Net Neutrality, Aero and Linux screen readers

So this is really a bunch of random computery things thrown together into a post. Yes, another boring, “Pace is thinking out loud post.”

First, I continue to strike tiny blows to protect network neutrality from the lobbyists of telecommunications companies. I phoned Senator Patty Murry‘s office to ask her to vote for Byron Dorgan and Olympia Snowe’s legislation to protect network neutrality.

Secondly, at work I’m now using Vista and Office 2007. Grumble, grumble.

Why do the designers at Microsoft have to keep changing the interface? Is anything really gained by this? Really? Just because Apple does it doesn’t mean everyone else should.

Granted the interface of Win2k wasn’t perfect or pretty but at least it was reliable and you knew where everything was and what it did. It was bland and boring but, after you got used to it, it didn’t really lie to you. I hated the fact that XP and now Vista tried to hide the important stuff from you. This hiding was utterly pointless. Technical support didn’t become easier because it’s slightly harder for people to find the powerful and dangerous things that shoot them in the foot. So why do it?

Luckily my extensive knowledge of keystroke shortcuts prevented incipient, Aero-inflicted, insanity.

But get this–in Outlook 2007 after I struck CTRL+ENTER, a shortcut I’ve been using for at least 10 years to send e-mail with, Outlook asked(?!) me if I really wanted to do that. I was stunned. What could possibly be wrong with any keystroke at all to avoid pointless mousery? I really don’t understand the reasoning behind this prompt at all.

What 30 minute meeting was this nonsense cooked up in? Look, I used to work in the Usability group of Microsoft. I know Microsoft spends a lot of money on this to attempt to get it right. But the decision behind this Outlook prompt is just incomprehensibly silly.

I guess I should be thankful Microsoft didn’t try to ape the flaming, spinning cube nonsense of Beryl.

Anyway, finally, something about screen readers in Linux. I don’t know if I should really know this or not but, it was interesting reading up on it. Maybe some day someone will ask me questions about it.

  • SUSE linux is supposedly a Novell project but all the documentation seems to be in German. From what little I know about SUSE, it’s a pretty heavily European oriented distro so I guess this is not surprising.
  • Orca is a screen reader for Gnome. It grew out of the Gnopernicus project.
  • LSR, is an alternative screen reader for Gnome. My guess is because Ubuntu has thrown its weight behind Orca, LSR might fade in importance as time goes on.

Say what you will about Microsoft but, it when it comes to accessibility, all the other games in town are playing catch up. I only mention screen readers in Linux because they have two advantages.

  1. Unless you want support, they are significantly cheaper than commercial assistive technology solutions. Commercial assistive technology tends to be very expensive due to small market sizes and the need for intensive technical support.
  2. It’s all open source. This makes development of and cooperation between different applications much, much easier. No need to wait for commercial software manufacturers to slowly and grudgingly release APIs to conform your assistive tools to.

Having said that, it will be a very, very long time before Orca ever begins to rival tools like Window-Eyes or ZoomText.

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3 Responses to Net Neutrality, Aero and Linux screen readers

  1. Odin says:

    I have encountered many many problems with Vista… my friend John who just bought a new HP desktop is outraged that almost everuthing he does prompts him “do you really want to do that”… plus the OS is constantly doing something in the background which frequently interrupts him in the midle of crucial gaming moments– as he plays online WOW this is ofetn fatal for his characters.
    These product developers at Microbrains seem to be people who dont actually use the products that they develop- it is a shameful dumbing down of the interface for the lowest common denominator moron users who shouldnt be using computers anyway. I am determined to never buy a machine with this OS.

  2. Bakafish says:

    Being a Mac zealot, I feel it is important to point out the many great Accessibility features built in to OS X:
    With Tiger there is additionally a system wide screen reader integrated into the OS itself:
    The day will come when you finally make the switch, and I shall laugh at you for living in denial for so long. Resistance is futile.

  3. Pace Arko says:

    I work for a company that sells middleware to make iTunes on Windows accessible to screen readers. I’ve had several mails and phone calls from blind people complaining about accessibility faults of iPods, the Windows implentation of iTunes and, now, iPhones. This is all purely anecdotal but it sounds to me like Apple still has some work to do. As their gadget share grows, they are going to have to take these users more seriously than they have in the past.
    Most of the world still uses Microsoft and probably will for some time to come. Most of the assistive technology people focus on Microsoft systems because of that. If Apple wants to get in on all that, they’ll have to do things like making blind accessible iPods and so on. Otherwise it’s just agitprop.
    Anyway, if I really feel like making some kind of a statement, instead of switching from one corporate master to another, I’ll switch to a pure, open-source software stack. OS X is partially closed.
    Not that I’m really that effective in making any kind of lifestyle statement. I am not my computer or my choice of operating system.

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