Friday, June 30, 2006

June 06 Tech Update: The "What's In Your Wallet?" Edition

I warn you now that this issue is kind of long. It can’t be helped as the Convention season brings with it tons of AT news. And of course there is the general Vista and Office spotlights at the bottom of this month’s menu. But check the blog later on next week as I will be posting even more news from the Exhibit Hall floor in Dallas.

Steve’s Word Of The Month
Cultural inertia
Definition: The dilemma that occurs when IT, Management and the Mission come under fire for relying upon older technology or previous policy to dictate the direction of the company as it faces new events or technological barriers.

This is directly related to employment as the term is used in this article about the resistance for bigger companies to adopt Telecommuting options for their workers.

~~ Lightning Round

Oh there’s just too much to cover in the old fashioned way. So let’s go with the bite sized chunked in the zip lock pouch method of reporting.

` The Numbers Game: The following products are either approaching Alpha builds or they are in the pipeline for Vista launch. A few of these will be on the lips of Reps at the two big July Conventions.

JAWS 8, Magic 10.5 and Open Book 8
Window Eyes 6, Supernova 8 and Zoom Text 9.1
Kurzweil and Duxbury both will be showing new versions at Convention.
And early word on Keysoft 8 sounds really yummy!

` Enhanced Vision: The new Merlin with the controls under the monitor have started to ship. Both the stand alone and the all in one computer split screen models are on their way out the door to some lucky people. But that’s not all. The Nemo, a hand held option, should be on the sleigh in the next quarter and the new Acrobat arms I saw at CSUN should arrive before Xmas.

` Humanware: Lots to talk about here. First up Keysoft 7.2 is on it’s way and this time it has DAISY support.

The new My Reader and the new Xtend series of CCTV units will make their debut at the NFB Convention this weekend. Expect a report from me on that later on next week. Oh and they struck this deal with Code Factory to distribute Mobile Speak Pocket.

` Dolphin USA: An update to Pocket HAL for Mobile 2005 is in the works. Also Cicero has a new update that fits snuggly into the new Supernova 7. Now you can have speech, Braille, magnification and OCR all in the same program.

` Freedom Scientific: As you may already know by now Magic 10 and JAWS 7.1 are released. JFW 7.1 is a free update for JAWS 7.0 customers; however, Magic is a paid or SMA upgrade. And if you run both products then you HAVE TO UPGRADE BOTH if you want to use them both on the same computer system.

` ALVA BC 640: The new Braille display from Optelec is featured in this week’s Main Menu. But you can click on the link below to see a video presentation, don’t ask me, on the new Braille Controller. Try to not get too distracted by the rejected adult movie music in the background of this clip.

` GW Micro: The official page for the hand held Sense View is now up. Check out the unit that we gave “Best of Shows CSUN 2006”.

And from the “this is cool” department.. You can expect a major announcement for a new addition to the Small Talk Ultra. Let’s just say it’s an alliance between two companies that makes the Ultra a lot *bigger* than it was before. As if that new case for the device wasn’t sweet enough. Don’t remember me gushing about the STU? Well refresh your memory with the link below.

` Ai Squared: Speaking of bigger [hint hint] the long awaited keyboard is said to ship this summer. $99 plus 10 for shipping. The one shipping is a new design from the one I saw at CSUN. So expect a contrast and compare report from me next week. Here’s the link.

Oh yeah I forgot to post that there was another update this month. Here’s the release notes for another Zoom Text 9.03.x.

` Megadots: Version 2.3 is shipping and it sports a Windows installer. No more wire hangers, I mean floppy disks. No word on Duxbury 10.6 yet but here’s the features in the new Megadots.

Kurzweil: No not that the K-NFB Reader. Although expect more on that when we compare the *final product* to the beta I blogged about in April. Monday night in Dallas there is a presentation set to show “the future of Kurzweil”. I have no idea what else they can add to the K-1000 but stay tuned as we will find out together. Oh and that blog post about the K-NFB Reader and the Advantage Reader can be found here.

` J-Say: The product no longer comes in two flavors. The Standard edition has been dropped and only the Professional remains. I had a Thunderdome “two products enter and only one product leaves” joke there but few these days remember Mad Max 3. I do of course and I say “Master Blaster runs Bardertown.”. Ah the 80’s..

` Top Tech Tid Bits: Dean put out an excellent newsletter on June 22nd that’s worth a read.

` Flash 9: Sigh… The program that steals your focus on web pages sadly just updated it’s self again. Learn more if you dare from the link below.

