I may as well join in on the computer names series of posts on Planet Ubuntu. So here are my computer names. They are not following any particular theme, just what I think of at the time.
Main quad-core Desktop: Strigy
PowerMac G5: Mameth
G4 Mac Mini: Midget
Dual celeron 466: Monty
1GHz celeron: Wentworth
Old and to be sold ThinkPad R50: Marlon
New notebook (MacBook Pro): Barbiton.
I always find it hard to think of a machine name, but usually when I do think of one, I feel its the right name.
And the notebook choice is...
After my previous blog entry on considerations for a new notebook, and the various comments I received, I have made up my mind as to my choice of notebook, and, like most big purchases, it came down to my needs, much more so for when I am traveling/out and about, as opposed to when I'm at home.
One of the most important needs for my notebook when traveling is doing audio work, whether it be editing, processing, or even some light multi-track recording. At home, I use a 22" widescreen monitor, which allows me to use many of the various Linux audio applications available to do such work, with not too much trouble. This is still not 100% efficient, due to me having to use magnification for some tasks to be able to fully utilize the application. However, when I am out somewhere, and have time/the need to do such work, I simply can't do so, due to a smaller screen size and magnification either not performing as well, or not being able to magnify enough and stil see enough in the screen image to perform a task.
While Linux audio applications are useful, they are for the vast majority, inaccessible when one attempts to use them with GNOME accessibility technologies. This is partly because a lot of these applications use the QT/KDE GUI toolkit, which doesn't have the same accessibility as GTK applications. The GTK applications themselves often have a lot of custom widgets, which need to be accessibility enabled, i.e extra calls to the relevant pieces of accessibility infrastructure have to be made to make them visible to the GNOME accessibility technologies such as orca. Tab order/navigation between widgets also has to be correct, and the user then has to know the context of the widgets they are moving between. While I know what has to be done to address such GTK application issues, I don't see myself having enough time in the near future to fix these, and if I did, I would spend more time fixing the applications, as opposed to doing the audio work I need to get done.
It is for the above reason, that at least for now, I am willing to pay for some audio applications on another OS platform, if it means I can be productive with audio when not at home. I know of various audio applications that are available, and somewhat accessible on Windows and OS X, some applications being more accessible than others, depending on the accessibility technology used to access them. Apple has included a built-in screen reader, similar to GNOME's accessibiliy technologies in design, as of 10.4 and later. I have found out about several audio applications that are accessible on OS X, thanks to various websites that people have made available with lists of accessible apps, as well as searching and talking to other blind OS X users who work with audio applications. If there is any cost for such applications, I believe it is reasonable for what I want to do, and the functionality of the application in question.
Windows on the other hand requires a different approach for audio. In order to do work in windows for more than 40 minutes at a time (40 minutes is a demo limitation for the screen reader), I would need to either update my Windows screen reader license to work with either Windows XP or vista, or buy the competing screen reader to do the same. Either solution would set me back a good $500-800 Australian dollars. Added to that, only one screen reader appears to have better support for audio applications, through third-party add-ons, again which I would have to pay for in some cases, just to use a particular application. There is also the issue of future versions of such windows applications breaking compatibility with screen readers and their addons, due to the screen scraping nature of windows screen readers and accessibility. (Windows screen readers physically process the video buffer to read what is on the screen)
Due to the above audio workflow accessibility issue, and comparing the various solutions available in terms of extra cost and long-term productivity, I decided to get a MacBook pro. I could get a MacBook, however the different build and finish of the pro in terms of buildquality, as well as the fact the macbook pro has an ExpressCard slot, are two things that appeal to me. Just like a Windows notebook, you get an OS with it, being OS X. However compared to Windows, you get a very powerful screen reader solution at the core of the OS, as well as many applications accessible out of the box, for the most part requiring no effort from the application authors. So far as I understand things, OS X also has a much more flexible audio subsystem in CoreAudio, with many applications being available to route/grab audio from one application into another. There is JACK for OS X as an example, which could very easily be used to send audio from an OS X application via JACK, accross the network into a Linux application, should I desire to do so.
There were other considerations that also made the choice more worthwhile. I like following the accessibility feature development, and application accessibility on other operating systems like Windows and OS X. Should there be some brand new compelling accessibility feature in OS X's future that needs checking out, I can do so with little effort, as I can be sure that the next half dozen releases of OS X, and maybe more, will still work on my MacBook Pro hardware. I also have plans for developing cross-platform entertainment/games applications for blind/vision impaired users, and I would really like to support OS X, dispite the smaller blind/vision impaired user base.
