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Microsoft tests a voice for .Net

Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of speech technology used in businesses, the software giant releases a second test version of its .Net Speech Software Developer Kit.

Microsoft on Wednesday released the second test version of speech development tools supporting the company's .Net Web services strategy.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has started taking orders for .Net Speech Software Developer Kit (SDK) 1.0 beta 2. Developers can download the software from Microsoft?s Web site or request a CD.

Microsoft hopes to capitalize on the popularity of speech technology used in business applications, such as automated phone response systems or the introduction of voice recognition to phone banking and financial services. The company also hopes to take advantage of growing support for adding speech delivery and recognition features to desktop and server software.

The company, for example, has added voice recognition capabilities to Office XP. Microsoft is expected to extend that support in the next version, code-named Office 11. Microsoft Reader software includes speech-to-text capabilities that audibly transform written words to a synthesized voice. Developers also increasingly are adding voice recognition capabilities to games, particularly educational titles aimed at elementary and middle school students.

The Speech SDK beta 2 supports Speech Application Language Tags (SALT), an extension of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) used for creating Web pages. An industry standards body, the SALT Forum, oversees SALT, establishing standards that ensure consistency and interoperability of the markup language.

But SALT isn't the only game in town. IBM and Sun Microsystems, for example, back competing VoiceXML, a form of Extensible Markup Language, or XML, which is popular for delivering Web-based software and services.

Microsoft released the first beta of the Speech SDK earlier this year. A broader test release of the software is expected by the middle of next year. The development kit requires Visual Studio .Net, which Microsoft is offering for 60 days to developers who do not have the software.