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Microsoft shakes up SALT offerings

Nov 11, 20024 mins
Enterprise Applications

An emerging standard called Speech Application Language Tags received a boost last month when Microsoft announced several efforts to beef up its support for a specification that enables speech interfaces to Web information.

An emerging standard called Speech Application Language Tags received a boost last month when Microsoft announced several efforts to beef up its support for a specification that enables speech interfaces to Web information.

An extension to HTML, Extensible HTML and XML, SALT is designed to make it easier, faster and less expensive for developers to support spoken interactions with Web pages. A company could use SALT to create a CRM application that would let the salesforce access or update customer data over cell phones.

Under development by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), SALT supports so-called multimodal applications that let a user interact with a Web site using a keyboard, mouse, stylus or speech. With SALT, these modes can be used independently or concurrently.

The creators of SALT are the SALT Forum, an industry group led by Microsoft, Intel and Cisco that includes more than 50 network vendors. Over the summer, the W3C agreed to develop an open, royalty-free standard for SALT.

Last month at the SpeechTEK conference in New York, Microsoft released a new beta-test version of its .Net Speech Software Development Kit (SDK) that supports the version of the SALT specification pending before the W3C and the W3C grammar formats. The new SDK also features prebuilt controls that make it easier for developers that don’t have experience creating speech applications. Microsoft shipped the original .Net Speech SDK beta in May.

“You can absolutely create a deployable application with this version of the SDK,” says James Mastan, director of marketing for Microsoft’s .Net Speech Technologies Group. “You could create telephony applications or multimodal applications.”

Microsoft also announced a technical preview of its .Net Speech Platform, which can be used to deploy telephony and multimedia applications based on SALT. The platform includes Microsoft’s speech recognition engine, a text-to-speech engine from SpeechWorks, Microsoft’s SALT interpreter and telephony integration software.

In other SALT-related news, Microsoft announced a joint development program for its .Net Speech partners and enterprise customers to foster the creation of SALT-based applications.

By the end of next year, Microsoft plans to announce a generally available release of its .Net Speech Platform along with supporting applications in such vertical areas as unified messaging, travel and financial services, Mastan says.

“The belief at Microsoft is that speech is going to be the next primary user paradigm,” Mastan says. “If you think of it in that context, it cuts across all applications. But some applications seem more appropriate to be the early adopters like interactive voice response, call centers and CRM. As time goes on, speech will become more mainstream.”

Meanwhile, the W3C continues to make progress on the SALT specification. The W3C’s Multimodal Interaction Working Group is finishing its requirements and then will discuss SALT in terms of these requirements, says Dave Raggett, a W3C fellow who leads the working group.

“There is considerable interest in multimodal interaction,” Raggett says. “Many of the companies in the SALT Forum [including Microsoft] are also involved in the W3C multimodal interaction working group.”

SALT products proliferate Speech Application Language Tags are supposed to make it easier for customers to voice-enable Web applications. Here’s a look at some companies offering SALT products:
Company Product Description
Hey Anita FreeSpeech SALT Platform, Browser and pre-packaged applications. Platform supports SALT, VoiceXML and Java. Also sells general-purpose apps including voice access to e-mail.
Intervoic Omvia Platform, InVision Devm’t Environment Both products use Microsoft’s .Net Speech SDK.
Kirusa Multimodal Platform Platform for wireless service providers that supports use of voice and visual interfaces.
Microsoft .Net Speech SDK Beta 2.0 Free, downloadable software supports W3C SALT 1.0 spec.
Philips SALT Browser Built-in Java 2 and ECMA Script platform independent.
Vocalocity Voice Gateway 2.0 Interpreter supports SALT and VoiceXML.