I feel I have made the right choice, but will know for sure once I have used it for 6 months or so for audio and other work. Comparing its specs to others on the market, I would have been paying a similar price anyway, so price is not an issue, in terms of comparison.
Now to getting Linux set up, and getting its support for intrepid up to 100% if needed. :)
So I am planning on buying a new notebook in the coming months to replace my aging Thinkpad R50, which was purchased in January 2004. Appart from having to replace the 30GB hard disk that came with it, (I use a bigger HD in it now anyway), and getting the motherboard replaced out of warranty due to a failing GPU chip, it has been a wonderful machine. Well built, good sturdy keyboard, deacent battery life, and deacent performance for what I've needed it for. I am very pleased it has lasted me 5 years, which a lot of my machines tend to do, mainly because I make sure they do. But the time has come to move to something better.
So dear lazyweb, I am looking to get a notebook with the following list of requirements, and things that would be nice to have but aren't important. A note to all who read this, I am more likely to consider viewpoints from people based in Australia, as I only intend to buy locally, for warranty reasons. I'm also aware that the list of requirements below is longish, but any pointers to anything that may suit these requirements would be welcome.
- No Windows: I will only ever use windows in a VM anyway, which is rare in itself, so no point in getting software I don't use.
- If the notebook has an OS, it must come on optical media: I detest recovery partitions, as they are more trouble than they are worth, at least for me personally.
- Well built: Bar one drop, and a few bumps, the external casing of my Thinkpad R50 is undamaged. Its not falling appart, no cracks, no broken latches/hinges. I travel a lot, and use the notebook around a lot at home and when I am away, so it has to withstand a lot of use, and while I treat it as gently as possible, one sometimes cannot avoid the occasional bump. I am willing to pay more for good build quality.
- Multiple lid latches: I've had one or two notebooks in the past with only one centre latch for the lid. Needless to say it didn't last long. My current thinkpad has 2 controlled by one lever, and they still work as well as when I bought it new.
- ExpressCard slot: I've never had a laptop that hasn't had a PCMCIA slot, so I don't want to not have a card slot for expansion. I've used PCMCIA in the past to add Firewire/faster wireless cards for example, and with 3G gaining popularity/usage, I may want to use a 3G card. (I'll never use USB for networking if I can help it.)
- Good battery life: I think this is a given for everyone looking for a notebook.
- At least 14" screen, but no bigger than 15". While I don't use the screen a lot, I do occasionally use it for magnification, so a larger screen is more useful in that respect. I don't want something as big as a 17", as that then makes the laptop more bulky and heavy, and harder to carry around.
- Monitor connector: I think all notebooks have them, but just to be sure.
Things I'd like, but not fussed if I don't get:
- No modem: I'm never likely to use a dial-up modem, and if I ever think I would need one, I'd get a USB modem.
- Line-in jack: Since I'm into music and recording, it is nice to have a stereo line-in jack to do some on-the-spot recording if I need to, without having to take a second sound card with me to do it. In the notebooks I've had previously, only one has had line-in, so I suspect my chances of getting this are low, but it would be nice.
- Wireless 802.11N: When I bought my ThinkPad, I decided to get wireless, all be it 802.11b, since g wasn't around. I'm thinking that if I can get the latest wireless standard now, I'm less likely to have to get a wireless card in the future, if I should need a faster wireless speed. Again something I don't have to have, but would be nice.
- FireWire: I prefer to use FireWire for disk drives, as it uses less CPu when doing big file transfers. I also may consider a FireWire sound card for portable recording in the future.
As for no Windows, I'm willing to consider a notebook with No OS/Linux, if it also matches my other requirements. I must admit I have been pondering a MacBook Pro, as I don't mind OS X, being a *nix, and the lesser of two evils, and newer versions still being able to work on older hardware etc. However, I'm open to all options, and considerations. Colour I don't really care about, but would prefer a silver/black combination. I also don't care if the notebook supports a docking station, as I'll never use that functionality.
So any advice/tips/pointers would be most welcome.
UPDATE: One thing I forgot to add was that I would rather a mat screen, as opposed to a glossy screen.
