Wednesday, 16 July 2014

An update and an introduction

Hello everyone. My name is Kaz and I'm one of the sighted members of the Vinux team. Some of you may have read my personal blog, Daisy Scented Dreams, and in particular this post in which I discuss suggested etiquette when interacting with the vision impaired members of society. I have been involved in Vinux documentation over the last year as my partner, Rob, is the project manager. I have also designed the new Vinux logo which will be used on the next release and I'm very excited about this.

And now a word from Rob to fill you in on where things stand with the Vinux project...

"Developing for accessibility on Linux is a very difficult skill set to 
find, if you know of anyone who could help or yourself please get in 
touch with us. Give friends Vinux CD's, blog and post to social network about us, help 
us provide media such as videos or audio walkthroughs about what you 
love about Vinux or your favourite applications.
For people wanting to get involved with testing Vinux images first they 
must subscribe to the mailing list and introduce themselves to Bill 
Taylor our testing team leader.

Vinux 5 is still under debvelopment and has a way to go. We do not want to rush a release 
before all issues are addressed and all bugs ironed out.
A very common question is "What will be new with Vinux 5?" 

To start off we have Orca 3.12, Espeak 1.4.8 and hopefully a great suite 
of packages that Vinux members have come to rely on from our releases.

The development stage for Vinux 5 started very early this cycle, 
probably December/January, with some packages being rebuilt from Vinux 4 
and others being upgraded and reviewed."
Please remember that Vinux very much belongs to the community. It is run on a
 completely volunteer basis and could not exist without community support. If you 
feel you can contribute in any way, get in touch with Rob at and 
offer your support.
Thanks for reading, and we will keep you updated as the development moves along.   

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Vinux 3.0.2 released!

We are happy to announce the release of Vinux 3.0.2, based on Ubuntu 10.04.4. Changes in this release include:

Orca XDesktop 3.1.19.Firefox 10.0.2.Thunderbird 10.0.2.
Minor package changes as well as Vinux specific console branding grub configuration.
Vinux tips on console log in.
Orca Customizations and man text scripts thanks to StormDragon.
Easy install scripts optimized.
Extra system sound schemes added.
USB install script included.
Luke's speakup DKMS package included, you no longer need to run restorespeech after a new kernel is installed. Speakup automatically builds at kernel install. Please be sure to leave Linux-headers-generic metapackage installed.
CFH, openssh and CPU frequency daemon installed by default.
Remastersys no longer deletes ssh keyss for remastering.
YASR is no longer included, encountered frequent errors and not used.
Removed ISO master and GTK record my desktop to insure the CD image is under 700 MB. Vinux 3.0.2 manages extra sources with apt-add-repository, /etc/apt/sources.list.d contains stable Mozilla, vinux and more package archives. The default desktop is Classic GNOME 2.x as you have come to expect from Vinux LTS releases.
This version is available as CD and DVD both 32-bit and 64-bit images, USB and Virtual editions.
Warning: The DVD images contain some non-free codecs and packages. Using these versions in the USA, Japan and countries where the legislation allows patents to apply to software and distribution of restricted technologies may require the acquisition of 3rd party licenses.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend a special thanks to the following people:
Rob Whyte for building the CD and DVD images.
Dedicated testers, Nimer Jaber and the development/testing teams for feature suggestions and feedback.
Special thank you to Bill Taylor for his constant dedication to testing and detailed reporting of bugs throughout this development cycle. Although Bill wasn't expecting recognition, his contribution has been outstanding.
Thanks to everyone for your support and feature suggestions.

Please head on over to:

to download your prefered release.

It is our hope that this release continues to deliver what you have come to expect from Vinux.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Guess who's back?


My name is Mobeen Iqbal or Mo for short, and I have recently taken on the roll of Vinux project manager. As many of you may already know, on the 8th of October 2011 Tony Sales, the founder of Vinux announced that he would no longer be able to continue his involvement and work on the Vinux project. Any voluntary project can take up a lot of someone's personal time. Though we are all extremely saddened by Tony's departure, we'd like to take this opportunity to thank Tony for all his hard work both in starting Vinux and developing and maintaining Vinux releases. The amount of work and dedication he has poured in to Vinux is admirable. We wish him all the best for the future and welcome him if he wants to continue work on the project at a later time.

