Sunday, June 29, 2008

More From Dallas; JAWS 10, Victor Reader Stream and Trekker Breeze

Okay gang it has been one long day of me seeing products. And I promise to go into more details about everything. However.. for now I’m just going to give you the headlines.

JAWS 10: The public beta is being readied for an August release. The final product is set for a release some time in the 4th quarter. Need more info? Alright I’ll tell you a bit more because I like you. How about Realspeak Solo Direct, copying a web page without stripping out everything when you paste it into Word or Outlook and even better support for running Magic andJAWS at the same time? If that isn’t enough then you will have to wait until I translate my poor dumb shorthand with this terrible laptop keyboard later on in the week.

Victor Reader Stream 2.0: Probably about the time you read this on Monday, June 30th, you will be able to download the free update to VRS 2.0. That’s right.. free. Better volume control for the internal speaker, play unprotected WMA files [including some lossless formats] and now you can read rich text files too. There is tons more but you probably stopped reading already and you have another tab open on your browser with a broken F5 key. So go to this site after you visit the home page for the update link..

Trekker Breeze: I’ll go into more on this and the presentation later. But for now here is what you all have wanted to know. The price is 895 dollars. And it is perfect for the person who needs assistance on fixed routes. Again more later as this device is totally misunderstood for what they are aiming for in it’s range and scope.

Tomorrow I’ll hit the Exhibits. I may even find time to transcribe my other notes. No, don’t count on that on second thought. Unless I cash in my Starbucks gift card.. mmm..

Bye for now!

Posting From Dallas NFB

Hi all, I am posting right now from the PAC Mate lecture from the Senator Lecture Hall. I'm listening to Jonathan right now talk about the PAC Mate Omni and Push email at the moment. I plan on posting more details on what I see over the next few days, however, I had to use the Office laptop and this keyboard leaves a ton to be desired. So I may delay what I post for a minor run through speel echeck , er um, spel check, first before I post stuff. Okay I also don't want to pay Hillton for their internet access. Wich means I'll post in meetings with the free wifi or I have another excuse to go to Starbucks. Haha ..

Blind Bargains is also posting this week so hit them up as well. You can find the link to them and others in the sidebar.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Press Release: TAG! Now In Open Beta..

Contact: Tim Keenan,, 413-585-9690 All inPlay Breaks out of Card Genre with Tag-The Anagram Game Free Open Beta Underway now at

Shrewsbury, MA – Word wizards of the world rejoice. All inPlay has announced that its fourth title, Tag-The Anagram Game, is now in open beta and playable free at for a limited time. With Tag, All inPlay has broadened its appeal by cracking yet another genre in accessible online multiplayer games.

“Over the years, we got a lot of requests to make some sort of word game that was also multiplayer,” remarked All inPlay co-Founder Paul Silva. “Tag is a great example of how you can take a simple game and transform it into an online experience that can be enjoyed by anyone, blind or sighted, whether you love word games or not.” Tag expands on the basic anagram game by allowing up to 8 players per table to compete in short rounds of play. Unlike All inPlay’s prior titles, Tag is real-time, meaning players don’t take turns. Once the round begins, everyone at the table is frantically typing as many words as they can before time runs out and the winner is announced. Then the process starts all over again with a new phrase, keeping things fresh and interesting.

On social tables, rounds last longer and players have more time to chat between rounds, while Fast tables offer shorter rounds with shorter breaks, making for a finger tapping experience that doesn’t let up. Three difficulty levels let players of all types find a table that’s right for them. Multiple scoreboards allow for many avenues of competition beyond simple scoring.

“We wanted to create a game that was much more exciting than a simple anagram game,” said All inPlay co-founder Jeremie Spitzer. “We weren’t sure whether we succeeded until we got the first feedback from our testers, who told us they were getting themselves in trouble by playing at work. At that point we knew we were on to something.”

Anyone can play for free during the open beta period and newcomers to All inPlay can try the three existing games free for fifteen days in addition to the open beta. To get started, browse to:

About All inPlay

All inPlay creates a fun, friendly environment that brings together blind and sighted friends from around the world to socialize and play a variety of games. Players can choose from Texas Hold’em, Draw Poker, Crazy Eights and now Tag. A free trial is available at

Press Release: The Trekker Breeze Is Now Available!



Longueuil, June 26, 2008 - HumanWare is now taking orders for the Trekker Breeze, a state-of-the-art talking GPS specially designed for the needs of visually impaired users. This simple orientation tool is designed for use when travelling in familiar surroundings or pre-defined routes. The product will also be appealing to people not comfortable with computers and screen readers. The new model is an addition to our popular Trekker and BrailleNote GPS systems, which have thousands of users worldwide. With this innovation, HumanWare will make GPS technology even more accessible to a greater number of people.

The Trekker Breeze is available for purchase at an affordable price of $895. In the fall of 2008, The Trekker Breeze will become available in other languages for European and Asian countries.

Like other GPS products from HumanWare, the Trekker Breeze provides talking GPS directions that help users know where they are, where they are going and what is around them.

Trekker Breeze offers the important benefits of GPS orientation tools. It enhances autonomy and confidence in travelling and makes learning new routes easier. Users can record routes as they walk them with sighted assistance. Routes can then be previewed and activated for future use. As they walk by, users receive audible information, such as street names, intersections and reference landmarks. In case they are lost, they can retrace their steps. They can also reach favorite destinations with turn-by-turn instructions from their current position. The product makes it easier to travel alone, and allows people to discover and enjoy their surroundings.

"GPS technology brings great benefits to visually impaired travellers. With this new addition to our product line, Humanware now offers GPS benefits to an even wider portion of the visually impaired population," said Lucia Gomez, Product Manager. "Easy and intuitive, Trekker Breeze offers basic orientation functions in an all-in-one hand size device. It is also the most affordable GPS tool specially designed for the needs of users who are blind."

