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Microsoft Garage fan favorite Dictate graduates to Office and Windows

Today, we’re excited to graduate Dictate, a Microsoft Garage project, 2 years after its initial launch. The Office add-in for Microsoft Office released in June 2017, enabling Office users to be more productive with the power of dictation. Upon positive reception from users, Dictate’s approach to dictation was increasingly integrated across Office and Windows products. The feature sets are staffed by two dedicated teams and continue to improve over time.

Doing one thing really well

Dictate got its start as a Hackathon project in 2016 when a small team saw there was demand for enhanced dictation features integrated into tasks we handle everyday–drafting emails and documents, recording notes for ourselves and others, and even translating content. Anand Desai, a Software Engineer on the Speech and Language team in Microsoft’s Cloud and AI group and one of the hack project leads saw an opportunity to translate his team’s work in speech recognition to a simple tool for dictation. After building a prototype, the team reached out to Derik Stenerson, a Principle Program Manager on the Office team who was spearheading an initiative to bring dictation to Office. Together, they realized they could create a focused Office add-in that could help them zero in on the best experience before incorporating that approach into Office on a broad scale.

Dictate team image
The Dictate team pictured from left to right: Anirudh Koul, Anand Desai, Derik Stenerson, Eren Song, Prabhav Agrawal, Ayush Sharma, Cem Aksoylar

When Dictate launched, hundreds of users emailed in feedback. “It was invaluable to have a deeper conversation with the people who use this to make their lives more productive,” shares Derik. More importantly, the engagement from users confirmed they were on to something. “The thing that gave us the most encouragement to go forward was the reception,” continues Derik. We confirmed that there’s a huge gap and a really strong need, and more some users it’s incredibly impactful. It’s not just that the project enabled users to get more done in less time–we heard that from information workers and journalists. But the feedback we heard from people with challenges with hand dexterity issues and dyslexia about the impact in their lives really motivated our team.” The team began integrating confirmed features into Office and Windows shortly after launch and has maintained the Garage project as a way to continue to get detailed feedback from fans.

“The Garage afforded us the freedom to experiment and learn quickly.” –Derik Stenerson

We asked Derik about this unique strategy of creating a Garage project that focuses on doing one thing well to unearth insights for an integrated feature set. “We can do something really lightweight, really fast and confirm that we’re on the right track. That’s what the spirit of this was for me.” Since Dictate launched in 2017, the Office team has built a state-of-the-art testing experimentation platform that allows teams to flight new experiences and rapidly collect customer feedback right within Office.

For Anand, the Dictate launch and now graduation struck an even deeper chord, bringing memories of his first experiences with technology growing up in India. “Personally, if Microsoft had not reached the parts of the world I grew up in, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Specifically Office 97 inspired a sense of passion for software development in me–it’s so fulfilling to have had the opportunity to contribute to this same product and potentially inspire others in a similar way all these years later.”

Continue enjoying dictation on Office and Windows

The project will formally sunset on October 15, 2019. We recommend users who love Dictate leverage the dictation feature sets in Windows 10 and Office 365 that the project inspired. Full un-installation details are documented in an FAQ on the project website.

This effort would not have been possible without the users who tried the project and gave feedback–thank you for your time and passion. The teams are still working to improve these features. If you’d like to offer additional feedback on dictation features moving forward, you can do so through in-product feedback channels outlined here.

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