I would also like to thank everyone for the over whelming amount of support and encouragement on and off the Vinux lists which I have received to take on the roll of project manager over the last 5 weeks.

Though at times our mailing lists have been some what quiet, I can assure you I have been making my way around the Vinux teams, users and familiarizing
Myself. Rob Whyte is currently working on Vinux development and taking on the roll Tony was filling in producing updated Vinux releases. However, we are looking to have our build process automated very soon; this should make life a lot easier for people working on the project. I'd like to say a big thanks to Rob for his time in producing updates to our current stable release of Vinux, liaising with developers to iron out bugs and helping out all teams in general. I'd also like to say a huge thanks to Luke Yelavich, our Lead Tech who is currently spending hours of his time working on getting our new build process up and running.

Vinux is continuing to improve and we have not lost any drive or determination. We still have a small core of dedicated contributors who work on Vinux in their own time.
We have been conducting team meetings and they have produced a lot of good ideas and we have started to implement them. Some of the changes we hope to make over the coming months include:

We intend to start a blueprint Vinux project on Launchpad.
This will be a place where people can start an idea and others can follow the progress or provide feedback/suggestions for improvement.

We now have a Vinux Ventrilo server which is push to talk voice chat.
We are implementing an open door policy on our Ventrilo server where Rob and I plan to be available two nights a week for people to drop in and chat with us.

We are taking another look at Vinux media, such as CD's and USB pen drives as well as the possibility of T-Shirts, caps, mugs even stickers and are hoping to setup some kind of distribution network across the world so people can purchase media in their country of residents. We are also in the process of implementing a global contact scheme for users who need on the ground Vinux support.

We are setting up a Vinux YouTube channel so look out for videos being uploaded soon.
If you have a topic that you feel has not been covered or needs revisiting we welcome your input. Also if you would like us to cover a specific topic or provide a walkthrough for a specific app in a video, please don't hesitate to get in touch and we will see what we can do.

We still need more people to be a part of our various Vinux teams, if you have some time let us know what area you would like to contribute in and please
join up.
Although there is no pay, there are many rewards and all contributions how ever large or small are welcome and much appreciated. So far our teams consist of web development, testing, documentation, public relations and the development team.

We are looking in to implementing a donations system on the website.

We are also in the process of updating our user manual and switching to a new wiki platform which should be more intuitive and easier to navigate.

Hopefully over the coming months, we will be demonstrating Vinux at various exhibitions’ across the world, please keep an eye on our news page or on the email lists just in case we're in your area.

You can also buy Vinux computers or laptops, or have Vinux installed on your machine or pen drive for you. Although these services are only available in the UK at present, we are looking in to providing them internationally.

So, where is Vinux going, glad you asked!

Vinux 4.0 is our next long term support release, or referred to as LTS. This will be based on Ubuntu 12.04, and will use the Unity desktop instead of the gnome desktop. Our very talented lead tech Luke Yelavich has been working tirelessly to build a Vinux build process such as the one used by Ubuntu. This offers us many new features that our previous manual build process did not allow, such as extra language support and WUBI support so you can install Vinux to your computer and boot from it without partitioning your hard drive.

For those who are really not sure of Unity we will be having a Vinux 3.3 development build in preparation for Vinux 4.0, this will be for testing
and staging for the next LTS.

We will also be releasing an update to Vinux 3.0.1 shortly, V3.0.2 which is still based on Ubuntu Lucid.

The next 12 months should be an exciting time for us all. I'd like to thank everyone for their help and support. Both the various teams and developers working behind the scenes to keep the project alive and producing releases, and of course you, the users. Its you that make Vinux what it is today. With your input, Vinux will hopefully continue for years to come. Let’s make Vinux the number one distribution for anyone with a disability and have a great time while we're at it!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

So Long and Thanks for all the Fish...