UPDATE 2: So after reviewing Thinkpad T61/T61P specs, I realized that these notebooks are not using penryn chips. Normally this would be ok, however since I'm likely to use audio apps on this machine in its lifetime, and since SSE4 is supported by penryn chips, as well as applications eventually supporting it, I'm enclined to lean towards the T400. However, it seems the Lenovo AU website doesn't allow me to customize the options for the machine beyond office software. If anybody is able to customize one of these machines through the Lenovo AU site for things like disk space, RAM etc, please let me know.
Today, the GNOME foundation has announced a brand new program to help advocate and improve GNOME's accessibility. Theres no more to say! This is wonderful news for open source accessibility! Go and read the press release to find out more information. http://www.gnome.org/press/releases/gop-a11y.html
If you are a developer, and wish to get involved, I would encourage you to consider doing so. THis is a great opportunity to learn more about what accessibility is, and how it benefits all of us, whether we have a disability or not.
So go check it out, and please spread the word!
Its been a while since I've blogged, as I haven't really had a lot to blog about, however recent goings on in the blind Linux community have motivated me into writing this post, which is very much likely to be controversial amongst the blind Linux community, but oh well, I feel my opinion needs to be aired. For those new to this discussion, and are unsure as to what the title means, a little bit of history is in order. If you haven't read my series of posts about Linux Accessibility, I suggest you go and read those now, as that will give you more insight as to what I am going to be discussing here.
The first accessibility that was available for blind Linux users, was on the console, through emacs, using Emacspeak, and the use of packages like Speakup, and Brltty, to provide speech and Braille access to the Linux text console, or command-line. For the users who made use of these tools, it allowed them to be very productive in most day to day tasks, particularly email, writing documents, playing audio, and some web browsing. These solutions have suited many blind/vision impaired Linux users, including myself, for several years.
However, while the text console is still very useful for a lot of these tasks, it is not where Linux end-user applications such as web browsers, word processors etc are going. This is particularly true of web browsing, as many websites are now appearing that provide more fancy features for fully sighted users to take advantage of, improving the usability of the site. At the same time, accessibility for such sights is also improving, thanks to assistive technology's ability to leverage accessibility features in the web browser, to provide high quality access to such websites, thereby ensuring that people with disabilities can access the same websites as everybody else, with little to no extra effort on the part of the user.
Whilst not as big of a concern, but still important, is word processing. The OpenOffice.org word processor is already quite accessible for most document writing, and this is only going to get better. Word processing in text mode is also possible, however in order for one to write documents that need particular formatting, text style, font etc, one needs to use a form of markup to write such documents. HTML is one possibility, as well as latex, however most users will not want to have to learn such markup, and will simply want to use a word processor like OpenOffice to do their document writing, and make their document presentable as needed.
Certainly text mode/console accessibility is needed at times when X or GNOME break, but I personally see daily tasks becoming more and more difficult, particularly web browsing, in the coming years. If you are a user of the console, but would like to see GUI access improved, please speak up, and we as a developer community will do our best to take your suggestions onboard, and provide the improvements you need to make the switch over to using GNOME. However if you still wish to use the console regardless, thats fine too, but keep in mind how difficult it may be to access your favourite websites down the track.
This is great news! Peter Grasch has announced a new speech recognition project called simon, on the KDE
accessibility mailing list,(1) and it wil support the recently announced dbus port of at-spi, allowing both QT/KDE
and GTK/GNOME to use the same accessibility infrastructure, which means accessibility to both KDE and GNOME desktops.
One of the Ubuntu community's longest serving, and most dedicated community developers, former ALSA maintainer for Ubuntu, Master Of The Universe(1),
and MOTU Council(2) member, has announced that he is stepping down from the MOTU council. Daniel T Chen(3) has announced that he is withdrawing from
Ubuntu community involvement.
I have had the great pleasure in working with Daniel for the last few years, firstly with sponsoring my uploads for the universe and main Ubuntu
repositories, and helping get the UbuntuStudio project started, even if only in a small way. I also had the wonderful privelage of meeting him in
person at the Boston Ubuntu Developer's summit, in October/November 2007.
On behalf of everybody in the Ubuntu community, I would publically like to say thank you Daniel, for the hard work you have put into making the
Ubuntu community, and the Ubuntu audio stack what it is. I know for a fact that my knowledge of Linux audio, and development in general has been
greatly increased by your wealth of knowledge, experience, and guidence in the time I've worked with you. I wish you all the best for the future, and
hope that you will drop by once in a while to say hello. You will always be welcome in the Ubuntu community.