` Older Windows EOL: Microsoft has a neat little acronym for death. End off Life, or EOL, means that your copy of Windows 98 SE has seen it’s last security update. Well any copy of Windows that isn’t Windows XP SP2 or Server 2003 is done too but why not stick with the classics? Anyway MS will no longer support these older copies and version of Windows after October 2006.

` Windows Update: What a month for updates. There were 12 possible updates at the beginning of the month. Then the Genuine Advantage software updated twice because it was found that the program was a beta in sheep’s clothing and oh yeah it called Microsoft every freaking day. So to sum up there were over 18 MB of updates to fix over 22 issues this month.

` Mac OSX Tiger: Mac fans need not fret as they too have new upgrades. See a summary of 10.4.7 and it’s fixes below.

And just because I guess it could be done someone got Vista to run on a Mac through a Windows emulator. I bet it took 30 seconds to draw the Control Panel.

Lastly I hate ITUNES. Not because it’s not the most accessible thing out there, however, that’s right up on the list as well. No I don’t like that record companies make tons of money while the artist gets shafted big time. A recording artist makes more money if you buy a CD rather than download a bunch of their songs. A fan of Weird Al’s broke the numbers down. Take a look..

` Best Buy Hard Drive resold: Ever wonder what really happens when you let a company recycle your old computer? In one case a family found that their old data filled drive was sold at a flea market. Read the below and shiver with the fear.

` Hacked by USB: If you see a flash drive on the ground and think to yourself that it’s your lucky day think again. A private security company used USB drives with Trojan Viruses on them to hack from the inside of a bank when employees found the drives on the ground outside their door. The article below states that in less than 30 minutes the security company had dozens of credit card and bank numbers.

Browser Wars 2.0: The below article is a wonderful look at the upcoming Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0. It summarizes both programs new features pretty well and that’s why I posted it here.,71204-0.html?tw=rss.index

` High Def DVD Format Wars Already Over?: This great article explains why no one need break their piggy banks to upgrade their DVD to either Blu-Ray or HDDVD.

~ “Nintendo’s Blind Mario Cane Simulator?”

The new Nintendo Wii videogame console utilizes a motion sensitive wand called the Wiimote. Some have speculated that the vibration that the Wiimote emits could be used as a cane simulator or it could be used to give feedback when a blind person moves the cursor on the television or computer monitor. It sounds neat and I hope someone really takes advantage of this awesome idea.

~ “R U Vstardy?” A.K.A. “Vista Corner”

“Vstardy” is an actual vanity license plate seen on a BMW in D.C. that is said to belong to a Microsoft related person. It breaks down to “Vista Ready” which is the term used for computers that run Vista out of the box. Before you say I have too much time on my hands remember that I get paid to find this stuff. Yeah it’s a real bummer. Ha!

Okay my NFB Vista presentation is next week and I thought I would share some of my research materials. If you are one of the brave and crazy souls who downloaded Beta 2 of Vista then some of this stuff might come in handy.

` Vista Ultimate 449.00!: You read that right. A full version, that means you didn’t buy the upgrade edition, of Vista Ultimate is being bounced around in some circles as being $450 bucks. This price will be a bit cheaper if you buy a new computer with Vista preloaded of course. Not much cheaper but hey anything helps.

` Direct X 10: To get the most out of Vista, a phrase you will hear a whole hell of a lot over the next two years, you will have to upgrade your video card to the new Direct X 10 [DX10] standard. No word on how much that will cost because DX10 cards don’t exist yet until this Xmas. DX10 will allow faster graphics and better 3D images and that pesky little dog Toto known as the AERO interface too. A wonderful and long interview with the brains behind DX10 is posted below. It’s a bit tech heavy so you may want to move on to the next article below if you aren’t interested.,1697,1982031,00.asp

` Vista look in XP: If you read that article above and you want to get an idea of what Vista will look like without you breaking your current computer or your wallet the gang at Gamespot shows you how to fool others into thinking you already have Vista up and running.

` Vista Basic/AERO Express User Interface: Paul at the Super Site For Windows made my life a heck of a lot easier this month by writing a nicely detailed description, with screenshots, of what functionality you lose when you go from AERO Glass to AERO Express. This article is a wonderful way to explain to others why reverting to Windows Classic is a bad idea.

` Vista Beta 2 Install: Speaking of Paul’s wonderful site [again hint hint] you can find another detailed gallery of what to expect if you decide to try and install Vista Beta 2.