I regret to inform you that due to serious personal/family issues that I would rather not discuss publicly I will be unable to continue working on the Vinux Project (or any other development project) for the foreseeable future, if ever. I am very sorry for all of the problems and difficulties this might cause but I am sure there is now enough of a community of developers to continue with the project without my personal help or advice. I think there are already other members of the development team who already have admin status for most of the lists, repos and websites etc. If there are any other resources and/or passwords etc developers need from me please contact me personally and I will help with any hand-over to the best of my ability. I will be disabling the server in a few weeks time when the current contract runs out. Once again I am very sorry to be making this announcement and would like to thank all of the people who have contributed to the Vinux Project over the years without whom it would just not of been possible. I believe the Vinux project will continue for a long time and will go from strength to strength, until hopefully all mainstream distributions are fully accessible...

drbongo (signing off)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Tale of Two CD's:

I haven't posted anything on the blog for months! Not because of a lack of interest, but because I have been so busy preparing for the release of Vinux 3.2 and rather surprisingly the release of Vinux 3.2.1 just a week or so afterwards. It has taken a lot of effort to adapt the Vinux Build Scripts to work with Ubuntu 11.04 'Natty Narwhal' and we have introduced a number of new packages and scripts. Vinux 3.2  was a cutting edge release featuring the latest versions of Orca and Speech-Dispatcher from the daily build repositories  available as CD and DVD in both 32 and 64 bit editions. The DVD version provided the same software as the CD but with the addition of libreoffice and some non-free multimedia codecs etc. The default desktop was Classic Gnome 2.x but Unity was also available from the GDM login screen if your video card supports 3D. This release included the Pico TTS voices for the first time in addition to Espeak, the Epiphany Internet Browser and new built-in keybindings to quickly organise multiple windows with x-tile. It also featured some new packages including Orca-Teacher and  Talking Clock. This version also played a system bell when the isolinux boot screen appeared allowing you to select different boot options including an experimental 'toram' mode. There was also a Vinux 3.2 PLUS edition which features lots of extra packages for partially sighted users. I  also managed to fit more text tools on the CD edition including: sox gpm screen, splitvt, figlet, cmatrix, txt2html, html2text, pdf2svg, pstotext, units mc, trash-cli, vrms, dict, sc, htop, linuxinfo, w3m, elinks-lite, urlview, finch, axel, calcurse and tdl. However, Vinux 3.2 had a few bugs including: Selecting the Cicero speech synth would crash Orca and you would have to run: orca -t to reset everything back to the way it was. The x-tile keybinding to 'quad tile' open windows was set to 'win+alt+v' by accident - to correct the user had  open the keyboard shortcuts manager and re-assign it to 'win+alt+q' - then the 'vertical tile' option would work as well (win+alt+v). The most serious issue was that Pulseaudio still crashed after boot on a small number of soundcards.
So because of these issues we have now released Vinux 3.2.1 - the main difference between this and the recently released Vinux 3.2 is that by default it boots with Pulseaudio running in 'user' mode rather than 'system' mode. This prevents pulseaudio from crashing at boot on a small number of sound cards, but it means that speakup is not available from the live CD or immediately after installation. However, there are now two simple commands for switching Pulseaudio from user to system mode in conjunction with a reboot of the machine. To switch to system mode and enable speakup, simply run: sudo pulsesystem - in a terminal and to switch back to user mode, simply run: sudo pulseuser - in a terminal. This new release also includes an accessible Zenity front end for Unetbootin which allows users to install Vinux to a USB pendrive with persistent storage. Users who have already installed Vinux 3.2 can upgrade to this version by simply running the following three commands in a terminal:

tar -zxvf upgrade_script.tar.gz

sudo ./

There are two new scripts included in Vinux 3.2.1, usbinstall and cdburn. These are accessible scripts for installing Vinux to a USB pendrive, and for burning a CD/DVD then checking the md5sum of the burnt CD/DVD. They are still prototype scripts with no error checking so I have not included them in the menus yet, they must be launched by pressing alt+f2 and then typing usbinstall or cdburn - then pressing enter.

USBinstall - Instructions.

1. After launching the usbinstall script a zenity file selection dialog will appear. Use this to select the ISO you want to install to the pen drive.

2. Next you will be asked to enter the name/path of the USB pen drive. this will usually be something like /dev/sdb or /dev/sdc - the default entry is /dev/sd - so all you have to do is type one letter 'b' or 'c; etc and press enter. However make sure you provide the correct letter as you could potentially wipe a partition or hard drive if you use for example /dev/sda. The easiest way to find the correct letter is to run 'df' in a terminal after inserting the pendrive - it will be the last one in the list.