Brian Cameron recently announced on the gnome accessibility mailing list, a plan to form an accessibility steering committee(1). This is a great chance to get involved with shaping the future of GNOME's accessibility efforts. I, as the leader of the accessibility team for Ubuntu, and as a representative of Ubuntu development, have put my hand up to be involved.
If you would really like to get involved with accessibility efforts in some way, whether it be advocacy or development, I urge you to have a read of this mailing list post, and contact Brian to put your name down. The more people who are involved, the better the end result will be for users of GNOME, and Linux.
Some results of testing GNOME's at-spi framework using dbus compared to ORBit are now available. You can check them
out http://live.gnome.org/GAP/AtSpiDbusInvestigation. Quoting Mark Doffman:
GOK and Orca were profiled to get a good idea of the type of traffic on the AT-SPI interface. Using this information the performance of some of the most common method calls were tested in D-Bus and ORBit.
D-Bus is undoubtedly slower at most of the common method calls, 5-6x slower when making a call that passes one int as an argument. When passing more data per call this speed difference decreases. ORBit takes a long time to pass an Object reference, making D-Bus up to 1.5x faster at these method calls.
Although D-Bus is the slower transport, looking at the calls made by Orca and GOK, we feel it will be possible to provide sensible caching that should mitigate this effect.
If you are willing to help out, and have any thoughts on the way forward, I would strongly encourage you to check out the wiki page and get involved. If the change over to dbus ends up going ahead, we may finally see KDE get some accessibility, something that I have been waiting a long time for.
Yes, I am looking for work, and have been for a while now. I am investigating various job networking and job seeking websites both in Australia, and round the world, such as linkedin, OpenSkills, and seek.com.au. My skills include technical support, both for Windows and Linux, as well as adaptive and assistive technologies for blind and vision impaired people for Windows, and especially for Linux.
If you think you may have something to offer, or know someone who might, or would like to view my resume, please contact me (themuso at themuso dot com), and I'll email you a copy of my resume.
I certainly intend to let you all know when I find something, if I can.
So after reading what I have had to say so far, you are convinced that you want to help make a difference to Ubuntu's accessibility, and now your chomping at the bit to get involved. Below I will go through a few ways you can help out. Note you are welcome to help out as much or as little as you like, but if you wish to give help, it will be gladly and warmly accepted.
Join the Ubuntu Accessibility mailing list.(1) This list is reasonably low traffic, and users often ask questions, or for assistance. Many members of the Linux accessibility community read the list, and will answer questions where they can. If you know something about accessibility, it would be great if you could help answer any questions that may pop up.
Test and file bugs against accessibility packages in Ubuntu, as a member of the Ubuntu Accessibility Team, using Launchpad(2), Ubuntu's bug tracker. The only way the software we use in Ubuntu gets better, is if users file bugs to report problems. A developer or a bug triager will then do their best to look into the problem, and take appropriate action.
Help triaging bugs that others have filed. There are many bugs that need attention, not the least accessibility bugs, and the more people there are to look over them, the more bugs can be attended to, and dealt with. You don't have to be a developer to help triage bugs, you just have to have an understanding on how packages work, what information is required for developers to attend to the bug, and the appropriate status to mark the bug. If you want to help triage bugs, a more detailed explanation can easily be given to you at a later date.
Feature planning an implementation. If you have a cool new accessibility feature you would like to see added to the next Ubuntu release, this is your chance to jump in and have your voice heard. If you are also willing to help implement the feature, it means there is a much higher chance that the feature will be included. This is a great way to get involved with helping to maintain packages, see below.
Help maintain accessibility packages in the Ubuntu archive. This is where you can really get your hands dirty, and have direct influence on exactly what happens with accessibility programs in Ubuntu. Once you have proven yourself capable of working without someone having to check your work, you can eventually gain upload rights to the Ubuntu archive, starting with universe and multiverse, and progress from there should you choose to do so. The Masters Of The Universe (MOTU)(3) is the best place to go to start, but I am willing to personally work with anybody who wants to work on accessibility software packaging.
So thats all there is to it. Getting involved with the Ubuntu accessibility community is very easy, and there is something for everyone to do, whether you have a lot of time, or only a few hours a week to give to the project.
If you are knowledgable in accessibility technologies for people with motor disabilities, low vision disabilities (magnification/high contrast themes) and deafness, we would like to hear from you in particular, as expertise in these areas is currently severely lacking, at least on the Ubuntu accessibility team. However everybody, regardless of skill set/knowledge is most welcome to join.