HumanWare offers the most complete line of GPS tools for visually impaired people. The line includes the popular BrailleNote GPS and Trekker. BrailleNote GPS is a full-featured GPS tool that integrates seamlessly with Keysoft. It is available with any of the BrailleNote family of products. BrailleNote GPS benefits from the highly efficient and easy-to-learn Keysoft interface. Sleek and discreet, Trekker is a powerful GPS solution running on a mainstream palm-size PDA. Trekker is highly appealing to professionals and students already familiar with computers and screen readers.

"Trekker Breeze will make the potential of GPS technology even more accessible to the blind," said Lucia Gomez.

The BrailleNote GPS and Trekker are currently available from HumanWare. For more information, please visit

About HumanWare

HumanWare ( is the global leader in assistive technologies for the print disabled. HumanWare provides products to people who are blind and have low vision and students with learning disabilities. HumanWare offers a collection of innovative products include BrailleNote, the leading productivity device for the blind in education, business and for personal use; the Victor Reader product line, the world's leading digital audiobook players, and SmartView Xtend, the first fully modular and upgradeable CCTV-based video magnifier.

For more information:

Nicolas Lagace
Tel.: (450) 463-1717

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Almost 2 Years Later.. Reviewing My 2006 Vista And Office 07 NFB Overviews Part 2

This is part two of my look back at my 2006 NFB presentation to the Computer Sciences group in Dallas at the National Convention. If you didn’t read that post or you missed part one here are the links for both.

Old Presentation.

Part One of my look back.

We pick up with some reflections on Office 2007.

This is where things get a bit interesting. Some of the things I mentioned in my presentation were based solely on early builds of Office 07. And about a month after the convention some of my nit picks went away in another subsequent build. I'm not taking credit for these changes, however, I was on the panel with a key Microsoft person who did take some issues with what I said that day. Perhaps it was more than sheer coincidence? Nahh.. probably more due to the nature of the beta cycle more likely.

Quote: The good news about Microsoft Office 2007 is that all of the current 1,500 hotkeys/commands from 2003 have been ported over to the new Office Suite. The bad news is that they don't always do what they used to do in Office 2003. Being a power Office user actually works against you as the commands that have become instinctive will now take you places you have never been before. For example I was not sure how to jump my focus initially to the tab portion of the Ribbon interface. I tried several commands and modifier key combinations. It was only after I decided to do an Alt + H combination did I find myself sitting on the "Home" tab. of course I thought that Alt + H would take me to the "Help" tab instead. This is just one of the surprises in store for you when you first start using Office. It becomes even more readily apparent that we as Blind users are at a real disadvantage when you look at a more visual based program like power Point. The Gallery alone for the "Animations" tab is far too complex for me to even begin to describe non visually.

In early builds some common commands did not always work in the same way that you remembered in 2003. What came about over time was a move within Office to leave the key commands that utilized the Control key alone. So CTRL plus S, X, V and others all worked the same. Commands that used the ALT key were not always going to produce the same result in 2007.

Another new behavior came along with that ALT key. When using Office with the Ribbon you can jump to a desired location easily once you learn the path of keys that must be struck successively. For example, to drop in a Cover Sheet into a Word Document you can strike ALT plus N for the Insert tab then hit your V key once you have focus on the Insert tab. Instead of hitting two or three keys at once you could hit a series of keys to get two where you were going.

All things were not that simple though. A friend of mine liked to use Control plus Enter in Outlook. A box popped up to say that this was a 2003 key and it went on to ask if he wanted to continue to use that key command in 2007. He wasn't thinking and he said "No" along with the "Don't show this again" before he realized what he had done. I told him there was a long way of getting it back without installing over Office but it would take some time to get there. He decided to learn the 2007 keys instead that way he would not run into this issue again.

The good news is that you can remap a lot of stuff in Office 07 if it doesn't suit your fancy. The bad news is that these changes aren't global and you will need to do them for each part of the Suite. At least you have a choice now to customize all of this. The hard part is either discovering all of this on your own or sitting through training sessions to learn how to tame this beast.

In multiple paragraphs, both then and now, I stressed the need for training on the changes from XP to Vista and Office 03 to 07. I mentioned before that the AT companies have gone to long lengths to bridge this gap through verbosity language and the ability to read many of the tool tips on the fly. Even with all of this help at your command things can still be out of reach. Take this instance where I talk about how Microsoft has tweaked the Ribbon for mouse users.

Quote: As an experiment in terror I showed my sighted wife the new Office 2007. She took to it like a duck to water. In minutes she was creating a power Point presentation with advanced features in only minutes. She told me that the new interface was very intuitive and she liked how the program would give her visual indications as to what options were open to her at a glance. She could make changes to the format of a document without changing the document it's self by hovering her mouse over a picture of the format or scheme displayed in the Gallery up in the Ribbon interface. For me as a mid level user who can use either Screen Reader or Screen Magnifier products I found that it took me twice as long or longer to perform the same tasks my wife was doing in seconds. For once all the millions in marketing and user research have paid off for Microsoft as this new version of Office will dramatically change the way future releases will look and feel.

And it has done exactly that. Office 2009 is said to be "All Ribbon.. All the time!". Vista already uses a pseudo Ribbon. And MS was so happy with the reception of the User Interface that they allow third parties to use it under a free license. Sadly things are going to get even more visual from this point forward. The meta Media Universe has arrived to the party while some of us are still trying to figure out what to wear to this shindig.

Here again the Screen Magnifier user faces a greater challenge to using these controls. Due to the nature of enlargement, you can always make something bigger if you are willing to sacrifice the ability to see what is around your mouse pointer or text cursor. I mentioned that my wife could hover over a control and see the changes that control would make *live* on a given document. With a Screen Magnifier I have to make those changes in a more permanent fashion as I can either see the Control in focus or the document proper. Not both. Thank goodness for Control plus Z right?

But the Control Z key combo is a perfect example of why things are not so good for the Screen Mags and not so bad for the Screen Reads. Without going down the path of Low Vision people being in denial, the fact remains that some users will always do things the sighted way first. And try as you might you can't always teach a old dog new tricks. Which means that Low Vision users must either rely on memorization techniques in a dynamic environment or they may just give up on some features of a program entirely. Which then gives the sighted co-worker a leg up on being the Office Product Suite Guru.