3. Now you must enter the size of the persistent storage file in MB - the default value is 9999 which will just use all of the available space (up to 10GB) but you can use less if you want to.

4. Next you must decide how many seconds you want to set the notification for - this will pop up an alert when the build has (probably) finished. the default setting is 1200 (20 minutes) which is a safe setting - if you reduce this there is a chance that when the notification goes off the installation will not have finished. There is no way for us to detect when the installation is finished yet - so this is just a guess, most installations take between 10-15 minutes, so set it for longer if you want to be extra safe.

5. You then have to enter your password and then press enter for the process to start. Do not disconnect the pendrive or make any changes to it until the notification appears. When you are told the process has finished press enter to quit the program, and then remove the pendrive.

CDburn - instructions

1. When you launch the application a Zenity file selection dialog will appear, use this to select the ISO you want to burn. The application will then calculate the md5sum of the ISO file.

2. Next you have to enter the path to the cd/dvd burner, if you only have one optical drive/burner this will be /dev/cdrom (which is the default entry) otherwise you will have to add the appropriate number e.g. /dev/cdrom1 or /dev/cdrom2 etc. Make sure the blank disk is in the drive before you do this.

3. The CD/DVD will now be burned. when it is finished the draw will eject (in most cases) and you will be asked to reinsert the CD and click OK. make sure you close the draw and let the CD/DVD spin up before you click OK (although I have built in a 30 second delay).

4. The application will now calculate the md5sum of the burnt CD/DVD and tell you whether the burn was successful or a failure. When you click OK the CD/DVD will be ejected (in most cases). Close the draw and click OK to exit.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Two Towers: Unity and the Gnome Shell!

In the aftermath of the release of 3.0.1 there has now been time for the dust to settle and I have been surveying the way ahead (does this make me Aragon?). We have achieved a great deal over the last three releases and I think we have done pretty much everything it is possible to do given the number of people involved and our dependence on upstream projects we can do little to influence. Vinux 3.0.1 is probably the most stable and accessible release we have made, in spite of the small number of people who have had problems with lack of sound or having a Mandarin voice variant by default. One of the areas where the most work is needed is with the performance of Orca with Firefox. This is a complex issue and will take a lot of work to sort out. The vast majority of this work lies with the Orca team who are also doing a great job given the small number of (volunteer) developers involved. Another area where Vinux/Linux Accessibility could improve would be the availability of a wider variety of voices, although I think much of this is down to what you are used to rather than which is the best voice - a very subjective issue. Unfortunately these are the least of my worries at the moment because we face an assault on accessibility of epic proportions from two sources in the very near future. In April Ubuntu will switch to the Unity desktop and Gnome will switch to the Gnome Shell with the release of Ubuntu 11.04 (The Nasty Narwhal?) and Gnome 3.0 respectively. Both of these desktops rely heavily on 3D technology and at the moment accessibility seems to be almost non-existent. There has been talk about Ubuntu making the system fall back to Gnome if there was no 3D acceleration but it seems that both Ubuntu and Gnome are now creating special 2D versions of Unity (using QT) and the Gnome Shell. Now although accessibility will improve over time this effectively means that the Gnome 2.x desktop is now dead in the water. Most distros will switch to the Gnome Shell and support and development for the existing desktop will wither away. So from April onwards there will be a major obstacle to the continued development of Vinux. Firstly it is likely that most of the existing buildscripts will have to be completely rewritten to work with Unity and the Gnome Shell (if that is actually possible), people without 3D accelleration may have problems running the lower priority 2D backup versions and as usual accessibility will have been put backwards several years and be playing catch up again - because of changes to the graphical system which have no benefits at all for a visually impaired user. On top of this, whilst the appointment of team coordinators has taken a significant amount of responsibility off my shoulders, we still don't have enough core developers working on the build scripts and it is simply too much work for one person to do, in addition to holding down a full-time job and trying to have a 'normal' family life (whatever that means!).