I really hope we can form a strong, and productive team, to continue to develop Ubuntu and Linux's accessibility, and raise awareness in the disabled community of its existance as a free alternative. I feel that with an operating system and suite of applications that are accessible out of the box, for the cost of the computer hardware alone, we can bring disabled people much better opportunities in life, than they have had in the past, and they could ever hope to have if they had to fork out for expensive proprietary solutions. Yes, I know there are big gaps in some areas of accessibility technologies for people with disabilities but a a community, not just for Ubuntu, but for Linux in general, we can do our part to close these gaps, and finally be able to give people a choice.
So lets get to work, and give disabled people the chances and independence they have always deserved!
So why should Linux distributions care about putting time and effort into developing and improving something that is likely going to benefit a minority of users? Unfortunately, this is a hard question to answer, as for most distributions, all you're likely to get is cudos for offering accessibility features, and possibly more widespread advocacy, and community involvement from those people who find such accessibility features useful. For Linux distributions who have a vested interest in the enterprise desktop however, not supporting and integrating accessibility means a greatly reduced chance of deployment and support contracts in education institutions, and workplaces.
Around the world, many governments are coming to the realization that having equal opportunity employment and accessible workplaces is important for everybody, including those with disabilities. As information technology and computing in the workplace becomes more commonplace, so will the need for equal access to technology for everybody. For a business who needs to deploy several tens, or several thousands of machines for their employees to use, Linux is starting to be a serious alternative to Widows, and other proprietary operating systems. However, if the business wishes to remain an equal oportunity employee, with an accessible workplace, Linux starts to be much less viable as it currently stands, due to the lack of well integrated accessibility technologies in most Linux distributions that aim at the enterprise market. The fact that some distributions do offer accessibility is a plus, but without commercial support available for it, its not something a business is likely to risk, added to that there is no training available to teach disabled employees how to use the accessibility technology.
So how far along are distributions when it comes to accessibility? From my research so far, not many distributions have people in their respective communities who are actively trying to help improve that distribution's accessibility. Debian and Gentoo both have developers and community members who help where possible. Fedora has people who, while not helping with Fedora development directly, do makemodified versions of Fedora available with extra accessibility included. Ubuntu is also lucky enough to have such a community, with people like myself actively trying to help improve Ubuntu's accessibility. These communities have been formed due to a desire by all members to improve Linux's accessibility for themselves and others.
However, while the core developers of such distributions embrace the contributions made by community members towards accessibility, there is generally little to no proactive action taken by distribution developers, unless one of them has a vested interest in doing so. Some accessibility developers don't always try and get their modifications included in their distribution of choice, but release modified disk images, and unfortunately don't reach nearly as big an audience as they would if their changes were part of their distribution proper.
If a Linux distribution's developers, financial backers, and its community are seriously interested in integrating, and improving accessibility in their distribution, community advocates, as well as developers, should seek to get more community involvement. This would likely result in some community members actively getting involved with distribution development.
Linux distribution vendors who have a vested interest in getting their software installed on enterprise and education desktops, should seriously consider investing time and money into further developing their distribution's accessibility, and training support/training staff on how to effectively use and support accessibility technologies. Exactly how this would be done would be up to individual distribution vendors, but one approach could be to hire an individual from that distribution's accessibility community who is well versed in the current goings on, and future developments in the accessibility field. This person would then liaise with the community, fielding feature suggestions, helping triage bugs, and keep abrest of any Linux accessibility, UI, and web standards. They would also communicate with the distribution's developers and web site designers, to pass on feature requests and suggestions, and to keep developers informed about any testing that they, or members of the community have done, and the results of such testing.
I, and many other members of the Linux accessibility community strongly believe in improving Linux's accessibility for everybody, particularly for those with disabilities. We will keep on doing so, even after our major goals have been achieved. If you are a part of a linux distribution community, whether it be Ubuntu, fedora, Novell/Suse, Debian, Gentoo, or one of the many smaller distributions out there, I strongly encourage you to contact your distribution's developers and community, and let them know about how important accessibility is for all of us now, and in the future. With the backing of several distributions, we can reach our goals that much sooner.
As for Ubuntu's accessibility, I'll tell you about how you can get involved with the Accessibility team in my next, and final post of this series.
