AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, July 5, 2000 — Today at Tech●Ed Amsterdam, Microsoft Corp. announced the immediate availability of new foreign language text-to-speech (TTS) engines for use with Microsoft® Agent 2.0, a technology that provides a more natural and interactive way for people to work with their computers. The release of these engines will enhance the appeal of the technology to international markets where British English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian and Spanish are spoken. Like the Microsoft Agent software, the new TTS engines can be downloaded for free from the Internet at http://www.microsoft.com/msagent/ (connect-time charges may apply).
Microsoft Agent provides developers with software services that enable them to include interactive, animated characters in their applications and Web pages. These characters can extend and enhance the conventional user interface of computer software by serving as speaking assistants, tutors, guides, messengers or entertainers.
Microsoft Agent supports automated lip-synched spoken output for animated characters using TTS engines — software that transforms raw text, either programmed from an application or retrieved from a data source, into audio output heard by the computer user. TTS engines are commonly specific to a single language, and the original TTS engine included with the Microsoft Agent software supported only American English speech output. Major speech-technology vendors also provide speech engines for English and other languages compatible with Microsoft Agent. The newly released text-to-speech engines for use with Microsoft Agent are licensed from Lernout & Hauspie, a leader in advanced speech and language solutions.
“We are very excited about releasing text-to-speech engines in 10 additional languages to enhance support for millions of users,” said Tandy Trower, general manager of the Advanced User Interface Design Group that developed Microsoft Agent. “While Microsoft Agent characters can be programmed to speak using just text in a word balloon or recorded audio, text-to-speech provides developers with a very flexible form of output that can significantly enhance the user experience as well.”
These speech engines will also be included on many new computers with the Windows® Millennium Edition (Windows Me) operating system, soon to be available. Microsoft Agent and its Merlin character will greet and assist computer users with the initial startup configuration process when they first turn on their new computer. Merlin will provide step-by-step assistance to computer novices during tasks such as registering, learning to use the mouse and connecting to the Internet.
In addition, Microsoft Agent is preinstalled with all versions of the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system and Microsoft Office 2000 applications. The software has been downloaded by more than 4 million users from the update sites for the Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT® operating systems. Microsoft Agent technology is also distributed by independent software vendors, major corporations, governments, educational institutions and many others to enhance their Web sites and applications.
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