So we need to come up with a strategy for dealing with these issues. In terms of core developers I can see a solution of sorts. I need to recruit some apprentices so I can teach them the ways of the force, I mean bash scripting and how the whole process works. That way in time the workload of the core development can be shared; either by taking turns to make a release, working on different sections of the build process or even making completely separate versions or flavours of Vinux. So with this in mind I intend to work on a set of tutorials to explain how the buildscripts work and how all the contents of the Vinuxscripts repository fit together to create the final version. Having read this people can then decide whether they are willing and able to become a Padawan and learn the ways of Bash. That is the easy bit. More difficult is which way to go in the future. Do we stick with Ubuntu and see what Unity has to offer? Do we try out the Gnome Shell and see if that is any more accessible than Unity is? Do we try to keep Gnome 2.x on a life support machine for as long as possible while Unity and the Gnome Shell evolve? Do we try out other desktop environments like LXDE and XFCE and try to make them accessible? Do we stick with Ubuntu or switch to Mint, Debian Mint or just pure Debian? Do we switch to a rolling release model or stick with a reinstall every year or two? I have to say, my gut feeling at the moment is to jump to Debian and start investigating XFCE and the possibility of a Debian based rolling release. So I would ask you to have a good think about all of these issues and we will have another Vinux Conference on IRC at the end of the month to try and make some decisions about the direction we go in.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Vinux 3.0.1 Released!

The Vinux 3.0.1 release based on Ubuntu 10.04.2 LTS is now available for download. This combines all of the accessibility of Vinux 3.1 with the stability of Vinux 3.0 as well as a few completely new features. In addition to the existing three screen-readers (Orca, Speakup and YASR) this release also includes Emacspeak 'The Complete Audio Desktop' pre-configured and ready to go out of the box. You can now create audio books from text-based files using our exclusive Audiobook Converter package, browse our new HTML based Vinux Manual to help get you started, install the latest version of Libre Office using an EasyInstall script, and customise your desktop experience with Ubuntu Tweak. It is initially available as a 32bit CD, a 64bit CD, a 32bit DVD version and a 64bit DVD version (which both comes with Libre Office and non-free multimedia codecs pre-installed). The VMWare virtual edition, and a 32bit USB version will be available shortly. An upgrade script has also been released that allows people to upgrade from Vinux 3.0 to 3.0.1:

In order to update run the following commands in a terminal:

git clone git://

cd vinuxscripts

sudo make install

sudo buildvinux

This will start the interactive Vinux buildscript which runs in a terminal, it will beep when it expects input from the user. I have tested this script on Vinux 3.0 and it upgraded without any issues, but if you have installed software which I haven't I cannot guarantee that it won't mess that up, so make a backup of everything before you upgrade. I know that the script works, but I am not sure how usable it is at the moment because of the amount of data which will be read out. Most of the questions are straight-forward - when emacspeak is installed you will have to select 'espeak' and then 'none' for hardware synths. When the script has finished running you should restart the computer and try out your shiny new Vinux 3.0.1 - I would like feedback on the usability of the script - I have also uploaded a simplified non-interactive version of the script to the mailing list which just asks for your username and doesn't install emacspeak.

One or two people have found that after the installation of 3.0.1 Orca and Speakup start talking gibberish. In fact it is trying to read English text in Mandarin. We do not know why this has happened, but we suspect that it is to do with a corrupted ISO, CD or a unreliable CD drive. If this happens you can fix Orca by opening the Orca Preferences Manager and selecting another voice. We recommend selecting the English(en) voice if you want the default voice. However, to fix Speakup you will have to run:

sudo rm -f /usr/share/espeak-data/voices/zh

This will delete the Mandarin voice, or try replacing and renaming the 'zh' voice file with your preferred voice from the /usr/share/espeak-data/voices/en/ directory.

As always we do not recommend that users update any packages after installing Vinux unless they have a very good reason to do so. Installing unnecessary updates can break your system and it may be very difficult or impossible to repair if you lose speech without performing a complete re-installation. Although not invulnerable to viruses and hacking, Linux is significantly more secure than Windows and unless you are running a server with open ports and/or installing packages from untrusted third party sources, you are unlikely to have any major security issues (although we obviously can't guarantee this). If you are running a server with open ports then you should install security patches when they are available, and if you really want to try a new version of a specific package then only update that individual package, don't just install all of the available updates. If you do decide to install updates despite this warning then please make a backup of your files and/or installation before doing so.

I will now be having a break from Vinux Development for a few weeks, which will give me time to reflect on how the project is going and in what direction it should take next. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this release...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Vinux Conference a Success!