Ubuntu Accessibility Part 5: Why you should care about accessibility, and small things you can do to helpWed, 11/28/2007 - 15:36 — TheMuso
You may not know it now, but the accessibility of computer software may play a big role later on in your life. You may lose your sight for some reason, whether partially or totally, requiring you to have to read greatly enlarged print, or use synthesized speech, or even Braille. You may send yourself partially or totally deaf from listening to too much loud music, either at concerts, or using a portable music player. Regardless of what it may be, there is a chance that people will require some form of assistive technology later in their lives. You may even now, know someone who may be losing sight, can't use their limbs as well as they could, or they may not be able to hear nearly as well, or at all. Whats more, this person you know, may need to use a computer, and also may not be in the position to afford the proprietary assistive technologies that they may need.
If you know of anybody with a disability who is likely to need access to computer technology, consider investigating the available solutions that Ubuntu has available for this person, thereby saving investing in often expensive software and hardware, that may not fit their needs in the first place. If the person in question already has invested in proprietary technologies for use in Windows, or Mac OS X, consider talking to them about the available options both proprietary, and free, particularly if they are looking at upgrading, or moving on from what they currently use. If the open source solution doesn't fit their needs, you really should consider jumping in and helping in some way. In open source, helping yourself, or others, also helps potentially millions of other people.
So there has been a discussion going on Planet Ubuntu about whether one should run a 64-bit distro on their hardware. As has been expressed, for most users, it doesn't make a difference, except come 2038.
However, if you plan to do any music/audio/video production on Linux, 64-bit is the way to go. The biggest advantage, is being able to make use of much more memory for your video/audio/graphics work. That alone is enough of a reason, however running 64 bit helps in other ways as well, such as being able to use binaries that have CPU optimizations such as sse enabled by default. For 32-bit binaries, while most modern CPUs support these optimizations, the binaries have to be built for the lowest common denominator, that being, machines that may only have sse, and not sse2, or may only have mmx. All x86_64 (64-bit amd/intel) CPUs have had things like sse since their inception, so if the program can take advantage of it, it will.
These optimizations can make a big difference when processing that huge image, or rendering that video clip, or mastering that 24 track audio recording, probably saving you enough time to get that other important thing done that you needed completed yesterday. :)
Thanks to the improvements in Linux's accessibility over the last 5 years, a lot more people with disabilities are able to make use of it, at least part time. There are also a hand full of users who use Linux full time, even though there is still much to be improved. It is these users who have helped get Linux accessibility to where it is today. I am proud to be one of these users, firstly using it part time, and then full time from mid 2004 up till now. The desire to help improve Linux's accessibility is what has kept my interest, and what lead me to getting involved with improving Ubuntu's accessibility.
Since first discovering the GNOME accessibility project, helping to start the Ubuntu Accessibility Team, and helping with furthering both projects developments, I strongly and passionately believe that within 2 years, given enough manpower, Linux will be a viable free alternative to proprietary solutions, for the vast majority of users. Already, it is an alternative that provides users with an out of the box solution for computer use, for the cost of the computer hardware alone. With Linux being able to run quite happily on older hardware, this allows people who have disabilities, and are not as well off as others, to be able to make use of computer technology, and have access to the same opportunities in life, that the Internet has already brought those of us fortunate to have such technology at our fingertips.
I would like to see Ubuntu at the forefront of developments in assistive technologies, and delivering these technologies to users. At the same time, any improvements we make where possible, should be given back to the Linux community, so other distributions also benefit. I would also like to raise more awareness of what Linux has to offer in terms of assistive technologies, and encourage all Linux distributions to make accessibility a higher priority in their development. This is a field where all distributions need to join together, and put up a united front to compete with the proprietary technologies available on Windows, and Mac OS X.
There is also the issue of Linux on the enterprise desktop to consider. As more and more governments around the world bring in legislation for anti-discrimination, equal opportunity employment etc., the importance of having accessibility solutions available on corporate/enterprise, and education institution desktop systems becomes more crucial. I strongly believe that if Linux is to be seriously considered for use in enterprise and education, we need to ensure that there is a mature set of assistive technologies ready to go, and supportable by distribution vendors. Ubuntu could be the leader in providing a totally out of the box accessibility solution, that can easily be deployed in education institutions, and on the enterprise desktop.
Take a recent example, in the deployment of Ubuntu desktops for use by students in Macedonia. It is fantastic that they have decided to use Edubuntu for their OS of choice. However, at this point, if there was a student who had a disability, while there is technology to help them, this technology is not nearly as tightly integrated as it could be, particularly when it comes to the LTSP client/server model that Edubuntu uses. There is also likely to be poor, or even no support for their native language, not in the UI, but in the speech synthesizer, espeak. Espeak supports many languages already, but in no way does it support the number of languages that Linux itself supports.
