Saturday, December 27, 2008

Free But Not Easy

I know a few readers of this blog believe strongly in an Open Source movement in Assistive Technology. I sure wish that I could agree with that notion, however, I just can’t seem to grasp this concept for AT because of the need for the industry to be 12 to 18 months into development at any given time.

For example, many of the major players were at Microsoft HQ recently to discuss Windows 7 and Office 14. Some were even involved with Windows 7 pre October’s PDC. Their involvement with MS at this level is absolutely imperative to we Blind users who wish to have a good level of access to the operating system on the first day at the zero hour of launch. By the nature of some Open Source projects the projects themselves are reactionary rather than being proactive in their release schedules. Having a six month jump on a widely distributed beta could have a dramatic effect on the level of quality of the release. And in this example, and I am of course oversimplifying a bit for the sake of my point, access at the same level for an Open Source project could take six months or longer due to the need for the team to gain exposure to the code and programming changes.

I rely on Assistive Technology every day to do my job. And if I have to throw some money down to keep those quality releases coming then so be it really. I would rather that be the case than the reports coming out of Open Office. There is a lot of technical jargon in the link below but I suggest it as a good read for those who are interested in keeping the hopes alive for Open Source in AT.

November’s Poll Results And December Mini Poll Added

I know the results have been on the sidebar for weeks, however, for posterity's sake I’m posting them here.

November's Poll Question: My MP3 Player Of Choice Is..

The New Apple 4 Gig Nano 2 (10%)
The Victor Reader Stream 9 (47%)
The Icon/PAC Mate/Braille Sense/Braille or Voice Note 2 (10%)
Rockbox Enabled Players 1 (5%)
Some Other Accessible Player 2 (10%)
I Use An Off The Shelf MP3 Player With No Assistance 3 (15%)

In less than 18 months the Victor Reader Stream has dominated the landscape of how Blind people are accessing text and MP3s. Even with iTunes support more readily available out of the box for JFW and Window Eyes, I find that others are still opting for the VRS because the usability of iTunes its self is such a mess. The iTunes program, from my perspective, should be thought of as bloatware or malware in the fact that it pushes so much stuff we Blind users don’t use. The App Store for the iPhone? Whatever.. And the Apple Software Updater is almost as bad as the Adobe Updater. It makes me almost long for the days of the Real Player updates. You had a bit more control over those but not by much. Real Player Games Updates anyone? No thanks. I just want to hear a song. And three pop ups and two tool tips in my taskbar later I finally got to hear that song I forgot that I wanted to listen to in the first place.

A really interesting delema for Humanware will be how they release and market a Victor Reader Stream 2. With so many great features already included in the 2.0 software one would be hard pressed to upgrade to a better model when one finally does come along. That is a real problem for Apple as they too are reaching the end of the feature list for the iPod lines.

Speaking of music, I’ve been listening to the newly combined Serious and XM radio stations. I have my own thoughts about the merger but I thought that this would make a good Mini Poll Question to ask all of you before I pull out another soapbox. So..

December’s Poll Question: Do You Like The New Combined Serious XM Radio?

I don’t hear a difference
Dude.. the radio is dead, I gave up and only listen to MP3s

I’ll run this until the early part of January and then I will come up with something more exciting. We are less than a month away from ATIA and the press releases should start picking up steam again very soon. We may have some neat things to talk about as we stand in the shadow of another version of Windows and Office. 2009 is shaping up to be a weird kind of year for sure.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Will You Still Need Me When I’m x64

It never fails. I approach my Holiday Break and some nice companies out there come a’knockin’ on my door and ask me if I would like to play with something shiny and new during my time off. And I, being the sucker/whimp, gladly smile and hold my hand out to play with a new toy that never comes in a box with a bow under a tree.

Each year the new software applies to the current situation surrounding the computing that we do these days. And this year is no different. Many of the low cost laptops and computers coming out of Sam’s Wholesale and Costcos have been in the 64 bit variety. And even more gaming systems have been showing up in x64 as well. Some of the reasoning for this is that 64 bit flavors of Windows support more than 4 gigs of RAM. Well they actually see and can use more than 4 GB of RAM. 32 bit versions of Windows can see up to 4 gigs but only use around 2 to 3 GB depending on the processor and software running on the system. The larger numbers on the RAM count has been proven to sell systems to those who only look at the numeric values on the price tags. So x64 systems with 8 GB look very attractive to those buyers who don’t realize that Youtube and World of Worcraft don’t use 8 GB of RAM.

Who does use that much you ask? Well some graphic artists, some science majors, some musicians but mostly high end gamers or those who want to run a desktop system as a server. If you don’t fit into any of those categories don’t fret. Because you aren’t missing out on much if all you do is generally surf the net or create documents. 64 bit won’t hurt but it also won’t dramatically change your computing experience either.