Continuing on..

Quote: Like anything else more time with the products will increase my speed and abilities to navigate through Both Office and Vista. And again I am not doing myself any favors by learning both at the same time. It is very realistic, however, that this will be the case for a lot of Blind users who take my advice that I offered at the beginning on waiting to buy a new computer rather than upgrade piece meal. For them and others this will be the only option open when both Vista and Office come bundled with new computer systems. So there is a method to my madness for tackling both programs in this manner.

Hello! Just about any student getting a PC this graduation season falls under this one.

Quote: Due to what little time we have here today I haven't discussed that there are some features of both Windows Vista and office 2007 that are version specific. So in other words you might have a friend with Vista Home Premium and Office Student Edition who could not afford the ultimate Editions I am using in the Beta program. My options for creating and viewing files are far more vast than what your friend can do with his or her versions of Vista and Office. However, if your friend has enough money on hand they can upgrade their copies of both over the internet with On Line Distribution. Hopefully they won't alter their Assistive Technology in the process by going from what we now know as Home to Professional but that's another discussion for another time. The fact is that a person can rapidly change their Operating System's look and feel by purchasing an upgrade via the internet. Vista will even tell you that you will need to upgrade your software when you try to access an option in a lower priced version of the product. Better yet if you chose to ignore my advice and you upgraded your computer and it cannot use a particular function of Vista... it will let you buy the upgrade and then tell you that you will need to upgrade your hardware to take advantage of your new purchase.

Ah! Another one where I am 50/50. The hardware and software thing was on track. The current lawsuit about “Vista Capable”, “Vista Compatible” and “Vista Ready” is still pending and it addresses a lot of what I said above. However Microsoft has suspended the “Any Time Upgrade” via the net. There has been an “Any Time Upgrade Kit” which comes with a DVD and other materials but it wasn’t the exclusive way of upgrading until the begining of this year.

The problems with upgrading to Vista with AT ended up being awful. Time consuming or a pain in the rear because you had to use Narrator for almost everything. But it wasn’t awful enough to be beyond the realm of meer mortals As long as you keep in mind the Home versus Professional product lines of old. And if that is a headache then there is always the Ultimate Editions of both which has everything. Just remember that those Ultimate versions are considered as being Professional not Home when you update your AT Also give credit to Microsoft for not allowing you to overwrite Pro with Home or FAT32 over NTFS.

Tip: Uninstall your Assistive Technology of choice and use Narrator or System Access in XP to access the initial Vista upgrade screens. If Vista finds your sound card drivers, and that is about 90% or better now, you can use Narrator and Magnifier to get you through the first screens before you officially log on to Vista for the first time. When on the Vista Desktop use Narrator one more time to hear the Autoplay options of your Assistive Technology install disc as Vista doesn’t use an Autorun by default. You can close Narrator once you hit the install shield for your AT of choice.

This next part I strongly believe in as I just experienced it again recently. I just upgraded several Dell machines up from XP to Vista and each box reminded me of what I wrote two years ago.

Quote: Vista will scale it's self up or down to more readily adapt to whatever hardware you throw at the thing. So a copy of Windows Vista ultimate on a new computer will look and act very different from a computer made two years ago. Again it will run on the system but it will remind you when it cannot do something due to hardware limitations. Every system will respond and act differently if you take the upgrade path. That’s why I say that it may be worth it to you to wait for the Vista Ready machines to roll out next year before you decide to buy.

On my home boxes I run either Vista Ultimate or XP SP 3. At work we just moved to Windows Vista Enterprise. Enterprise isn’t too far off from Ultimate. But my main box at home is 16 months older than the newer ones at work. The speed and responsiveness of Vista on newer hardware is sometimes astounding. I say sometimes because I see some cycle intensive programs take on full loads the exact same way at home and at work. That is to say they both suffer and drag in the same spots no matter what the hardware specs seem to be on either system.

Overall, however, I am amazed at how performance can be so drastically affected by hardware configurations. And laptops especially tend to either flurish or flounder running Vista. Don’t scrimp on hardware for the notebook computer as Vista loves more than less. How ironic it was for me to see a recent Microsoft ad campaign proclaiming “Do More with less”. Oh well, that’s marketing for ya..

Okay, now we get to the real meat of the matter. Here is what I suggested 23 months ago as a mini buyer’s guide for future Vista boxes. Remember that I was speaking stricly on upgrade paths at the time as the specs for fully loaded Vista systems didn’t show up until five months later for business and 7 months later for consumer oriented products.

Quote: But I believe that everyone should have the freedom to do what they feel. So if you do want to upgrade or buy a new system for Vista here's a mini buyer's guide. Please remember that this information refers to the needs of some specific Assistive Technology programs like Screen magnifiers. And I am shooting low so you don't buy a system only to find yourself having to upgrade again in 18 months.

Desktop: We’ll take these one at a time. I will use a “Then:” for the old suggestion and a “Now:” for the current generation of hardware recommendations.

Processor Then: Intel Dual Core at 2.4 GHz or higher. AMD equivalent will work just as well. A Dual Core processor with Hyperthreading technology may not be worth the money to you unless you do a lot of video editing or massive data creation.

Processor Now: If you are updating an old system then the older suggestion still applies. Just about any new system from Dell, HP or others should be fine with Vista if you are buying new. I generally don’t choose the bottom barrel on the drop down list of available processors as a rule when custom creating a system though.

Memory Then: 2 GB of memory is recommended if you are going to use this computer with Assistive Technology. You can get by on 1 GB; however, Vista directly and dramatically increases its speed with more memory on board. Vista ultimate, for example, can recognize up to 128 GB of memory.

Memory Now: 2 GB minimum. 1 GB is really a struggle. In fact 3 GB is better but 4 GB isn’t used all that well by Vista in the 32 bit flavors. In 64 bit the skies the limit. In the original vista rollouts I saw a lot of 1GB configurations. Around mid 2007 that turned to a 2 GB minimum for most OEMs. So this shouldn’t be a problem as much for someone buying a new box.