` Vista Video Training: Let’s say you’re a sane rational person who didn’t download Beta 2. Well you can still learn about the changes in store through this MS web based training on what fun lies instore for you once you take the plunge and join the rest of us nutball early adopters in the big Vista swimming pool.

~ “Meet The New Boss-Office 2007”

If Vista already scares you then I got news for ya. Vista isn’t nothing compared to the new learning curve involved with Office 2007. Here’s some reading materials I have been using in my recent presentations. Remember that Vista can only run on some types of machines but Office can run on boxes dating back to Windows 2000. Chances are that you will run into Office 2007 before you meet Vista in a dark alley. And both want your wallet. As the new Ultimate Office will set you back $649. So Windows Ultimate $449, Office 07 Ultimate $649 the time it will take you to alienate yourself from friends and family so you can learn both.. priceless.

Of course I say you will meet Office first and then I read 10 minutes after I finalize this issue that MS is delaying Office by a few weeks to a month. Figures..

` MS Office 2007 Video: This short 12 minute tour of Office’s new features is great for showing non-tech people how different the Ribbon interface is when compared to current Office suites. It’s streaming media unless you ordered the Office 2007 Beta Kit from MS it’s self. Then it’s located somewhere in the training files.

` MS Office Training: While we are on the subject of training the MS marketing team would have you believe that very little new training is needed for Office 2007. That may be true if you’re new to Office. But if you’re a long time user then you will be in for a possible world of hurt. This article sums this up in some detail.

` MS Office Questions: ZDNet posted a great “10 Questions You Should Ask About Office 2007”. I advise giving this a glance when discussing if someone should consider upgrading in January 07.

` Ribbon First Look: I have mentioned the Ribbon a few times this month and you may be wondering what I am talking about. Fair enough but you may want to see that video link above before you ask said question. Lazy like me? Then the Ribbon is simply the new User Interface in Office 2007. The old toolbars of File, Edit, View etc. are now gone. The Office 2003 hotkeys remain but they do some completely different functions in 07. The Ribbon, however, is better described in the below link.

! Whew that’s a long one eh? I haven’t been this talky in some time. Well it will have to do for a while as I am off to Dallas tomorrow. If you are heading to Dallas as well then stop by the Computer Science meetings on Monday afternoon. IBM, Microsoft and a great discussion on the East Coast Open Source situation are on the docket. And yours truly will be presenting on Vista at 4:30. My hope is that everyone will be asleep or staring at the clock all the while ignoring little old me. But then again they may have saved the best for last. . . Yeah that’s a joke! See you there..

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Magic 10 and JAWS 7.1 Officially Released

And just in time for the NFB Convention too!

Here's the JFW page..

And here's Magic

Please please PLEASE!! if you use both programs upgrade to the latest versions as Magic is version specific when running it with JAWS.

Oh and that Tech Update?
It's coming. promise..

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

MS Touts Their "Ease Of Access" In Vista

Sorry for the non blog lately. I have Vista, Office 07 and Magic beta testing all going at the same time. In fact I was happy that Dolphin went public with 7.01 because it was one less thing for me to look at. But hopefully I will get the June Tech Update together along with a few looks at my product testing experiences. For now enjoy this long press release from Microsoft on how much better Narrator is in Vista. Well it's great if you can get your Sound Card to work during install without sighted assistance. More on that later...

Microsoft (Press Releases)
Monday, June 05, 2006

Making Technology Accessible to Everyone

Microsoft Windows Vista, and the new director of the Accessible Technology Group at Microsoft, Rob Sinclair, are making it easier for people to see, hear and use computers.

REDMOND, Wash., June 5, 2006 - As a fifth grader growing up in Irving, Tex., Rob Sinclair tutored younger students with learning impairments, helping them to make sense of the words they were struggling to read, and to grasp the concepts that would help them succeed in school and in life. That was when he first began to understand the importance of making information accessible to everyone - including people who experience the world in different ways. As an adult, achieving that goal has become his highest ambition.

"Developing new ways to make technology easier for people to use has always been one of my passions," Sinclair says. "I've really been pursuing the same goals throughout my career."

Today, as the new director of the Accessible Technology Group (ATG) at Microsoft, Sinclair leads the company's worldwide strategy to develop software and tools that make it easier for people to see, hear and use their personal computers. As a widely respected computer scientist with 15 patents pending, most for advances in accessible technology, Sinclair is ideal for the role. And he believes that he has the right team, in the right place, at the right time to get the job done.

