Microsoft will unwrap a speech recognition-enabled phone system Monday designed to give small businesses a flexible alternative to a public branch exchange (PBX), the company said.

The Microsoft Response Point phone system includes both software and phones, and was designed to be easy to install and manage, said Jeff Smith, a senior product manager at Microsoft. Also included in the Response Point system is a PC-based management console so anyone familiar with a PC environment can make changes or manage the system.

Phone calls on the system are designed to be easy to make by pressing the "Response Point" button on the phone and telling the system who you want to call. For example, a user could say "Call Jeff at work" and the system will dial that number based on the contact information entered into the Response Point directory, Smith said.

Response Point can be set up either as a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) system or one that uses traditional phone lines, he added.

The team that built the Response Point system acted as an independently funded start-up within Microsoft, which gave it the advantage of developing the product "from the ground up" for small businesses without having to work with other product teams, Smith said.

According to Smith, only about one-third of small businesses use PBXs or phone systems because they are expensive and difficult to install and manage. "You need a lot of technical expertise," he said.

Microsoft saw an opportunity to make phone systems as accessible to small businesses as PCs are, Smith said.

The Microsoft Response Point system will be available this year. Microsoft is not yet disclosing the pricing, but Smith said it would be "competitive." He said typical small-business PBXs cost from about US$5,000 to more than $10,000.

Microsoft will take the wraps off the product, the Microsoft Response Point phone system, at its second-annual Small Business Summit, which is being held both online and in Washington, US.