In my next posts, I will go into such issues in more detail, and outline how we as a community, can solve them. We need to be sure that other countries/education institutions can make the Linux/Ubuntu choice, without fear of having little or nothing to offer their disabled students.
I had found out about Linux in the last year of school, which was in 2000. I then used Linux in a server role from 2001 through to mid 2004. All this time, I attempted to keep up with the goings on of any accessibility efforts that were under way, which was for the most part, not a lot. There was Emacspeak(1), which provides synthesized speech output for use with Emacs, Speakup(2), which is a console screen reader that is a kernel patch, and finally, the GNOME Accessibility(3) framework, which I first heard about in 2003. Being lucky enough to have some sight, I never required any assistance to get Linux installed and set up, due to the use of a 21 inch monitor. This allowed me to easily evaluate the various Linux accessibility solutions available at the time.
I could never get the hang of emacs, and thought that any new user would also find it difficult, unless they really put their mind to it. Added to that, you also had to learn how to use the screen reader at the same time, which made things even more difficult. Speakup was also a difficult beast to tame, as it meant that I had to patch and compile a kernel with it included. I had compiled plenty of kernels before, but this was slightly different, in that I had to set it up to work with software speech output via the sound card, which meant more software had to be installed and configured. I was a Slackware user at the time, which meant just about all the software I needed had to be compiled from source.
Finally, there was the GNOME accessibility implementation. I managed to use the garnome build system on Slackware to build the latest stable release of GNOME, and have a look. I was quite impressed at the amount of information that was accessible from the desktop, and many of the applications that came with GNOME by default, however there was a lot that still needed work to be more accessible. Added to that, the program used to talk to the accessibility framework, (I will not call it screen reader, as it wasn't actually reading what was on the screen), was designed in a way that was confusing at times, and made some information about various applications difficult to obtain, or just didn't work with some applications at all. I concluded at the time, that while promising, there was nothing yet that was useful for day to day work with GNOME.
When I decided to move to Linux full-time from Windows, the solution I chose was speakup + software speech. This meant a shift from a GUI to a console environment and work-flow, but I soon adjusted. Email and working with documents was no problem, however web browsing would often be an issue, due to the text mode browser I used at the time, having poor HTML implementation. Speakup would also give me grief, as it turned out to be badly coded, and a poor performer, particularly on SMP systems.
Fast forward to the middle of the Gutsy development cycle. Speakup was removed from the gutsy kernel, due to not being able to patch cleanly into 2.6.22, as well as not working, due to some kernel mechanisms having been changed. The GNOME accessibility utility for navigating the GNOME desktop with speech output had changed in the last 6 to 12 months, and was a lot more flexible than the previous utility ever could have been. Added to that, a lot more of the desktop was accessible, including gnome-terminal. Unfortunately, GUI web browsing isn't still quite usable yet, but I have found a better text mode browser, and I still spend most of my time in a terminal. Being able to use the GNOME desktop for the most part, is something that has been well worth waiting for.
When I was at school, I was fortunate enough to have access to assistive technologies on Microsoft Windows, thanks to government funding that was available to people like myself, to help better our education. Such funding covered a notebook computer, a screen reader(1), an embosser(2) (Braille(3) printer), a scanner, and an external hardware speech synthesizer(4). The assistive technologies, being the screen reader, with the speech synthesizer, and the Embosser, allowed me to gain access, either digitally, or in hard copy Braille, to materials I needed for my studies. However, such technologies were by no means cheap. Excluding the cost of the notebook, the assistive technologies alone ran into the thousands of dollars, and yes, each piece of technology, the screen reader software, the speech synthesizer, and the Embosser, were worth at least AU$1000. As I said, luckily, there was funding from the Australian government system to cover the costs for this essential equipment. Since I was also fortunate enough to attend a private school, this meant that all my equipment was donated to me at the end of my schooling.
Unfortunately, at least in New South Wales, any student with a vision impairment who is in the public school system, must give back any technology they received to the education department once they have completed their final year of school. This leaves them with no assistive technology for them to use in the future, unless they already owned such technology, which they had purchased themselves. I found this out a couple of years after I had finished school, from a blind friend who went through the public education system here in Australia, and had to purchase the assistive technology he needed for his university studies, as no other funding outside the school system was available. My friend was at least AU$6000 out of pocket, just to purchase one piece of assistive technology hardware, that being a portable note taker, with synthesized speech output, and refreshable Braille. He also had to invest in a copy of the screen reader software to access Windows, which again, was at least another AU$1000.
