SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft
has officially launched Speech Server 2004 — its first standalone speech recognition platform that reflects a decade of development.
The software, steeped in the Speech Applications Language
Tags (SALT) specification and XML
companies unify their Web and telephony
and extend existing or new ASP.NET Web applications for speech-enabled
access from telephones, mobile phones, Pocket PCs and Smartphones.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor is targeting enterprises that are already using its Windows Server 2003 and Visual Studio .NET 2003 development tools.
During his keynote at a Microsoft developer’s conference here, chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said about 1,000 applications have
been developed for the platform that now targets not only the server and PC
sector but also some 2.2 billion phones around the world.
“There is a huge range of capabilities that can be accomplished with Speech Server 2004.” Gates said health care and insurance industries are perfect matches for the platform.
As part of the beta process, Microsoft has struck a deal with the New York City Department of Education to develop a voice-enabled telephony application for parents to check such things as their child’s attendance
record, course grades and daily lunch menus.
As for partners, Microsoft sought the help of InterVoice and ScanSoft to help bring the Speech Server to market. The company said its Speech Server
Partner Program now boasts more than 60 companies including Accenture, Solar
Software and Voice Automation.
But Microsoft is also undercutting some of its competitors’ prices
charging USD$7,999 per processor for the Standard Edition. The Enterprise
Edition starts at $17,999 per processor.
“For years now, this technology has been accessible only to a short list
of Fortune 500 companies because it has been so difficult and expensive to
implement,” Microsoft vice president Kai-Fu Lee said during his keynote at a
Microsoft developer’s conference here.
Smaller, but more established players like Nuance seem unfazed by
Microsoft’s push into speech. According to a January report published by analysts at Gartner, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Nuance shipped 40 percent of all speech software ports worldwide in 2003, 20 percent more than the company’s next closest competitor.
“Is a strong indicator that we have been focused on in the last 10
years,” Nuance CEO Chuck Berger told internetnews.com. “Microsoft as
usual is coming to market with a product that is not up to par yet but
leading with a cheaper price. Most of our customers need a platform they can
use in mission critical situations and so we’re seeing a lot more interest
in our company.”
The number of software ports sold is an important speech industry metric,
according to Berger, because it is related to the volume of callers that
access a voice automation system, the experience of the vendor, as well as
the accuracy and automation rates these systems can achieve.
Microsoft may also find a bigger threat in this space from IBM
, a pioneer in voice recognition development. In 2002, the
company assigned about 100 speech researchers from IBM Research to an
eight-year project dubbed the Super Human Speech Recognition Initiative.