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Gates Promotes Speech Server

The software, introduced by the Microsoft chairman, marks the company's entry into the market for software that powers telephone speech-recognition systems.

On the same day the European Union slapped Microsoft with a record fine and behavioral sanctions for antitrust law violations, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates appeared in San Francisco to promote the company's entry into a new market.

During a keynote address at the company's VSLive conference, Gates said Microsoft's entry into the market for software that powers telephone speech-recognition systems would leverage its high-volume, low-cost approach. "Speech has been a Holy Grail for a long time in computer interaction," Gates said. "For a certain class of application, it is mainstream now with this software." Microsoft Speech Server 2004, released Wednesday, will sell for $18,000 per CPU; a version limited to a smaller number of callers will sell for $8,000. That's a hefty discount over competing products, Microsoft says.

The software will be sold to companies that are building computer systems that let callers hear information or make transactions in response to spoken commands. Microsoft is also working on technology that would let PC and cell-phone users interact more naturally with those machines by speaking, Gates said. "Eventually, we'll think of the PC and the phone as devices we can talk to," he said.

Earlier in the day, the European Union's antitrust commission fined Microsoft a record $613 million and ordered it to disclose more information about the way its server software works with Windows PCs and to make a commercially attractive version of Windows available in Europe without its bundled media-playing software.

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