UPDATED-When good demos go (very, very) bad

July 28, 2006

(updated July 31) Microsoft’s failed voice recognition product demonstration at last Thursday’s Financial Analyst Meeting came full circle on Monday when Larry Osterman, a 22-year veteran Microsoft developer admitted on his blog that he was responsible for the bug that led to the on-stage meltdown. In a disarmingly confessional post entitled “Wait, that was my bug? Ouch!” Osterman describes the spectacle and then adds ”…and it was my fault.” Wait a second. Someone in the computer industry just took personal responsibility for messing up?Eleven years after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in his 1995 book “The Road Ahead“ predicted humans would one day talk to their computers rather than have to type, the future appeared to be at hand.At Microsoft’s annual Financial Analyst Meeting on Thursday, Vista product manager Shanen Boettcher set out to show just how easy to use the speech recognition technology built into upcoming Windows Vista software will be. Like, for example, dictating aloud a simple, heartfelt letter to mom, and having one’s voice automatically transcribed into a computer.Voice Rec demoThe result was a disaster.Several tries at making the computer understand the simple salutation “Dear Mom” was read by Microsoft software as “Dear Aunt, let’s set so double the killer delete select all.” Attempts to correct or undo or delete the error only deepened the mess.It was not just a perfect refutation of the problems of making machines understand human speech. What other features of Microsoft Windows Vista pose trouble, the audience was left to wonder? “The crashing demo didn’t do a lot to instill confidence in the new Windows product,” one Wall Street analyst, who was present at the demo, said.Windows Vista, already five years in the making, has been postponed by Microsoft several times. Delays have put off the consumer version of Windows until early 2007 — after the crucial holiday shopping season. Vista is scheduled to ship to corporate customers this November, that is, unless more problems are uncovered.Later, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer blamed the failed speech recognition product demonstration on “a little bit of echo” in the room, which confused the speech-to-text system. To be sure, a second demonstration during the meeting showed how effectively speech recognition can be for navigating around applications, like Microsoft Outlook.Structured menus appear to work fine. But recognizing random, natural speech still has quite a ways to go, by all appearances: “Let’s set so double the killer delete select all.”– Additional reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi.Read the more than 2,800 comments on Digg…Buyer beware, but several posters are offering T-shirts to commemorate the event. (1), (2), (3) Here is the YouTube link to various videos of the demo gone awry.


This is something that is slowly becoming standard with Windows, things just don’t work. How many things have been ditched from Windows Vista since it’s announcement ? Way too many.

I switched to Mac almost two years ago and love every minute spend with it, the things like this simply don’t happen.

Rest in peace Microsoft, I thing you are well beyond the point of no return.


Honestly though, it’s not that random natural speech recognition isnt ready yet, its just not ready yet with microsoft’s stuff. Apple’s Macintosh can take speech regonition insanely well, and even on the PC, programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking work fine. Microsoft may be biting off more than it can chew..


That’s awespme – it might be interesting to try telling the Speech Recognition program the same thing multiple times on multiple programs (like Word, Excel, OpenOffice.org, whatever) and see if it gives the same output every time in each program. You might get some really funny results!


cant stop laughing , lol

Posted by Dhruv | Report as abusive

Obviously the words I have echoed on my sit and others, continue to ring true. I have had more than my share and yours, of broken, infested, and completely obliterated Microsoft operating systems. I have one Windows installation and for only one reason; Games. Being an Unreal Tournament 2003 freak is my only excuse. As for my everyday routine, I use
Suse 10.1, Suse Enterprise Desktop 10, & of course PC-BSD Unix. Sorry Bill but your OS is flopping as does your support team when offered an Atheros wireless driver for your 64 bit XP Pro. Thats correct. They shrugged me of with the infamous,”we appreiate your comments and your email has been sent to the appropriate parties. Enjoy it now Bill, while you still can!!


oh, please, it’s always something with microsoft. the echo of the room made it goof up. seems that if you have a microphone 1 inch from your mouth, would not be affected by echo of the room.

sorry, steve, but, room dynamics won’t make your software goof-up.

good story stick with it, just admit that your software doesn’t work and you should have checked it out before making the demo live.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive


Now I like Microsoft, but I just can’t get over how they make mistakes like this. It’s like they unintentionally “National Lampoon” the presentation, I’ve grown to like these funny mistakes they make, yeah sounds wierd, but ever since the first “Lampoon” by Mr’ Gates I just couldn’t get enough. So let the records show…

Dear Aunt, lets set so double the killer delete select all.