"A lot of companies work on different aspects of accessibility, and all of those contributions are valuable, but Microsoft is unique," Sinclair says. "No other company takes such a broad approach to accessibility, none has assembled a team with such breadth and depth of expertise, and few companies have been working on accessibility issues as long as Microsoft." Sinclair points out that Microsoft has been a leader in accessible technology design and development since 1988.

Accessibility Investments with Windows Vista

Sinclair and his team are responsible for all product planning, engineering, regulatory issues and marketing related to accessibility at Microsoft. They provide the guidance and direction Microsoft needs to make its own products more accessible, and to make Microsoft Windows an outstanding platform that other companies can use to develop accessible technologies.

Both aspects of their work are evident in Windows Vista, the next version of the Microsoft Windows operating system. According to Sinclair, Microsoft has made three major accessibility investments in Windows Vista:

A new Ease of Access center to help consumers identify and locate the built-in accessibility features in Windows Vista that will make it easier for them to use their computers

New technologies such as state-of-the-art speech recognition and magnification

Microsoft UI Automation, ("UI" refers to user interface), an innovative accessibility model that makes Windows an even better development platform for accessible technology

While ATG focuses primarily on helping Microsoft and assistive technology manufacturers create software and devices that empower people with mild-to-severe disabilities, which includes age-related impairments, the benefits of those solutions are not limited to people who experience physical or cognitive difficulties - and neither is Sinclair's vision for accessible technology.

Rob Sinclair, Director, Microsoft Accessible Technology Group

"By addressing the needs of people with a wide range of abilities, we gain deeper insights into the challenges that all consumers face as they interact with technology," he says. "As a result, Microsoft is able to create a system that is more functional for everyone."

Sinclair describes himself as a "practical dreamer," someone who likes to think big, set aggressive goals, and develop a plan to achieve them. He says he gets his biggest thrill from working with his team to solve difficult problems.

"Today, people are required to adapt themselves to their computers, so using technology means knowing how the machine expects us to give it information and how we can get information from the machine," Sinclair says. "It's an artificial barrier that prevents us from making the best use of technology.

"I want to create a system that adapts to the user, that adjusts to our needs as they change in the course of a day and throughout our lives, so that it becomes much easier and more natural for people to interact with technology," he explains. "We are building technology today that moves us much closer to that goal, and a lot of those innovations are in Windows Vista."

Windows Vista Ease of Access Center

Windows Vista includes a new Ease of Access center (located in the Control Panel), where anyone can turn on accessibility settings and tools. A questionnaire helps users decide which accessibility settings or tools to use. Users answer questions about their experience performing routine tasks, such as reading a newspaper. Based on those answers, Windows Vista provides a personalized recommendation for accessibility tools and settings in the operating system that are likely to improve the user's ability to see, hear, and use the computer.

"Even if you are aware that you sometimes have difficulty typing, there is no intuitive way to know which features can help you," Sinclair says. "With Windows Vista, we've solved that problem.

"The task-based questions in the Ease of Access center allow us to gather information about our customers' requirements and preferences based on their daily experiences," he says. "People may not think of themselves as someone with low vision, for example, but they know whether they have trouble reading the print in a newspaper."

New Technology in Windows Vista Enhances Accessibility

The new Speech Recognition experience in Windows Vista is designed to empower people to interact with their computers by voice. This is particularly important for people who have difficulty with dexterity or limited use of their hands and arms, because it reduces or eliminates their need for a mouse and a keyboard while enabling them to maintain or increase their productivity. Speech Recognition in Windows Vista allows users to dictate documents and e-mail messages, fill out forms on the Web using voice commands, and seamlessly manage Windows Vista and their applications by saying what they see.

Speech Recognition is fully integrated into Windows Vista and is built on top of the latest Microsoft speech technologies. It features state-of-the-art voice recognition accuracy that is designed to improve as people use it, adapting to their speaking style and vocabulary.

Also in Windows Vista, Microsoft has added a new magnification layer to the graphics stack that is used to display the user interface. Having this capability in the core of Windows significantly improves the quality of magnified screen images and improves the readability of scaled text for people with low vision.

"Instead of stretching an image to enlarge it, which often creates jagged edges and other distortions, magnifying an image in Windows Vista is more like changing a font size," Sinclair says. "It is rendered at a larger size from the start. As a result, each user can enlarge buttons, icons, and other graphics to the size they find easiest to see with no loss of image quality."

Microsoft UI Automation in Windows Vista

One of the most innovative aspects of Windows Vista is a new accessibility and automated testing model called Microsoft UI Automation, which reduces development costs not only for accessible and assistive technology (AT) developers, but also for application developers who make their software compatible with AT products such as screen readers for people who are blind. Microsoft UI Automation also improves product quality by providing increased testing support and a new way of doing automated UI testing for software developers.

