Speech recognition is a major growth area, and open standards such as SALT are vital to its development. Microsoft’s SALT-based .NET Speech SDK beta is a step in the right direction. However, with SALT version 1.0 still under development and nothing before a standards board, it appears to be the right step in the wrong order.
Microsoft has released a beta version of the first SALT-based application development toolkit.
Microsoft has announced the beta release of its .NET Speech Software Development Kit (SDK), an application development toolkit based on the Visual Studio .NET environment. It uses the Speech Application Language Tag (SALT) specification, a set of extensions to existing web languages that enable telephony and multimodal access to information and services.
SALT is being developed by a 47-company forum, of which Microsoft is a founding member. VoiceXML, a competing standard for telephony applications, has an 18-month development lead and hundreds of members.
Datamonitor estimates that speech recognition solutions will be worth $729 million in 2004. Open standards are necessary to drive this market forward, speeding up development, reducing time to market, reducing costs, and allowing interoperability with standards-based hardware and software.
While telephony experience is largely limited to traditional Interactive Voice Response companies developing in proprietary environments, web style standards open the voice market to millions of web developers. Microsoft says .NET Speech SDK introduces SALT to over six million Visual Studio .NET developers.
This isn’t the quite whole story. SALT is still under development and a full 1.0 version has not yet been released, or presented to a standards board, such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In contrast, the W3C standards board has already approved VoiceXML version 2.0.
Without approval from a standards board, SALT cannot gain traction in the multimodal and voice market and will lack the seamless interoperability it claims to address. Unsurprisingly, vendors have been hesitant to get involved in SALT, instead focusing on improving VoiceXML.
Releasing .NET Speech SDK now seems to be putting the cart before the horse. The priority should be in completing the development of SALT 1.0 and submitting it to a standards board to gain vendor support and market viability.
The reason for the release, however, seems to be to augment the recent release Visual Studio .NET and to create a developer buzz for SALT 1.0 – which is set to go before an unidentified standards board sometime this summer.
Related research: Datamonitor, 2002: Voice Portals and Applications