Video Card Then: A dedicated Display Card of at least 128 MB is a requirement for some versions of Vista's AERO Glass interface. Screen magnifier users however should think about 256 MB based cards if they can afford them. All Assistive Technology users are better off using 128 MB cards though as this will free up system resources and it won't get in the way of your computer's memory/processor.

Video Card Now: If you are updating then 128 MB still applies. I would check the support forums for your display adaptor before you make the leap to Vista however. Some driver support is still kind of wonky, Hi NVIDIA, and it is better to download the latest and greatest drivers/patches on to a USB drive before you upgrade. If you are buying new it will be very difficult to find a card below 128 MB. Or 256 for that matter. You really want to be careful with machines designed as big time gamming rigs though. Dual video cards and some SLI configurations are not supported by some AT programs. Some Direct X 10 high end cards can employ layering effects that can also work badly with Mirror Drivers. So… like you need more research right? Yep. The best course of action is to check with your AT company on any potential issues with a particular video card before you click “add to cart” when buying a new system.

Sound Card Then: No longer can you scrimp on going with On Board Audio chips. It's in your best interest that you look at a dedicated sound card as Direct X sinks up audio and video for every program running on your computer. Having a fast video card won't help you if it has to wait for your low end audio card to do its work in order for both to sink properly. So if you want to avoid stuttering speech or lags in Screen Magnification you want to go with a real true blue sound card.

Sound Card Now: This area I screwed up on in a few ways. Part of the mistakes came about when Microsoft started changing internally the way that sound is handled under Vista. Another thing I didn’t see coming was the rise and fall and rise again of DRM with High Def video and audio. And then last but not least I was betrayed by Creative Labs with their dog awful response and subsequent lack of support for Vista. The best course of action for audiophiles is to buy, gulp, a new card that has far better support and features under Vista than your current card does. New computer buyers should again research the sound card option carefully because not all sound cards are created equal under Vista. And some are far better at music, others at gamming and others boast better audio/video experiences. My thoughts on this is the sound card game is one big craps shoot. I’ve seen and heard some great performance out of some cards with music only to then find that they stink with video files. And vise versa. Oh and don’t even get me started on sound with SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 with Vista. That is a rant best suited for when I have more time to write and you have a day and a half to read the thing.

Hard Drive Then: 80 GB or higher. Windows Vista and Office 2007 took up 17 GB on my laptop's 60 GB hard drive and that's before I loaded anything else. Remember that files are getting bigger all the time and you can't get away with a smaller drive unless you plan on backing up your data... a lot.

Hard Drive Now: Updating with 80 GB? Sure thing. Just plan on going out to purchase a gross of DVDs and an external USB hard drive later on in the day. With drive prices falling and storage being so cheap, when compaired to a few years ago,250 to 320 GB is the new low point I would suggest for HDD.

DVD ROM Then and Now: All future software releases from Microsoft will be in DVD format. The size of Vista alone is 3.4 GB.

Monitor Then: A widescreen monitor will give everyone, including Screen Reader users, a better experience with their Assistive Technology of choice. Using a more traditional square monitor means that a program will have to resize or reformat a page that is designed for wider displays or monitors running at a higher resolution. Think of it like a 40 cell braille display versus an 80 cell model. Speech products have a tendency to read better in some cases because they don’t have to pause between more lines of text. A wider display shows whole sentences which makes some products act differently. Weird I know but not all Assistive Technology products access and read text the same way so your mileage on this may vary.

Monitor Now: This one I kind of changed my mind on slightly. While a Widescreen display is still my first recommendation for both old and new, I concede that some eye conditions do not work well with a wider field of view. Those people with diminishing field restrictions or those who have nothing but their Central Fields may struggle with wider and larger monitors. The trend is going the way of the rectangle however. Therefore people who like the smaller 15 to 17 inch old fashion displays may have to turn to bargain store close outs or Ebay for a monitor replacement. As HDTV comes online in 2009 you will be hard pressed to find that square style in any stores or with Online Retailers.

Moving now to the laptop or notebook systems..


Processor Then: The lowest I even suggest is an Intel Dual Core Mobile at 1.66 GHz. If you can go higher than do so. The obvious difference in performance is based upon the number of application running at the same time. In other words running more than four apps in open windows is not a good idea on laptops with lower speeds.

Processor Now: My advice is don’t upgrade a Laptop to Vista period. It is more time consuming than it is worth to troubleshoot if something goes wrong and it is an arm and a leg to pay for what you need if you do need more hardware. Now if you are buying new higher can be better but it isn’t that simple. You want to look at power versus heat. A lower end processor might not replace a Super Computer, however, if all you are doing is spreadsheets and some light surfing with your AT of choice then stay in the middle range of processors with AMD or Intel. Heavy duty web apps? Go higher!

Memory Then: The same 2 GB is highly recommended. Although Windows Vista can be set to use a flash drive as virtual memory. A 4 GB USB Flash Drive could give you a 10% boost on some programs if you allow Vista to use the entire drive for its needs.

Memory Now: 3 GB if you can afford that level of memory. Readyboost is a lot better now than it was two years ago but it is still no match for on board memory.

Video Card Then: 128 MB cards are a must. Higher is better but 128 MB dedicated non memory sharing video cards will make your life a whole lot easier.

Video Cards Now: This one all depends on what you want to do with your new notebook. If you like rich dynamic content and video there within or playing movies on said new system then a high end card may suit your fancy. If you are a Screen Reader user who doesn’t have to give rich dynamic content presentations as a part of your job or playing DVD movies just isn’t your bag then the world of video cards is your oyster. Mind you if you DO like all that video Web 2.0 Blu Ray stuff I would suggest you buy an extra battery because you will be eating power like it was a $2.99 Las Vegas hotel buffet.

Sound Card Then: The rule here is to go with a card that will not share system memory. You may have a laptop with 512 MB of RAM; however, the On Board Video and Audio cards take 64 MB or more away from that 512 MB. One of the laptops I tested that had just such a configuration only shows that Vista has 384 MB out of 512 MB available. Trust me and shoot for a non integrated card.

