Microsoft sets Speech Server pricing

Microsoft on Wednesday detailed pricing and licensing for its Speech Server 2004 products, the company's first speech recognition server offerings.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, as expected, formally launched Speech Server 2004 at the Avios-SpeechTEK conference in San Francisco. The products will be generally available on June 1, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

Speech Server runs on Windows Server 2003 and comes in an Enterprise Edition and Standard Edition. The Enterprise Edition needs to run on a separate physical server while Standard Edition, designed for small and medium-sized installations, can be placed on the same hardware as the Web server, Microsoft said.

The estimated retail price for the Enterprise Edition is US$17,999 (AUD$24,231) per processor and Standard Edition is priced at US$7,999 per processor, Microsoft said.

Per processor pricing is different from other Microsoft server products. Users typically pay a single price for the server license and add client access licenses for each user or device that connects to the server.

Rival Nuance Communications prices its Nuance Voice Platform 3.0 by phone line connected to the speech recognition system. Typical pricing depends on required functionality and runs between US$1,800 per port to $3,200 per port, a Nuance spokeswoman said.

Microsoft promises speech recognition for the masses with Speech Server 2004 by enabling developers to add speech capabilities to existing Web applications based on Microsoft's ASP application framework by adding code based on XML (Extensible Markup Language) and SALT (Speech Application Language Tags) technologies using Visual Studio .Net., Microsoft's developer tool.

Microsoft is also competing on price.

"Microsoft has packaged and priced Speech Server in line with its stated objectives of reducing the cost of building speech recognition systems, and reaching a tier of customers and applications for whom the cost of entry has been a barrier," said Gartner Inc. analyst Steve Cramoysan.

While Cramoysan expects Microsoft's entry into the market to drive down cost of speech recognition systems, he also warns that the server price is only part of the cost of a complete system, which also includes application development, voice interface design and back office integration.

"These other costs account for at least 50 percent of the cost of an implementation. Microsoft claims that its Speech Server software development kit reduces the costs of development and support. It is too early to have proof points to support that claim," Cramoysan said.

Speech Server will compete with products from vendors including Nuance and IBM Corp. Analysts have said that although Microsoft's entry will alter the speech recognition market, users should be aware that creating speech applications is a complex task and that Microsoft may be oversimplifying it.

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