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Why isn't Microsoft's answer to Siri built into Windows 8?

Mark Sullivan | Nov. 9, 2012
Windows 8 is supposed to be Microsoft's majestic OS reset—a dramatic overhaul designed to usher the Windows platform into the age of mobility. And Windows 8 is also Microsoft's bid to achieve feature parity with iOS and Android, the other two OS powerhouses in the mobile universe.

Windows 8 is supposed to be Microsoft's majestic OS reseta dramatic overhaul designed to usher the Windows platform into the age of mobility. And Windows 8 is also Microsoft's bid to achieve feature parity with iOS and Android, the other two OS powerhouses in the mobile universe.

But one key featureone hot, relevant, rock-star-caliber featureis conspicuously absent from the Windows 8 repertoire: Intelligent, semantically aware voice control is nowhere to be found in the new OS.

iPads and iPhones have a voice dictation button built right into their virtual keyboards. And Google integrated its own set of deep voice control features into the Jelly Bean version of Android that was released earlier this year. So how come voice control isn't a forward-facing, marquee feature of Windows 8?

The short answer is that voice-control technology hasn't made it to laptops or desktops in a meaningful way for either PCs or Macs, and Windows 8, at least for the short run, is much more of a computer OS than a tablet OS.

In Windows 8 (as in Windows 7 and Vista), speech recognition remains relegated to the role of an assistive technology designed to help disabled customers use their PCs. The Windows Voice Recognition (WVR) feature in Vista and Windows 7 allowed users to control a few minor OS behaviors with their own voices, and users could also dictate text, all with varying degrees of success.

Relative to Windows 7, Windows 8 offers incremental accessibility improvements, but also demonstrates that there's no real desire on Microsofts part to make voice control a major feature of the OS. Windows 8 can recognize your voice if you're using a microphone and can carry out some simple commands, but it doesn't offer anything approaching the voice-controlled "personal assistant" experience that we find in Apple's Siri.

A missed opportunity

Microsoft didnt always show so little interest in voice control. The software giant introduced Windows Speed Recognition (WSR) in Windows Vista, and at the time seemed very interested in putting all Windows users on speaking terms with their computers. The company also demonstrated a feature called Windows Speed Recognition Macros," which enabled the OS to perform certain repetitive tasks in response to a voice command. Unfortunately, the feature required users to write their own macros (i.e. "open file" etc.), and, as a result, WSR was mostly used by advanced users.

Microsoft bought the voice portal company TellMe in 2007, and appeared poised to use the voice recognition technology it received in the deal to put voice command into Windows. But it was not to be. The TellMe technology ended up being used mainly for voice commands in Windows Phone 7 and 8.

 

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