MS, SpeechWorks to develop voice-enabled Web tools

An alliance between Microsoft and vendor SpeechWorks International to integrate speech recognition into Web-enabled applications for cell phones, personal digital assistants and other devices was unveiled yesterday.

The two companies announced that they were creating new open standards to be used by developers to build applications that will tie together speech with Web-enabled programs, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, using Microsoft's .Net speech platform. The financial terms of the deal were not released.

Steve Chambers, vice president of worldwide marketing for Boston-based SpeechWorks, said the benefits of such technologies include cutting costs and saving time for companies that provide information to users over the Internet. Web site navigation could be accomplished through voice recognition rather than typing, providing benefits for businesses such as airlines to insurance companies, he said. "That you can navigate with your voice makes it that much speedier," Chambers said.

Under the deal, SpeechWorks will port its voice recognition technologies to the new project, Chambers said. The technologies to come will be based on the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) specifications that have been in development since last October by the SALT Forum, an industry group that includes Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel and other IT companies. The specifications, when completed, are expected to be submitted to standards groups for approval. Under SALT, developers will be able to integrate speech functions into XML or HTML-based applications.

James Mastan, a group product manager for Microsoft's .Net speech technologies team, said the project is aimed at allowing users to get information more easily by using spoken words. "It's the most natural user interface around," he said.

A beta version of the standards is expected to be ready by the end of the year, Mastan said.

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