Sound Cards Now: Um.. most of them suck. No really. I’m usually most depressed with this aspect more than anything else on laptop configurations under Vista. And I am not alone. Just look at the rise in popularity of USB external sound cards and sound chips in USB headphones. I recommend that a lot of Screen Readers, or Screen Magnifiers with assisted Speech, consider USB headphones with the sound chip option. It tends to be a far better solution then fighting with drivers and the sound mixer at times with Vista. To each his own though.

Hard Drive, DVD and the rest is the same as the desktop recommendations for both “Then” and “Now”.

We’re getting to the end but my gaffs in logic, and my underestimating hardware support, continue. Here are some aspects of vista that I, ha!, predict are worth looking out for in the next two years.

Quote: Windows Sideshow: This part of Windows allows you to view files wirelessly from a Tablet PC, picture frame or from a LCD monitor on the lid of your laptop. This secondary screen on the lid of the laptop can even let you view email or see your photos without you having to manipulate controls in Windows.

One Note/Meeting Space: Imagine being in this room a year from now and me saying that I have a file folder open on my laptop and you can download this presentation on your Vista based system. Its Peer to Peer file sharing on a whole new level and it will do wonders for the class room.

Windows Media Player 11 and Internet Explorer 7+: While both programs will be available for Windows XP both have specific features that only come with Windows Vista. For instance IE7 has a "safe mode" that lets it run in a protected memory file so you can avoid programs that hijack or redirect your browser.

Windows Sideshow Is just now starting to find some love from hardware manufactures. Around Christmas I saw a few wireless LCD picture frames that supported this feature. Last summer I saw maybe three high end laptops that supported the LCD on the lid. However as we move forward, and away from XP support, the hardware will eventually catch up to this software feature.

Microsoft can only encourage others to develop for a Windows platform. They can not easily jump into the hardware game with Desktops and Laptops without someone crying foul. But they have dipped their little toe in the water with a re-labeling of some monitor’s back at Vista’s launch. MS also does well with mice, keyboards and other accessories too. I guess never say “never”.

One Note/Meeting Space… I am starting to see this in colleges. Higher technically inclined Professors are either using wireless connections in class to pass along content via the internet or they are using Meeting Space if the University has adopted Vista for their student bodies. Sadly this technology is only as good as Vista’s adoption rate. In this respect Vista shares some traits with the Zune’s Social Sharing of music. While it sounds good on paper, finding someone with a Zune to share with is the problem. Same with Meeting Space. It works well. Now find someone to play with and you are all set.

The one I got right, and honestly it was pretty hard not to get it right, was WMP 11 and IE7 for Vista. Internet Explorer 7+, the original name for IE in Vista, was a label dropped almost three months later after I talked about it in Dallas. For the most part both have been stable and better versions of their respective products. Although Windows Media Player integration can prove to be a bear to troubleshoot. In a recent situation I learned that you can’t really uninstall or reinstall WMP 11 all that easily in Vista. There are work arounds for this kind of thing and they don’t involve reinstalling Vista thank goodness. But it did take me by surprise that one of the oldest and best tricks in my arsenal wasn’t available to me right off the bat.

Let’s skip down to the wrap up paragraph..

Quote: Before I conclude today I want to stress that all of this is very specific to today's technology. Windows Vista will use Direct X 10 for all of its video. But no one can test how well that works yet as no Direct X 10 cards are on the market as I stand here today. The information I have spoken about today is based on the Beta releases of Vista and Office with older hardware. It's a whole new ball game come this Xmas season when the new generation of hardware that is made with Vista in mind hits the streets. I urge you to do your research before you do absolutely anything. Seek out your local Assistive Technology Venders and try before you buy. Just don't base your needs off a demonstration on the Exhibit Hall floor. There is no way for you to get a real feel for all of these changes in a few minutes of a sales demonstration. My real fear is that many of you will have serious Buyer's Remorse if you don't spend some time kicking the tires of all this new fangled technology. So read, listen and talk to as many people as you can before you enter into anything.

Some AT companies did have trouble with Vista. Some did have trouble with Direct X 10. However most have either worked out the kinks or are useable enough in Vista to make it something not to fear. Vista for all it’s public misconceptions is a good operating system. It is faster on newer hardware, it is far more secure than XP and in two more years it may just be your best friend as we approach what ever the next version of Windows, now code named Windows 7, is called.

Don’t get me wrong. XP was a great operating system. But it is seven years old and MS will have to stop supporting it with updates at some point. If you decide on your next system to downgrade to XP you have two major problems to face. One is that around 2010 security updates will not be as frequent or timely because MS will be looking at Windows Vista, Windows Server and Windows 7. XP will slide downwards in importance no matter how many people are still using the OS. Don’t believe me? Just go ask a Windows 2000 user how fun life has been since the release of Vista. A big fish like Microsoft does move forward and when they do you can bet that the turbulence in their wake can be a very rough ride indeed. And that isn’t to say that their won’t be support for XP. 2014 is probably the very last year for XP support… for major corporations and volume license holders. Support for individuals gets harder and more costly around 2011.

My feelings are this..

The road from Windows 98 to XP for AT users was less than spectacular. The road from XP to Vista was three years too long and people got complacent with what they had. Hardware makers had a ton of old hardware to unload because MS took too much time shipping Vista. The supply outweighed the demand because the traditional Moore’s law hardware cycle was broken as XP just couldn’t do any better with the current or future generations of hardware. With no real reasons to upgrade due to lack of hardware support, Microsoft was forced to sell something that could only speak to future potential. Not to mention that they had to lower the bar for entry level products as hardware makers had that ton of old crap to sell. MS lived up to their side of things by lowering that bar but the hardware community then stuck it right back to Microsoft by creating the worst kind of drivers, if they did it at all, for Vista. Not to mention people tried loading their older than dirt drivers, applications and hardware on the thing only to cry crocodile tears when their printer from one generation past the dot matrix era didn’t work with Vista. You throw in the not so factual “Get a Mac” ads and you find that the public perception moved to a wierd level of trust that XP was the greatest while Vista was a buggy thing that should be avoided at all costs.