Other accessibility models rely on a single interface that must serve dual purposes: exposing UI information about applications and collecting information needed by AT products. Microsoft UI Automation separates the two models, with one for application developers and another for AT developers. "With Microsoft UI Automation, application developers provide only the information they have, and AT developers retrieve only the information they need to create compatible products," says Sinclair, who is one of the chief architects of Microsoft UI Automation. "And Microsoft does a lot of work in the middle to streamline and package the information for easy consumption, which makes less work for developers and lowers their costs."

Another innovation in Microsoft UI Automation is a new and more efficient way for developers to incorporate UI commands and controls in their applications. With other accessibility models, developers have to gather information directly from individual buttons, menus, or other controls. Unfortunately, every control type comes in dozens of minor variations. So even though 10 variations of a pushbutton may all work the same way and perform the same function, AT developers are forced to treat each one as a unique control. Their product has no way of knowing these controls are functionally equivalent.

To address this challenge, Microsoft identified the 18 core behaviors, called control patterns, which represent everything a person can do with UI elements used in applications and Web pages today. "By combining these 18 control patterns, developers can represent the full range of functionality in thousands of user interface elements," Sinclair says. "The concepts are so powerful they apply to every function and control we've been able to identify." Because the architecture can be extended to expose new behaviors that may be introduced in the future, an AT product built using Microsoft UI Automation can support controls that have yet to be invented.

The Development of an Accessibility Leader

Sinclair earned bachelor and master degrees in computer science from New Mexico State University, where he focused on software usability and user-centered design. While still in graduate school, he founded a small software consulting company that helped businesses synchronize their operations by applying technology at carefully selected points in their workflow. Later, he worked in a variety of roles in the software industry, including graphic design, development, testing, documentation, training and public relations.

Sinclair joined Microsoft in 1997 as a developer support engineer in the Premier Support Group, where he provided technical and business support for some of the company's largest customers. In 1998, he accepted a job as an ATG program manager. Over the next five years, he held a series of increasingly influential roles in ATG, eventually becoming group manager in charge of development, testing and program management.

A talented nature and wildlife photographer, Sinclair left ATG in 2004 to join Microsoft's digital photography and imaging team, a job that allowed him to combine his personal love of photography with his professional passion for technology. A year later, he had the chance to return to ATG as director, and he jumped at the opportunity. As Sinclair sees it, the timing couldn't be better.

"The industry is beginning to view accessible technology as more than a niche market that serves a small number of people. People are recognizing that accessibility benefits all of us," Sinclair says. "Microsoft is leading that change throughout the industry and around the world, and I'm excited to be playing a key role in that effort."

A Growing Market for Accessible Technology

According to Sinclair, the market for accessible technology is expanding rapidly. More people are realizing accessible technology can help them customize their computers to meet their personal needs and preferences. Another reason is that aging baby boomers and older workers worldwide are seeking technology solutions that can help them mitigate age-related impairments and keep their competitive edge at work.

A research study, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Forrester Research, shows that 57 percent of working-age computer users (ages 18-64) in the U.S. are likely to benefit from using accessible technology. The research also confirms that the number of people who could benefit from accessible technology is increasing rapidly as the global population grows older and more people experience age-related difficulties and impairments related to vision, hearing and dexterity.

According to Sinclair, with what developers know about technology today there is no reason to limit the way people send and receive information, and no need to force people to use only one modality, such as a keyboard or mouse. That's another reason he is happy to be leading ATG. He believes his vision of a computer system that can adapt to the needs of any user is no longer a dream, but an achievable goal.

"The field of accessibility is one of the most exciting places to work in the industry," Sinclair says. "That's why I chose to return to this field. At Microsoft, we have a huge opportunity to improve the way everyone interacts with technology, and we have the vision, motivation and engineering power to make it a reality."

LINK: Accessibility in Windows Vista: Fact Sheet

Monday, June 05, 2006

New JAWS 7.1 Fifth Beta Up.. Magic 10 Not Far Behind!

Looks like we will have some upgrade options shortly before the Conventions begin in July. Start saving those pennies kids..

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Dolphin Version 7.0 Products Have Launched

I have been playing with this and the new Hard Text OCR since CSUN but couldn't say much about them until now. Doc Reader, OCR inside Supernova and some new speech synth options are just the tip of the iceberg. Expect more from me on this release soon.