And Other Microsoft-Related Text to Speech Questions.
With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft have introduced two new voices, Microsoft Anna – a female English voice and Microsoft Lili – a female Chinese voice. With this movement at the station, I thought I’d contact Microsoft and ask them a few text to speech related questions. Charles Oppermann, Program Manager for speech components at Microsoft was kind enough to provide some answers.
Mark: I am very interested in learning some of the background about the development of Microsoft Anna. Was the text-to-speech (TTS) engine and voice developed in-house or did Microsoft license some third-party technology?
Charles: Microsoft Anna is based on the MSTTS20 engine, codenamed “Mulan”. It was developed entirely by Microsoft, specifically in our Advanced Technology Center in Beijing, China.
Mark: What are the major improvements in Anna over Sam?
Charles: The major improvement is readability and a better sounding voice.
Mark: Is Microsoft Anna only for use with Windows Vista or will she be made available for XP users?
Charles: Currently Anna is only available with Windows Vista. However, there are a few products that include Anna that run on Windows XP, the first one is Microsoft Streets and Trips. That is a North American mapping product, and I believe the European versions go by the name Microsoft Autoroute. We would like to make Anna available for Windows XP as an end-user download, but haven’t committed to that yet. Do you have an opinion whether we should or not?
Mark: I personally think you should make Microsoft Anna available as a download for XP. I would like to see TTS gain more acceptance in the community and having Microsoft provide better quality voices out of the box is a good way of achieving this.
I understand there is a Chinese voice that is based on the same technology. What version of Vista do I need to install this voice?
Charles: That is correct, in addition to Anna, we have Microsoft Lili for Chinese. If you have Windows Vista Ultimate or Enterprise Edition, you can download the Chinese Language Pack which will install TTS and speech recognition engines for Chinese. Chinese language versions of Windows Vista include Lili and Anna in the box.
Mark: What do you see as the most important areas for improvement in TTS technology on the Windows platform?
Charles: The most important area is language expansion, making our TTS engine speak in many languages. We have an aggressive program to do this and will make the engines available in future server-based products and then make them available on the Windows desktop.
Mark: I’ve seen a number of grumblings on the web by people who want a male voice for Vista. Do you have any plans to make Microsoft Sam available for Vista?
Charles: There is no way we can make Microsoft Sam available on Vista. A particular module in it did not meet our security standards and we decided to block it when upgrading to Windows Vista. The L&H engines that come as part of Microsoft Office XP and Office 2003 don’t have this issue.
I want to see a male voice as well, but our main focus is voices for server-based products, which use predominately female voices. However, this is something I’m working on.
Mark: Finally, are there any current blogs, forums, newsgroups, etc where Microsoft text-to-speech developers hang out?
Charles: My blog and Rob Chambers blog are active and we try to be responsive to information requests. Several folks on our team try to keep an eye on the various Microsoft speech related newsgroups and forums (MS-Speech at Yahoo Group being one or the more active ones), but we really can’t provide support services through them.
Mark: Thank you very much for your time Charles.
The MS-Speech Yahoo group is mainly filled with speech recognition posts, although there is the occasional text to speech related post.
The Microsoft Speech Components group have just created a new blog for all things Speech @ Microsoft.
If you must have Microsoft Anna for Windows XP now, you can purchase the very reasonably priced Microsoft Streets and Trips for US39.95 which includes Microsoft Anna.
Get some sleep!
For those of us who haven’t been able to quit our day job yet, time is precious and we often find ourselves working late into the night after having already done a full day’s work.
However productivity will suffer if you keep it up too long. I know personally that after a good night’s sleep, a problem that seemed difficult the day before turns out not to be a problem at all. Not only that, your partner will appreciate it too.
With that, I’m turning in for the night.
If you ask your average computer user what one of these is you’ll probably get a blank stare. This is despite that fact that every time you install a piece of software on your computer you will be asked to acknowledge that you’ve read the EULA (End-user license agreement) and agreed to its terms and conditions. The terms and conditions of a typical EULA will restrict the number of computers you can install the software on (usually to one), waive your rights to any warranty or technical support (i.e. the software is sold ‘as-is’, think of buying a used car) and exempt the manufacturer from any liability due to any conceivable misadventure that may result from the use of the software.
The EULA is usually displayed during the installation of the software and it’s at that point that you are supposed to read through the terms and conditions, and only proceed if they are acceptable to you. Now if you’re like me, this is what a typical EULA screen looks like.
This practice is almost universal in the software industry and probably can be traced back to a point in time when a software company decided to employ the services of a lawyer for the first time. Since then, it’s been perpetuated by just about all software companies without question. Now I don’t have anything against a reasonable EULA. I have one for Text2Go and don’t really think you can do without one if you plan to sell software. However I don’t really see the point in asking the user to read and accept the terms and conditions at installation time. To my mind this is way too late. How many people have you heard about who’ve bought a piece of software only to get it home, begin the installation process, read the EULA and then decide that no, the conditions are unacceptable and so return the software to the place of purchase? None I suspect.
The EULA needs to be available to the customer at the stage when they are making their purchasing decision. I suspect that when software was primarily sold as a boxed product over the counter, publishers would have been reluctant to print the EULA on the box due to the fact that the entire box would probably end up covered in dense, capitalized text. Now that most software is sold over the web, there is no harm in providing a page that contains the EULA. The majority of customers will never read this page anyway but at least it is available for those who do want to. I’m going to go with this approach and will also include the EULA as part of my help documentation. I will not be including it in my installer.