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Microsoft Adds Speech To Communications Server

Microsoft  will fold its Speech Server software into the upcoming Office Communications server, thus integrating speech with instant messaging and e-mail communication.

This will mark the end of Speech Server, which was updated this year.

Going forward, it will be a part of the Office Communications Server 2007, a new product planned for release next year.

Office Communications Server in turn is a replacement for another Microsoft product; in this case, it will replace Live Communications Server.

This server uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to enable presence-based VoIP  call management and VoIP communication.

This is a huge gain for Office Communications Server, as Speech Server 2004 is not cheap. The Standard Edition for Speech Server 2004 is $7,999 per processor and the Enterprise Edition is $17,999 per processor.

Office Communications Server doesn't have a price yet, but for an idea of comparison, Live Communications Server sells for $1,199 for a five-user license and $4,969 for a 25-user license.

The plan for Office Communications Server will allow for inter-communication between IM and voice.

A phone call can be routed to an instant messenger, so a person who perhaps can't take a phone call can get the word via a pop-up window instead, explained Clint Patterson, Microsoft director of product management for Microsoft Speech Server, in a briefing with internetnews.com.

Likewise, it would be possible to fire off a phone call from Outlook, so you can call a person in response to their e-mail by a mouse click.

By adding Speech Server to Office, people using speech, IM and e-mail all benefit from the integration, he said.

"Each respective customer situation gets a more complete solution."

Microsoft is also building speech recognition technology into the Windows Vista operating system.

At the SpeechTek 2006 show taking place in New York this week, Microsoft plans to demonstrate a feature called Windows Speech Recognition, which allows for voice command and document dictation.

The company attempted a similar demo last month during a meeting with financial analysts but it proved embarrassing as the voice recognition wasn't even close.

Patterson said that was a case of using the wrong version. He said attendees of SpeechTek will get a much better show.

In addition to Office integration, Microsoft will expose a series of application programming interfaces (API) so developers can build voice-, IM- and e-mail-driven applications for Office Communications Server 2007.

The company will eventually have tools for building these applications as a part of the Visual Studio development environment, but Patterson said a release date was not yet known.

Bill Meisel, president of speech recognition analyst firm TMA Associates, said offering Speech Server in Office will go a long way to get companies to try out that kind of functionality.

"Speech recognition technology has been very good. What's been an impediment in the past is it has always been an option, so they had to make a decision, do we pay for it?" he said.

"If you have an easy to use application, where you can do something like get email by phone or send a voice mail message attached to an e-mail, then that in itself is going to be enough to make this a winner within enterprises," said Meisel.