The reality is that XP was the exact same way at this point in it’s life cycle. Add to the reality that Vista has sold more than XP at the same point in it’s life, driver support for Vista pre SP1 was better than any version of Windows previously and then consider that we had AT products ready and rearrin’ to go on launch day… Plus that’s just for starters. Kick in the security features, the IP6 functionality, the level of search, the ability to uber customize the UI, built in voice recognition, better USB support and lots more that I could go on and on about.

I’ll close with some questions that I must answer almost daiily at work.

Does Vista have drawbacks? Sure. All software does. Should you fear Vista in 2008? No. Should you consider Vista on your next computer? Yes. Should you downgrade to XP on a new computer? No. Should you stay with your current system running XP? Yes, for as long as you feel you need to do so. Just be ready for Windows 7 when you do buy in the next 18 months.

Whew! We reached the end. Now it is your turn to sound off. Feel free to agree, disagree or generally run a muck in the comments section. Maybe your experiences range farther apart from mine. Maybe you see what I’m saying. Or perhaps you just have turned to Linux or something. In the end I wasn’t trying to have this be a praise of MS. I did, however, want to be one of the few lone wolves who stood by Vista because in all honesty it has been the easiest version of Windows for me to work with and troubleshoot.

I hope this look back was helpful or at least an interesting read. Thanks for going back in time with me. We will see how I do next time when I write about the betas for Office 2009 and Windows 7.

Window Eyes 7.0 Beta 1 Is Now Released!

You may have heard about WE7 from a few whispers back in January. You might have gotten a few scraps of some of the new features in March. But now you too can know the program for yourself as the public beta cycle has begun for Window Eyes 7.

But! Before you download the beta take a listen to this week’s Main Menu as the entire two hour run is dedicated to WE7, it’s new features and there is a big ol’ fat discussion on the functionality of the new scripts and Script Central. To learn more about the show hit the link below.

To find out more about WE7 and download the beta choose this link.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Audio Dramas: Star Wars – The Original Radio Drama

I’ve mentioned before about how I loved to lay around and listen to dramas in big bulky old school headphones. One of those dramas that sticks out in my mind is the NPR radio versions of Star Wars. I would race home to hear the thrilling audio adventures of those characters I knew from the 50 times I had seen the movies. And since I had the Early Bird Action Figure sets I could reenact a few scenes as well. The Lucasfilm approved project utilized all the official music and sound effects of the movies. And in some cases the actual cast is on hand to lend their vocal talents to the proceedings. Mark Hamil, Antony Daniels and others reprise their roles throughout the episodes. And actors like the late Broc Peters, Ann Sax and Perry [80’s TV Vet from “Rip Tide”] King all do some great voice work too. Although it does take a little getting used to when you jump from James Earl Jones to Peters as Vader. It isn’t distracting. Its just different.

The really neat thing is that the radio plays expand or even have new content only seen in the novelazations. In the first episodes we get to meet Luke’s friends on Tatoine, race through Beggar’s Canyon, meet Lea before she leaves in the Blockade Runner and hear a conversation between Luke and Biggs Darklighter about the Rebellion. The latter of which was filmed and is available on You Tube if you know where to look.

Amazingly enough the set’s audio quality holds up surprisingly well considering it was recorded two and a half decades ago. And even more of a shocker is that the prequels don’t totally break the radio play/Classic Trilogy continuity up. Minus the usual spots like the Force being an Energy Field versus Midiclorions nonsense. Or in the radio version Han definitely does shoot first. Therefore if you prefer your Jedi Knights of 1977 then this set will feel like a warm pair of Wookie fur lined slippers. 

To learn more about this set go to the NPR store.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It’s All In The XPerience

I’m trying to finish up part 2 of my look back at my NFB Vista thingy but ,wouldn’t you know it, XP won’t leave me alone. Below are some XP points of interest to see while I try and get us back on the road with Vista.
Dell, Windows XP and $50: The customer is always right, however, that doesn’t mean they get to pay less for that right. 50 dollars more and you too can downgrade a box to run software on hardware that was designed for Vista rather than XP. And good luck finding official drivers after a year when all development shifts to Vista and Windows 7 exclusively.. “This sounds like a job for Open Sourccceeee!”

Windows XP On An iPhone: Oh I am so loving this. Sure it is Citrix, however, there is just something so right about the thousands of people who run Microsoft on their little Apple hardware platforms. I mean Microsoft Office is the most popular software on the Mac. So why not XP, everyone’s fave Operating System, on the iPhone? You have to admit that it is a little beter than Windows Mobile 2003!,130061733,339289801,00.htm?omnRef=1337

Windows XP SP3: The Windows Super Site looks longingly back at XP but cautions that nostalgia rose colored glasses are no match for what Vista offers in today’s computing. Here’s the link…

Duxbury 10.7 Now Shipping!

My list of things to see at Convention just keeps growing. Take a look at the new 10.7 update for Dux.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Firefox 3.0 Now Free To Roam The Internet

Today’s the big day where Mozilla is hoping to break the world’s record for the most downloads in one day. I’ve done my part and if you too want Firefox 3.0 go here..

Ars Technica has a nicer overview of what was, what is and what will be soon on the way with Firefox. Check out that article at the link below.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Remembering Clarence…

Words fail me today as I try my best to write something worthy of the man who I knew professionally and personally. Clarence was one of the most helpful people I have met in this industry and he was just one of the plain nicest as well. He had a way of being critical without being hurtful. He had a charm that came through in his training sessions, emails and honest passionate views on how we Blind individuals live and work. And it is this down home attitude towards things I will miss the most.

Well that an his voice drifting to me across a crowded exhibit hall. Because no one sounded quite like Clarence.

The last time I saw him was this past February. He was jovial and excited about Window Eyes 7 and all the rest of the upcoming releases from G.W. Micro. When he was “on” Clarence had boundless energy. And he loved a good old fashioned debate with someone who may not have ever given Window Eyes a good look. It was shortly after this event when my team learned of his health. And I was hoping to see him at Convention if he was well enough. Sadly I learned today that Clarence had passed away on Saturday.

