Random Thoughts on a Sunday Morning
JAWS 9.0 Update
Last week, I downloaded the latest update to the JAWS 9.0 beta but, having read the release notes and making the assumption that they are mostly true, I think something must have gone wrong with my installation as lots of things I am experiencing do not correspond with the notes on the web site. It wouldn’t be fair to FS for me to comment on whatever broken installation I have.
As for my report on JAWS 9.0 in
My Accent Fetish
I must admit that I go absolutely nuts for women with an accent different from my own mixture of Jersey and
On Thursday, I spent about five hours in a dental chair. The dental assistant came from
I guess my accent fetish started while watching Bullwinkle where Natasha Nogoodnik spoke with one of the sexiest voices (along with Jessica Rabbit and Penelope Pitstop) in the history of animation. She didn’t look especially pretty but her voice stirred my youthful heart in ways I didn’t understand yet.
The next major influence on my appreciation of accents came from the mouth of Emma Peel on the Avengers. As a kid, I didn’t quite get the overtones of S&M and sexual fetishism in the show but I really loved Emma’s voice and those cool leather riding boots and riding crop she always carried.
Eartha Kitt, as Cat Woman on the sixties vintage Batman show, wrapped in leather from neck to toe, purring in her cat like manner and speaking with her unique southern African American accent drove me wild when I was about six or seven years old. I didn’t quite understand why all of that leather and that amazing voice made me feel so warm but I sure loved the feeling.
In my teens, I kept falling in love with girls who had accents. I loved the Jewish girls from Long Island, the Latinas from
As I started traveling around the world, any woman who spoke English with an accent immediately got my attention. I went all over South America, Asia, North Africa, Central America and
More recently, I must admit that my friend Danielle who, although born in Long Island, grew up in
Wondering About the Future of Software AT
Recently, Mike Calvo posted an article to the Serotek Blog called “The Coming Crisis.” The article consolidated a lot of things Mike has said over the past few years and tells the reader why Serotek has such a different set of priorities and strategies than the more traditional AT software companies.
Mike’s article got me thinking about a broader range of challenges that all AT software companies, including Serotek, will have to face in the future. The biggest obstacle to these companies come in the form of AT distributed without cost to users or institutions and from free (as in freedom with a lower case “f”) AT software that carries the GNU General Public License (GPL) or some other license similar to it. Some of these screen readers, magnifiers, scan and read programs and on screen keyboards to name a few categories being addressed by the free, open source and without cost communities, are starting to gain some traction.
Recently, a friend showed me the new version of VoiceOver that will come with the Macintosh Leopard OS release. The Apple team has included a number of truly innovative concepts and the software works much better than the version in OSX, Tiger Edition. Apple includes the open source Safari browser in its operating systems, I recommend that they open up the source and slap GPL on VoiceOver as I am fairly confident that it is not a feature that drives profits in the Macintosh division of their business.
As the Apple Accessibility API is not terribly similar to those from Microsoft and Sun, they will probably not lose much to their competition and will probably gain some useful functionality if some hackers add support for iAccessible2 and, perhaps, the
On the Windows side, Microsoft includes Narrator which is still not a fully functional screen reader but the
A screen reader out of
The gnome desktop first had gnopernicus which failed so miserably that Sun, who led the project, scrapped it entirely and launched the orca initiative. I’ve been using orca on an Ubuntu distribution and, for what it does, it works pretty well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a lot but it is available in a ton of different languages. While the gnome desktop tries to make the user experience more similar to Macintosh or Windows, it is still a UNIX like environment and still requires difficult installation procedures, various edits to system text files and a number of tasks that are automated or wrapped in a clean and intuitive interface in Windows and Macintosh. I like orca and gnome but I’ve also been using UNIX like systems since 1986, well before graphical interfaces arrived in that world and most tasks involved editing obscure text files. For blind hackers, orca is a good solution.
Another GPL screen reader, written mostly in
The last screen reader that is distributed without cost but not with source code or a GPL like license is called Thunder. I haven’t had time to install it yet but I’m told it does a decent job of providing basic access to Windows systems. Thunder shocked people who follow blindness related AT when they consummated a deal with the European Union to provide their program for free to blinks in
If we do a little math, we would probably find that consumers, dealers, institutions, corporations, educational institutions, etc. probably spend about $25 million dollars on screen readers each year. Imagine a foundation or consortium that could dedicate less than half of that sum on free screen readers. This hypothetical group could spend nearly its entire budget on design, development, testing, documentation, tutorials and nearly nothing on sales, marketing, packaging and other overhead items that are necessary for the commercial screen reader vendors.
In 2004, my last year at FS, the budget for the software engineering department came to approximately $1.3 million and had responsibility for PAC Mate, JAWS, MAGic, Open Book, StreetTalk, Wynn, various drivers for FS hardware, PAC Mate Remote, FS Reader and likely a few others that I cannot recall at this moment. Imagine the same budget if spent entirely on a screen reader without distractions from all of the other projects, a team built of AT hackers from around the world, a bunch of volunteers and support from corporations and governments around the globe.
I think that someone out there will get something like this going, especially because government agencies, in the
Is Accessibility A Right or a Privilege?
My friend Will Pearson has posted comments to this blog that quotes accessibility legislation in the EU,
Thus far in the
Also, to fill in the blindness and deaf/blind section of their VPAT, an ISV probably needs to enter a relationship with Freedom Scientific or one of the other screen reader vendors. In some Federal agencies, State, County and municipal governments and centers for the blind like The Lighthouse, the IT people have made the decision to only offer JAWS as they do not want to spend dollars retraining on another program or they prefer the convenience of one stop shopping. Thus, even if an ISV gets its software working with Window-Eyes or HAL, they often find themselves talking to and paying FS to help them work with JAWS which adds to their cost and makes them a bit less friendly to the entire notion of accessibility.
I can also see a volunteer community growing around such a bit of free AT as, unlike the commercial screen readers, they don’t have to pay $1000 for the right to extend the software themselves.
Mainstream free software, programs like Apache and many others, run most of the Internet. Numerous studies of “massive collaboration” have demonstrated that, when applied to software, the number of bug’s drops dramatically when compared to commercial programs with the same functionality. A book called “Wikinomics” describes how massive collaboration works for software but also provides case studies showing how it can work in other, very diverse, markets as well.
Of Course, I Might Be Wrong
Ted Henter has always made the argument that competition and the free market is what drives innovation in the adaptive technology market. This may be true. Delivering a credible free screen reader may damage the commercial AT vendors ability to push the state of the art forward which might also cause the open source screen reader hackers to slow down on their efforts as much of their motivation will be to harpoon the shark.
In the past, I have written in this blog on the topic of how the free market and competition doesn’t work well in the AT market niche. Today, JAWS and ZoomText have monopoly positions. Both of these products hold shares greater than 80% worldwide and, in some cases, they are the only blindness products available in certain countries.
As I wrote last week, I believe that JAWS 9.0 is much better than any of the last three releases of the industry leader. I commended the JAWS team for doing a great job to improve quality, reliability and performance. However, I also think that JAWS 9.0 is light on new features, contains few new ideas and is not innovative in any definition of the word I can find.
So, maybe competition fueled innovation in the past but when the leading screen reader and magnifier have virtual monopoly positions, what would motivate them to innovate or take risks by trying new concepts?