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Microsoft gives developers a voice

Hoping to spur adoption of speech recognition technology, the company releases a test version of a new development tool that helps software interact with a human voice.

Hoping to spur adoption of speech recognition technology, Microsoft said Tuesday it has released a test version of a new development tool that lets software interact more easily with a human voice.

Although speech recognition has been around for years and has seen limited adoption, Microsoft is betting that more powerful hardware and software means that the technology is ready to become a part of Web sites and business systems. With voice-enabled software, a typical computer user could perform tasks such as making an airline reservation by just by speaking the information.

Microsoft plans to release a test version of a software developer kit, or SDK, as an add-on to Visual Studio.Net, the recently released upgrade to its bundle of software development tools.

"Speech is the most natural way to communicate," said Brian Strachman, analyst with industry researchers Cahner's In-Stat. "It opens up new markets for PCs."

The new tools support an emerging specification called speech application language tags, or SALT--an effort spearheaded by Microsoft. Others in the industry, including rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems, support alternative technology specifications, such as a voice-enabled version of Extensible Markup Language, or XML. Both technology standards are in the early stages of adoption.

Microsoft released the SDK at a little-known voice technology show, called the Avios Speech Expo, being held in San Jose, Calif., this week.

Release of the SDK is part of Microsoft's investment in speech recognition and voice tools, under the guidance a growing speech technologies group at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. Chairman Bill Gates has long hoped to bring speech to PCs as an easier interface than the current keyboard-and-mouse setup.

"To jump-start the market--that's basically the intent here," said James Mastan, a group product manager at Microsoft. "We hope this is going to build this business out."