I am pleased to say that the online meeting to discuss the future development of Vinux took place last night and we had about thirty participants on and off, although some people had a few teething problems using IRC for the first time. It was decided that Vinux would continue to be based on Ubuntu for the time being, but that we would look into the possibility of building upon Debian Mint and/or Squeeze in the meantime, just in case Ubuntu 11.04 and/or the new Unity desktop and the Wayland Display Server cause any unexpected accessibility issues. Ten members of the Vinux Support/Development List were also duly elected as Team Coordinators: BuildScripts - Tony Sales, Software Development -
Don Marang, Testing - Nimer Jaber, Website - Mobeen Iqbal, Publicity - Storm Dragon, Fundraising - Arianna Sepulveda, Documentation is shared by Nimer Jaber, Krishnakant and Merrill Woolnough, and we accepted offers for Translated Versions of Vinux from Kris (Dutch), Ferdinand/Joey (German) , Cleverson/Rui (Portuguese) and Burt (Spanish).

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Vinux IRC Meeting Agenda:

Event: Vinux Development Meeting
Date: Saturday 22nd January
Time 21:00 GMT
Location: #vinux


1. Development Roles

As always the main problem faced by the Vinux Project is the relatively small number of people who are willing and able to contribute in some way. I would like to recruit more people to help with development and try to formalise the different roles. As I see it there are six distinct roles, which could assigned to an individual or shared between a small team, and of course there is nothing to stop one person performing more than one role if they wish. The six roles are:

A. Build Script Team - Writing and testing the build scripts then producing the final releases of Vinux.

B. Software Development Team - Writing and testing new packages then adding them to the Vinux repository.

C. Testing Team - Testing individually assigned packages in the alpha,beta and release candidates and passing the feedback to the build script and/or software development team.

D. Translations Team - Creating Vinux isos in new languages once the build script is finalised and uploading them to the website and/or mirrors.

E. Website/Hosting Team - Maintaining the website, wiki, mirrors, mailing lists and publicity etc.

F. Documentation Team - Writing how-to articles for the Quickstart Guide and the Vinux Manual.

Initially we just need people to volunteer to be part of a team, and depending upon the number of responses we get, I would then like to appoint a member of each team as the coordinator of that team.

2. Which distribution should we base Vinux on?

This is another issue which crops up every year - should we stick with Ubuntu, or switch to another distro. Ubuntu offers many advantages such as hardware compatibility, but it has a very fast release cycle and is planning to make some major changes in its next release (Gnome>Unity and Xorg>Wayland) and we have no idea how this will effect accessibility. There are other distributions we could base Vinux on including: Debian, Linux Mint and PCLInuxOS - however the one that holds the most promise at the moment is Debian Mint. This offers the hardware detection of Ubuntu, with a rolling release based on Debian Squeeze, meaning once installed there shouldn't ever be a need to reinstall. So the question is: do we stick with Ubuntu, Switch to Debian Mint or develop both in parallel initially to see what happens. The answer to this will depend largely on whether we have enough people to support two versions or not, and of course whether people think this is a good idea or not.

3. Any Other Business

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Captain's Log: Stardate 21122010

We are at the end of another long year for the Vinux Project and we have managed to release Vinux 3.1 in all of its various forms before the new year. So now it is time to hang our developer's gloves up and have a good rest! So thanks to everyone who contributed to this release in whatever way they could, Vinux wouldn't be possible without a friendly, helpful community of people who all have the same goal: open-source accessibility for everyone. But as always, I am thinking about the future and trying to anticipate in which direction the project should go. So here are a few things for everyone to mull over during the holidays, which will roughly form the agenda for the online meeting I would like to hold in the new year, probably on our IRC channel.

