proposal solves the multi-modal requirement, it also suffers from intellectual property encumbrances which would prevent this proposal from being implemented by the W3C. The Voice Browser group, however, could decide to incorporate the SALT multi-modal features while keeping other aspects of VoiceXML intact.

Third, while the first version of the specification was only recently introduced in 2002 and the SALT Forum was just formed in 2001, its membership has grown to include companies such as Siemens, Voice Genie, Intel, InterVoiceBrite, Genesys, Edify, Compaq, Verizon and Korea Telecom. The accelerated interest in the commercial application of the SALT specification indicates that at the very least, many of these companies will be offering SALT support in addition to VoiceXML. At worst, some companies may choose to support SALT instead of VoiceXML.

So what happens now? According to Jim Larson, chair of the Voice Browser working group at the W3C, the group is reviewing the SALT submission in addition to a previously submitted proposal from IBM, Motorola and Opera for multi-modal interaction.

It's not yet clear what the impact of this development will be for VoiceXML. The Voice Browser group may incorporate parts of SALT that are lacking in VoiceXML. Heck, there's even a remote possibility that the group will adopt the entire SALT specification.

The impact for SALT will be more obvious. SALT is taking a more Web developer-centric approach and will therefore attract more Web developers who want to incorporate speech into their Web applications. The submission to the W3C will provide more visibility for the standard. SALT applications will begin popping up in the next 12-18 months as vendors start adding SALT support. Microsoft, for one, is planning on integrating SALT into its developer tools and servers. According to James Mastan, director of marketing for the .NET Speech Technologies Group at Microsoft, "the key point for Microsoft is that an open industry standard emerges that is royalty-free and which accommodates both telephony and multimodal speech-enabled Web applications in a manner in which the millions of existing web developers that are out there can comfortably integrate speech into their Web applications".

Microsoft has recently released a Beta version of their .Net Speech SDK, which showcases a very promising SALT development environment and integrates into Visual Studio .NET.


About Jonathan Eisenzopf

Jonathan is a member of the Ferrum Group, LLC which specializes in Voice Web consulting and training. Feel free to send an email to eisen@ferrumgroup.com regarding questions or comments about this or any article.

This article was originally published on Friday Oct 4th 2002
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