Of course.. I upgraded to 64 bits after I tore into a system at work. My new year’s resolution come early is to break things at work before I move on to breaking them at home. And thanks to two companies I was able to experiment with 64 bit Vista in a real test lab before I moved on to running it full time. Now here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to move into the land of x64.

RAM: I ran x64 Vista Ultimate on a newer Dell Optiplex 755 at work. This system is a newer Dual Core with 4 GB of RAM and a better system bus. What I noticed was that the system flew with amazing responses for an ATI HD2400 video card and on board sound. Windows popped up in quick fashion and even some of the AERO effects seemed to run a little differently. The Windows Experience on this machine is a little off but it was close to a 5. And for this box x64 was a great improvement.

On my home box, however, the changes were not as noticeable. The home system is a 2006 Dell XPS custom 400 with 2 GB, a NVIDIA 7300le and my love/hate Sound Blaster X FI Music. Again using Vista Ultimate x64 as my guide, I loaded things up pretty close to the box at work. Now this is an original Core 2 Duo with a slower bus. And man did I ever notice the changes. I don’t run too many things that are multi threaded, therefore, my chipset spiked at times with heavy usage when I installed programs. The AT I was using at any given time locked up for a second or just sat there until the computer decided it was done with one project and it could then move on to talking again. That wasn’t a surprise but it helped that I have most of my install screens memorized. I too noticed some changes in AERO and my Windows Experience went from a 3.1 to a 3.2 in x64. Whoo hoo.. a .1. Stop the presses..

On the older system with less RAM I noted that things just didn’t move as fluidly as the newer system with 4 GB on board. I know that isn’t earthshattering. And it isn’t a big shock to me either. But I wanted to stem off the flow of questions that will come, as they do so often, with any ideas that come from those who ask me “Should I upgrade to [insert product version here}”. So the usual answer still applies. If you have newer hardware with lots of RAM then knock your lights out. If you don’t then you ain’t missing nothin’ and you can go about your business unabated.

If you are looking to move on to 64 bits you do have some AT to play with though. System Access was the first out of the gates with version 3.0 of their product line. The cool thing about SA is that you can test how things are going to work by simply loading SATOGO via the web without a lot of mess with digital driver signing. I used SATOGO a lot in my testing and I highly recommend this as your first line of attack when giving your system the once over. And if you are a Screen Magnification user this is your only line of attack at the moment. You can of course find System Access To Go at..

But those nice people at Freedom Scientific must have traveled to the North Pole as they have released their public beta of JAWS for x64 just in time for the Holidays. You can land a copy of that bea at the address below…

I’ll have more on x64 later on as I play with it more over the weeks. But if you don’t have a need for it or if your system doesn’t run with it natively you can rest knowing that you aren’t missing out on much for the moment. In a year or so, or when you decide to upgrade, it may be a good spec to consider when you move to a place where you are considering Vista or Windows 7.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

I hope you all are doing well at the time you read this. Things are bad just about everywhere you go and I am thankful for what I do have… which isn’t much but it seems like a million dollar mansion when I hear the stories from others I meet. My family believes in food before gifts. And with that in mind, you can guess I am a wealthy man.

Ham, chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, greens, rolls and my of course my one weakness cookies. Santa brought by some limited edition Candy Cane OREOs. I’m not sure why you would call a cookie a limited edition because it isn’t like you can collect them. Well not for long at any rate. Besides I think Twinkies have the longer shelf life.

Oh and if you are wondering. The Candy Cane OREO has the old style cookie with a inner filling that smells like toothpaste. It doesn’t taste like toothpaste, thank goodness, but it doesn’t really taste too much like Candy Canes either. I also see why this is a limited run. Not something you would buy a lot of even if you like mint.

I have to go now and take a nap ,,, So I can get back to eating. Man am I ever looking forward to walking to the bus again. And it pains me to write that. Wait a second. Pain in my right arm. Good.. now I can go back to eating.

Too much food….

Again, happy holidays to you and yours!

Friday, December 05, 2008

New Service Pack Public Betas Arrive For Vista And Server 2008

Today’s title could have been.. Happy holidays from Microsoft. Or, how I ruined my Xmas Vacation and honked off my family by watching progress bars. Yes, Vista Service Pack 2 Public Beta hit the wires today and the 32 bit flavor of the SP is only a small 385MB. I’ll be waiting a few weeks before I can really play with this but in the meantime I have a few articles that can give you the low down on what to expect from this beta. Just remember that no AT Companies are supporting this as of yet. So download at your own risk.

And here is another good one from Ars Technica..

And this link will take you to the Vista 32 bit page.