the blind have had notetakers for years. i remember first purchasing a braille ‘n speak, a wonderful beloved device about the size of a vhs tape. it used a braille keyboard and had acceptable (imho) speech. more importantly, it just worked. you turned it on, and could immediately start writing. the thing worked – no crashes, no needing to reload the software in the middle of an important edit, etc.
as its featureset improved, though without feature-creep syndrome, and as the internet and personal computers and th eneed to network with them became more popular, it outgrew its z-180 processor. blazie engineering tried to release a new unit, but it didn’t take, and at the same time the most awful thing happened: they merged with a few other companies to form freedom scientific – the microsoft of the blind world.
words cannot express the contempt i feel for this company. they destroyed a once great company and their outstanding reputation, replacing their reliable products with crappy crap that ran a crappy operating system (windows ce) with a crappy screen reader (pocket jaws) and crappy microsoft software. this began a new and i hope the final trend in notetakers.
companies began to think that they could just bundle some standard software on a crappy piece of proprietary hardware. sadly, this even applied to the linux notetakers. the trend continued even recently.
i remember purchasing an elba braillex, a linux-based notetaker. they designed a wonderful, though expensive, piece of hardware. they tried to put their own menuing system on it, but it still ran text-based software. normally i would not have a problem with this, i use most of the very same software on my desktop, and this led me to believe that i would enjoy this notetaker. unfortunately, their screen reading just did not cut the mustard. the insane price of the unit coupled with complete apathy on the part of the developers relegated that product to a prominent spot under a shelf. “what, what do you want?” one employee shouted at me during a phone call. “i want the sourcecode. i want support.” they promised they would release the code, but never did. i lost interest. when i received it, as i brought it inside, the simpsons played in the background. “what a waste of talent!” said principal skinner as i hauled the box through the door. that says it all.
meanwhile, back in the freedom scientific world, the world most knew, and the option indiscriminately pushed by most companies in the field, the madness continued. they continued pushing the pac mate, the previously described chincy piece of hardware running equally chincy software. people pay extortionate prices for this. i would love to smash one on video sometime, and if anyone would like to donate one for this purpose then contact me. to my knowledge this continues, despite ever falling sales due to an ever worsening economy.
i sincerely hope that the netbook will put an end to these profitiering gluttons, these parasites upon the blind community, preying upon the suffering of the disabled. like microsoft, they consider themselves the best because they have the biggest market force and legal team. this does not make it so! a blind person needs no longer to spend $2500 plus to get the same or better features of a netbook. of course, many will still feel they have to purchase their awful screen reader, jaws for windows. at least some compeditors exist, including gw micro’s window eyes, system access, and the free and open-source ndva, which i have previously referenced, and wish nothing but success. i also have good feelings towards gw micro, since they started back in the day, on the apple ii/e, and do their work for the right reasons. i think they have a notetaker, but i haven’t heard much about it. humanware, another oldschool company, sells a notetaker for $4500, very expensive as well. they made the keynote, the very first laptop adapted for the blind, a toshiba t1000 with msdos 2.1.1 in the rom! i had good experiences with them back in 1988, but don’t know how they have fared. a friend described their notetaker, the braillnote, as an amish brailler, due to its clunky sound. hah!
i primarily direct my rage and this rant at freedom scientific. may they soon fall from their false glory. may the netbook deliver the final death blow to a bloated parasite, long past its usefulness.
I must also say that in a very important way, GNU/Linux has become more accessible, not just in terms of usability, but in economic terms as well, something of increasing importance. I know those evil scum at Freedom Scientific want to find a way to profit from this Netbook mania, and will probably try selling one bundled with JAWS for a hefty price tag. I will dedicate myself to working to defeat them using free software. Won’t you join me? Give me Linux or give me death! I smell roses as I write this outside on my new Netbook. I feel calmer now.