The one thing that got me into the Ubuntu community was the desire to improve Ubuntu's accessibility. I originally heard about Ubuntu at the time of the Warty preview release, in September 2004, and knowing that Ubuntu was a new Linux distribution, I thought it was a great opportunity to help include Accessibility as part of the core Ubuntu distribution.
The focus of the Ubuntu accessibility team, is to research any open source assistive technology software, and determine the feesability of including that software into the core Ubuntu distribution, thereby improving the accessibility for people with disabilities who use that software to help them make use of Linux, and by extension, Ubuntu. However, accessibility does not have to specifically refer to technology developed for people with disabilities. The accessibility of an application can be improved simply by changing its user interface to be easier to use for everybody. When one needs assistive technology to use the application, they benefit from any user interface changes that have been made. If you find an application that you use daily, consider how you would improve it, and make any suggestions you have to the application developers. While benefiting your use of the application, this also benefits everybody else who uses that application.
Since early 2005, and with the help of many others in the community, including the upstream projects such as GNOME, and the various assistive technology projects, we are most of the way there. There has existed an accessibility team for Ubuntu, and although small, we have achieved a lot in the last three or so years. However, there is still a lot to do. As the new leader of the Ubuntu Accessibility team, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Henrik Nilsen Omma for his leadership of the Accessibility team since its inception. he always managed to keep the big picture in mind when discussing possible new accessibility features, and mentored several Google Summer of Code projects, which have brought some much needed improvements in the assistive technologies available in Ubuntu today. I hope I can be as good a team leader as we had in Henrik, and I sincerely hope I can help advance Ubuntu's accessibility to a point, where it is usable by everyone, no matter their disability.
I will be blogging about Ubuntu and Linux Accessibility over the coming days. My next post will talk about what technology I used when I was at school, and was unaware of Linux, and only had proprietary technologies to rely on. Future posts will then focus on what the accessibility team have achieved so far, and where I would like Ubuntu's accessibility to go in the future. I will also be blogging about how you, as a member of the Ubuntu community, can help grow the team, and help improve what I believe is one of the most important computing issues that needs addressing to date.
The Masters of the Universe (MOTU) is a great place to help out with keeping packages in universe up to date, and bug free, particularly if you are using an architecture such as PowerPC, or another community supported architecture.
I would like to put a call out for anybody interested in working on packages for the PowerPC, whether it be fixing package build failures, updating PowerPC specific packages in universe, or trying to help fix PowerPC package crashes. If you are interested, I'd ask you to either leave a comment on this blog post, contact me on either irc.freenode.net or irc.gnome.org, or email me at TheMuso at ubuntu dot com. If there is enough interest, I may investigate whether its worthwhile creating a Launchpad team. Also don't forget that there is the Ubuntu PowerPC Architecture Team already on launchpad, so if you want to be a member of that team, go and join it right away. It is moderated, but there are no requirements to be a member.
So if you want to see better, and continued support for the PowerPC architecture, whether its to help PS3, or get more life out of your G3/G4/G5, and want to become a Master of the Universe, this is a great way to start helping out.
Well, it has been a long time coming, but I am finally a part of the blogosphere. Yes, thats right, I, Luke Yelavich (AKA TheMuso) finally have a blog, on my own webspace, on my own domain. I've been meaning to do this for the past 3 years, but haven't been bothered/motivated enough to do it, until now. And really, there hasn't been anything that I've really wanted to blog about, or been bothered to blog about either, but now I have a blog, Its likely that I'll be motivated to blog about things I care about/am interested in.
So hello to all the Planet Ubuntu readers out there, as well as the other bloggers. Anything that appears on planet Ubuntu that is from me, will be strictly Ubuntu related, as I am only syndicating the Ubuntu category from my blog. If you are interested in other topics that I blog about, feel free to head on over to http://www.themuso.com and have a look around, not that there is actually very much there at the moment :)
I hope that my blog will give you some insight into what I do in life, and what plans/hopes/dreams I may have for the future. I am always interested in making contact with others that have similar interests, so once I work out a way of people contacting me without receiving any more spam than I do already, you will be able to contact me privately from my site.
Well, its late, and I'd better get onto other tasks that need attention, like sleep. :)