I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to Clarence’s family, friends and co-workers at G.W. Micro. I will miss him greatly and his voice will echo in my thoughts for many years to come.

Below is the email that is going out to some of the mailing lists..

“Subject: Passing of Clarence Whaley

On behalf of the entire staff of GW Micro, it is with deep sadness that we must announce the passing away of Clarence Whaley on Saturday morning, June 14. To read his obituary please go to

choose the Obituaries link and search for Whaley.

Clarence worked with us at GW Micro for almost 10 years, serving as Sales Manager and also Director of Training. He worked at many trade shows, gave many presentations both in the US and abroad, trained many people in the use of Window-Eyes, the Braille Sense and Voice Sense notetakers plus other products. Clarence was always ready to explain how to do a certain task in an easy-going manner that no one else could match. Clarence always made people feel comfortable and at-ease and they had confidence in his abilities.

Clarence loved his Seeing Eye dogs and they assisted him wherever he traveled. He was active in the music business and enjoyed many types of songs although I am certain his favorite was the music from his hometown - Nashville, Tennessee.

For those of you who wish to express your feelings, thoughts and memories of Clarence, we've added a discussion topic on our blog web page

titled Memories of Clarence Whaley. We encourage you to write something about Clarence to help others remember him and know him a little better. This could be anything from a phone conversation to an in-depth training session.
Clarence was very active and he touched a lot of lives with his service.

Clarence is survived by his wife Dranda as well as other family members. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they work through this time of grief and mourning. He was a well-loved member of the GW Micro family and we will truly miss him.


Dan, Doug and the entire GW Micro staff

GW Micro, Inc.
725 Airport North Office Park
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
ph 260-489-3671”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SenseView Duo Online Demonstration

I've been a very bad Ranger lately due to the switch over at the Office to Vista systems. The units didn't come preloaded with Vista, long story, so I am updating them all piecemeal. And as a result of being so distracted I am missing out on playing with all the new stuff that is being released pre convention. For instance, I have a spiffy brand spanking new Sense View Duo on my desk beside me and I have played with it for all of a minute. I'm looking forward to getting to know it better, however, this new video from GW Micro will be what I will be looking at first when I get a moment to play with the device.

To learn more about the new video demonstrating the Sense View Duo hit the link below..

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Press Release: Its An All New Game For Allinplay!


Hello All inPlayer,

It's been a while since we've contacted you, but we've been busy. Busy making a new game! And since you've tried us out in the past, we thought you should be the first to know. It's called All inPlay TAG, short for The Anagram Game, and you can play it free for a limited time! It's not just a plain-vanilla anagram game. It's people all over the world banging on their keyboards trying to leave each other in the anagramical dust. There's no taking turns here. Once you hear the gong, you're smack in the middle of an anagram free-for-all, complete with graphics and sound effects. How long each round lasts depends on the table you choose. As you've come to expect from All inPlay, you can play at a social, more laid-back table or a fast table where there's very little chatting, just a lot of fingers tapping as fast as they'll go. Work out your fingers as well as your mind. Three difficulty levels make it fun for the whole family, even if word games aren't your thing. In the testing we've done so far, people have been pleasantly surprised to find they're learning a few things along the way. Want to give it a try? Visit:

TAG is in open beta, which means we've just about got it where we want it, but we're still ironing out a few things. By playing, you'll help us make sure it's ready for prime time. You can join the beta email list to chat about TAG with other players, offer suggestions and report any problems you find. Ample help documentation will get you started right away. Your account is still open. All you need to do is log in, download TAG and join a table.
It's all here:

Worried you've forgotten your nickname or password? No problem. When we ask you to log in, you'll notice options to recover your nickname and password just below the login area. If you don't want to bother with that, just create a new account and start playing.

If you have any problems getting started, feel free to email us at We hope to see you on the TAG tables!

-The All inPlay Team

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Behind The Scenes: Armpit Season

I decided to use public transportation more often as a way for me to be all trendy with the Green Movement. Okay, I decided to use public transportation more often the second a gallon of gas costed more than a McDonald's Happy Meal. Food versus Gas means Food wins every time. And if I offer to give someone gas money for a ride I might as well take them out to Red Lobster or something akin to equal trade. Say a gold brick for example. Taking the bus is far more simpler a task than figuring out the math behind the dollar to gas equals friendship conversion rate I think.

So my public commute to work has come at that time of the year that I lovingly call “Armpit Season”. You see living in Texas gives one many opportunities to enjoy our glowing ball in the sky, otherwise known as the Sun, and it’s byproduct the famous “Texas Heat”. A great number of bus riders take advantage of this time of year to gain some exposure to the great ball in the sky’s rays. And many do this by wearing clothing without sleves. With the rise in gas prices comes the rise in people riding the bus who then have to stand in front of me with one hand clutching the overhead bar for safety. And there my friends comes the rub. Imagine being happy the work day is done but depressed that the thermometer has topped 100. To quote a commercial from the 70’s “This looks like a good place for a Stick Up”.

I have to admit that I am the type of rider that likes to get on, sit quietly and get off at my stop with little to no interaction with others if I can help matters. I’m not saying that I am impolite. Courtesy is a dying art and I try to be friendly. I would rather just blend into the shadows as I could fill pages with examples of horror stories for those times when I did otherwise. And I strongly believe in being a good ambassador for the Blind and Visually Impaired whenever I am in public but.. sometimes you want to get right back to that audio book instead of answering the age old question “Wow.. how do you do it? I could never do what you do..”. Insert snide remark here. My hat is off to my fellow Blind with Dog Guides. The patience you all must exude. 

My newest tactic for lying low is using old style earphones instead of ear buds. Sure they are a small bit bulkier but they send a totally different message visually I am told than the almost ubiquitous ear buds. I also occasionally scroll through my cell phone menus randomly which also tends to show that I am occupied. Pretending to sleep has worked against me though as I have actually fallen asleep which can have dire complications on adjusting the route home or to work.