Firstly, while the community has slowly grown over the last year, we are still painfully short of core developers who have the time and skill to keep the project going. Granted we now have lots of people who help out in a variety of peripheral ways such as; hosting vinux iso images, writing new packages, testing alpha and beta releases, answering queries on the support list etc. I am not going to name any names (in case I leave someone out) but you know who you are. However at the moment there are really only three core developers: Bill Cox, Mobeen Iqbal and myself who actually produce Vinux releases. Bill was the main driving force behind the Vinux 3.0 release, but due to health problems this year he has not been able to take a lead role in the latest release (although he still provided invaluable help and advice). Mobeen produces the VMWare Virtual Edition of Vinux and a special version of the USB Edition which can be installed to a pendrive from Windows, which are very popular with newbies who are afraid of messing up their Windows installations (with good reason). This means that I produce the final release of Vinux, create all of the different versions, upload them to the servers, update the website and then make announcements on the relevant mailing lists and forums etc. This may not sound like a lot, but given that I have a full-time teaching job and a family to look after, I can honestly say that I spend nearly all of my evenings, weekends and holidays working on Vinux to the exclusion of all other activities. Not that I am complaining or trying to be a martyr, I took on the responsibility when I started the project, but sometimes the pressure of having to work on Vinux instead of relaxing becomes overwhelming. So as always, here is my annual appeal for help!

There are lots of different ways in which people can help with the development of Vinux, irrespective of their skills and knowledge. I will now identify some roles that each and everyone of you can play in the Vinux project:

Testing - This basically means testing out alpha and beta versions of Vinux before the official release is made. Indeed many of you already provide feedback, but up to now it has been in a very haphazard way. We need to formalise the testing process with specific individuals identified to test specific packages and provide detailed feedback - not just X doesn't work. We will also need someone to coordinate the testing and feedback process, so we could do with a 'Testing Taj' to step foward...

Documentation - This is something that users of any level can do, you just have to document in detail how to use a particular package with Orca or Speakup etc. Again in the past this has also been fairly haphazard, but now that there is a specific repository for the Vinux Documentation Project this should become more coordinated, with individual users being asked to provide a guide to specific packages etc. Again we need someone to take responsibility for coordinating this, a 'Document Dictator' if you like...

Publicity - This means what it says on the can - making sure people find out about Vinux through mailing lists, forums, blogs and other websites etc, but without annoying everyone or being accused of spamming etc. The other important element to this role(s) is the need for realism. We can't make out that Vinux is the solution to everyone's computer needs - it offers advantages and disadvantages compared to other operating systems and we mustn't overblow our own trumpet as this will raise expectations, leading to inevitable disappointment for some users. Vinux isn't or probably won't ever be right for all VI computer users. So what we need is an 'Realist Reporter' to take on this role...

Mirrors - Providing mirrors on which to make Vinux available is of vital importance. Having mirrors around the world allows people to get Vinux from their nearest server, or at least provides options if one or other of the servers is down. We actually have a reasonable number of mirrors at the moment, but if you can host even one iso on server with reasonable bandwidth speeds (unlike mine) then drop us a line - we need more 'Mirror Mages'...

Website Management - This role(s) would require more technical competence than the previous two roles, as it would involve managing a website(s) and/or mailing lists etc making sure that all of the information is up to date and the iso images are available from the relevant mirrors. I would be happy to hand over this side of my responsibilities to other trusted members of the community as it would free me up to spend more time on the development side. So we need a 'Website Wizard' to step forward as well...

Package Development - There are already several people producing packages for Vinux and the wider Linux community, but this is an area were people can work relatively independently and produce packages which they think will be useful for themselves and others alike. The only communal element is uploading it to Launchpad, building the binaries and then providing technical support on the mailing list for users if required. If you have an idea for the next accessible application which will take the world by storm, then get coding. We need more 'Package Peasants'...

Distribution Development - This role probably involves the most responsibility and stress, but technically speaking it isn't as hard as you might first think. It requires a large amount of patience, determination, effort and time, but not that much intelligence - just a spattering of Bash scripting and a basic understanding of Ubuntu, the Gnome Desktop and the Accessibility software. So if you think you are a match for my determination and stupidity, then consider getting involved in this side of things. This is a role that can easily be split between different people, either taking turns to produce releases, or producing different versions of the same release. We need some 'Distribution Demons' as soon as possible...

Each if these roles could be taken on by a single individual or by a team of people, although each team would need a coordinator of some kind. So if you fancy playing a more active part in the development of Vinux please get in touch, privately if you prefer to discuss any concerns or anxieties you might have...

Now it's time to discuss the big issues which we have to face in the coming year:

The first issue is the proposed move from the Gnome Desktop to Unity in Ubuntu 11.04. This may or may not cause problems for screen-reader users. Luke Yelavich has been seconded onto the unity development team to make it accessible, which is a positive sign. But I feel Luke is always having to play catch up with decisions taken by Canonical in which accessibility isn't the highest priority. I suspect the motive behind switching to Unity is to give Ubuntu its own unique interface which will work well on netbooks and touchpads etc. So depending on how things develop we may have to adopt Unity and any limitations this has, or stay with the Gnome Desktop until Unity is usable.