Is now part of Microsoft history!

You know… that sorta sounds like a phrase from some up and coming homicidal computer tech murder movie!

What’s with the stupid “Please add 5 plus 7″ thing??!!!?? :P

Posted by Lawrence | Report as abusive

This is SO going to be the cause of global thermonuclear war… ;)


well…about 4months ago i used windows vista beta 2 and it seemed to work well..but when i went to use the speech program., it seemed to work pretty well, but about 20 mins into using the program it would crash and “hang” windows for about 3mins o more, sad. but true


I am not enthralled by Windows; however, to be fair, it is a system that works pretty well most of the time and I’m also quite sure that when Vista does appear for sale to consumers, that it will be a system that those at Microsoft can be proud of.

A lot of people really love to try to crucify anything: Windows just is an excuse. Nothing is perfect, nor will it ever be.

Posted by Ed Evans | Report as abusive

whats this:

Please perform the addition of 3 and 4 (simply put the answer in the box to the left – thanks!)


oic – 3 + 4 and now 1 + 2


Ha ha! Reminds me of the early Newton handwriting recognition. Of course it got better, but all anyone remembers is the first generation.


yea, i’ve used the vista beta and tried the voice stuff. it actually works pretty well, but the documentation cause its a beta isn’t anywhere complete so finding out what the exact commands are to control stuff aren’t easily found. As with betas they change alot of stuff from version to version which goes undocumented so he might’ve gotten confused when the commands he was use to saying got picked up as natural speech and wrote them down. Stuff like this happens.. I think the voice, if they keep it updated and allow for an open (unlikely) developer interface to allow for addons it could really be a nice feature of the OS.

Posted by matt | Report as abusive

One more reason I own Apple products. Bloatware no body needs. Besides if I feel like running Microsoft software I’ll just fire up my MacBook. :)

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Have put a video of the whole thing on my blog, plus a hilariously overdubbed Italian Vista speech recognition demo.

Link Rob Chalmers explaining what actually went wrong also on the blog – it wasn’t an echo, apparently…



At the end of the transcript of Ballmer’s speech:

“Due to the varying sound quality and subject matter of tapes, the information in this transcript may contain inaccuracies.”


you would think windows would have thought of some sort of failsafe to make sure that their demo wouldnt screw up like it did. maybe as simple as restricting its dictionary to the words that would ultimately be used or something like that. it is just odd that vista would fail to recognize spoken words as it did when there are already programs that can do the same thing only much better.

Posted by mike | Report as abusive

Lets set so double the killer delete select all.

FINALLY a phase that can replace “All your base are belong to us!”

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive

Wow just release it in 2020 when its ready


This is why i use PCLinuxOS. Or Gentoo, depending on my mood.

Windows is only useful for gaming, but it doesn’t even do that right half of the time. When WINE is perfect, Windows will be useless.

Posted by sonicbhoc | Report as abusive

I still can’t stop laughing…

Posted by achan | Report as abusive

dragon dictate gave me this gem:
pushy pop-up people pops

Posted by russs | Report as abusive

I wonder if you tell it Lets set so double the killer delete select all. if it will type “Dear Mom,”

As Joe (comment #30) said, i thought of the All your base similarities right away. I can’t wait for the Youtube video and T-shirt.

Posted by faroth | Report as abusive

here’s my problems with Mac. they control all the hardware. I have a dell laptop, my newborn son threw up into it as I was having a video call with my mom.(Yes it was stupid of me to lean my son over my computer). I have goldcare on my laptop. Dell fixed and replaced everything. I talked to an apple sales rep a few days later about corporate purchases. He said, that if that had happened to an apple I was would SOL. I don’t doubt Mac is a more stable OS, they don’t have to account for a million varieties of hardware that the OS will run on. have you ever had service on your iPod? It’s dealing with Apple’s service that makes me not a fan of apple.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

“Wait a second. Someone in the computer industry just took personal responsibility for messing up?”

No, noone took personal responsibility, this developer was setup. The responsibility lies with the presenter, who did not prepare for his presentation.

Most often speech recognition software requires the user to train it for a few minutes, before it can be used successfully. Obviously this sales/marketting moron did not do anything like that before the demo, otherwise if the problem was actually in software he would’ve known it.

As usual noone who matter is taking personal responsibility.


I was at this meeting and wrote up an account of what happened that counters the newscast here.