The really funny thing that has been a riot for me for the past two months is seeing the new bus riders. Those people who have been forced to consider transportation due to rising gas prices have come on board over dressed, without exact change and totally way encumbered with crap that they didn’t need to take with them on the bus. I call these riders “Turtles”. They slow everything down and they are hard to move around. Although I have to hand it to the lady who brought her sunscreen for standing at the bus stop. It was nice to smell something that reminded me of the beach in all that heat.

The longer commute times have given me a nice respite from home and work though. Breaking the eat, sleep and work cycle with a great Audio play or podcast has been delightful. So expect some new recommendations on the sidebars over the next few months. Until then, I have to go and find an old school can of underarm deodorant that can hit an armpit from two rows away. Wish me luck.  

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Audio Illusions.. Don't Believe Your Ears

A few months back I talked about how I was totally impressed with the way ZBS did their binaural sound schemes. Well the New Scientists site has a special up on music and music recordings. Take a listen to the five examples given to how some of this magic is achieved. Follow the instructions though as you have to do some of this the right way in order to hear the full effect.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Web Stuff: IE8, IE7 And Windows XP SP3

IE8: Even if you are an Apple, Linux or non Microsoft fanboy you have to admit that even when MS tries to get it right someone out there will say they got it wrong. Take this Standards thingy with IE8. To make things easier the plan was to let it render IE7 as a default because the cry from the net would be herendous for those who would have to go back and make their work all IE8 friendly. So what happened? The cry went up from the net that MS wasn't going through with Standards Compliance after all. There goes that I guess. Well I hope they like recoding because as the Rolling Stones have told me in so many TV commercials for luxury cars "You can't always get what you want". Learn more about IE8 Beta 2 at the link below.

IE7: Thinking about waiting on Internet Explorer 8? It looks like you may be just fine with IE7 on XP according to Ars Technica.

Windows XP Service Pack 3: How about ignoring both IE7 and IE8. No not Firefox. I'm talking IE6. Here is an email I recently received from Jim.

"Hay Ranger,
Normally I don't go asking somebody questions about everything and
anything, I go look for it, but in this particular case I wondered if
it might be a lot more efficient if you happen to know the answer?
Can one install win XP service pack 3 without it resulting in IE 7
being installed? Currently I still use JAWS 7 on this machine and I
know I could upgrade to JAWS 7.1 and have IE 7 support to whatever
degree it is with that version, but I don't want to deal with that and
losing my current IE custom security settings and having to get use to
/ put up with stuff... I know, maybe I should do it anyway, but in
any case do you know if it is possible not to?


Thank you for your question Jim. I'm sure you are not alone on this one. And here is your answer straight from the Microsoft overview for Windows XP SP3.

Quote: Microsoft is not adding significant functionality from newer versions of Windows, such as Windows Vista, to Windows XP through XP SP3. For instance, Windows XP SP3 does not include Windows Internet Explorer 7, although Windows XP SP3 does include updates to both Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7, and it will update whichever version is installed on the computer. For more information about Internet Explorer 7, visit

You can find that info and more at the following Google translated PDF to HTML link below.

And here is the link to the stand alone installer for XP SP3.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dolphin Releases Update To Version 9.02

I've been sitting on this one for a week or so waiting for the official post. Well now it is here and you can get your free update to 9.02 if you are already a Dolphin version 9 user. I know Dolphin has been a little slow out of the gate with the Internet but they really have done a lot to address that in version9. Also the responsiveness is way better too. But the really cool new feature in Dolphin V9 is the way they implement their List Utility. I am really happy with where the team is going and I highly recommend the new version to those people out there who want uber control of their product. Between mapping and the adoption of Lula for scripting you would be hard pressed to find another commercially available Blind Geek oriented product. The biggest downside is learning the Dolphin behavior and hotkey scheme as they do approach things in a novel way. I still have to rack my brain for a command now and then, however, a 30 day trial is available for those who want to spend some quality time with the Dolphin line of products.

Learn more about the update at the link below.

May's Poll Results And June's Poll Question Added

Here are the numbers for last month's poll.

May's Poll Question Results: Which Note Taker/Accessible PDA Do You Want To Own?

PAC Mate Omni 6 (21%)
mPower 3 (10%)
Icon 1 (3%)
Braile Sense Plus 3 (10%)
A new Smartphone with Access Software 14 (50%)
Other 1 (3%)

I'll be up front and honest... The PAC Mate number surprises me. Don't get me wrong here but the PAC Mate upgrade is very compelling. You get Windows Mobile 6, the ability to use Wireless G and the Power Point Viewer. And if you have a PM then by all means go out and upgrade the unit. I just don't know if the Mate is the thing I would want when faced with today's options in the PDA/Note Taker arena. Still to each his or her own and I can't argue with numbers or the previous success of the PM.

Speaking of numbers... how about that Mobile Phone number. That is good news for Mobile Speak, Talks and others. I'm sure a few of those who selected that option also dreamed of the N 82 and a little somthin' somethin' right? Perchance to dream I guess.

Honorable mention has to go to GW Micro for the buzz they have gathering on the new updated Braille Sense Plus. Now if they would only pin a few arms back in korea and get them to get us a QWERTY version of that thing! Sigh.. what did I just say about dreaming?

While we are dreaming let us consider what else we would do if money happened to be no object. June begins the big convention season. So why not a poll question on...

June's Poll Of The Month: If money fell out of the sky I would go to which Convention?

Sight Village
Closing The Gap
ACB National Convention
NFB National Convention

I've been to three out of that list. Sadly one of them wasn't Sight Village. Yikes! I would be so broke if I did go. One day of that trip would have to be to *the* Tenth Planet for a ton of Sci Fi gear I can't get in the States. Daleks, Cybermen and Torchwood everywhere. Oh the customs fees! Oops, sorry dreaming again.

I am more than likely heading back to Dallas this year to meet up with a lot of my friends in the biz. So I guess I will have to add a "plus one" to the NFB number when this poll ends.