Related to this is the question of whether we should stick with Ubuntu as the base for Vinux, switch to a different distro, or diversify and produce more than one version. Given the current lack of core developers, the third option seems unrealistic (unless some maverick decides to start producing their own version of Vinux) so that leaves us with the perennial 'Ubuntu or not' question. Ubuntu offers many advantages in terms of ease of use, hardware support and the size of the user community. On the other hand it has a very fast release cycle and I suspect it may have commercial motives in the long run and this may limit our freedom to release Vinux at some point in the future. There are other distros that offer similar features to Ubuntu e.g. Debian, Mint, Fedora etc, but they are also release based, meaning that the only safe way to upgrade is to install the latest version. On the other hand there are rolling release versions of Linux such as Arch, Aptosid and PCLinuxOS which can be kept permanently up to date without re-installation, but they are not easy to make accessible or remaster. The only viable option I could envisage using at the moment would be Mint Debian, which follows a rolling release based on Debian Testing, but also offers most of the features provided by Ubuntu, in addition to multimedia codecs etc.

Finally there is the issue of what features and packages we should and shouldn't include in Vinux. To some extent this is determined by the room on the iso image, but we could for example produce of lots of simple accessible tools using Zenity and Bash scripts (like Speedy-OCR) or plugins to existing applications (like Markup-Binder) that would make users live much easier - or should we encourage people to learn how to use the standard tools provided by Ubuntu or in the repositories?

Anyway this is just food for thought. Feel free to post your ideas and suggestions to the mailing list, we will have an online meeting sometime in the new year - probably towards the end of January when my student's examinations are all over!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Better Late Than Never!

I am pleased to announce that Vinux 3.1 (Based on Ubuntu 10.10) is finally ready for download from the Vinux mirrors! It is currently available as a CD or DVD in both 32 and 64bit versions (USB and Virtual versions will follow shortly). It has been a long time coming, but hopefully it will be worth the wait. On top of all the usual accessibility software, new features include a Quick Start Guide for beginners (Ctrl+Alt+Q), Autokey-GTK which can insert text automatically as you type based on pre-defined abbreviations, the Parcellite Clipboard Manager which allows you paste text from the clipboard history, X-Tile which allows you to tile windows automatically, Gnome Media Player as an accessible front-end to VLC, Conkeror a keyboard controlled Web Browser, Pidgin the Internet Messenger (with all the plugins) and Gufw a simple but effective Firewall Manager.

Other additions include: Alarm Clock, a simple GUI for setting timed notifications, GtkHash an md5sum calculator, SearchMonkey an advanced search tool, Terminator which allows you to open multiple tiled terminals in one window, Tux Commander a dual-paned file manager with keyboard shortcuts, World Clock which allows you to monitor times in different locations around the world, Gcolor2 a simple GUI for selecting colours from anywhere on the screen, the Specimen Font Previewer, Dlume a simple address book manager, the ToDo List package, mhWaveEdit a simple sound recorder/editor GUI, Sound Juicer an audio CD ripper, FSlint a file system cleaner, Gtk-ChTheme a GTK theme previewer/changer, Scheduled Tasks a simple GUI front-end for cron and HardInfo a system profiler and system benchmarker.

There are also three new packages unique to Vinux available from the Vinux repository and/or the EasyInstall-Office and OCR scripts. These are: Markup-Binder written by Isaac Porat, which makes the creation of complex navigable documents a simple process (the new QuickStart Guide was created using this), another application is Speedy-OCR written by Don Marang, which is a simple GUI front end which allows you to scan in documents and convert then to text and/or speech. And last but not least is Monitor-Toggle written by Luke Yelavich which allows you to turn off your monitor to save battery power and maintain your privacy.

There are also some changes under the hood. We unfortunately had to remove YASR from this release as it was no longer working under Maverick, and in order to make room on the CD we also had to remove Samba (Windows File-sharing) and the Festival Speech Synthesiser, although these can easily be reinstalled after installation. The dynamic font-size/colour-theme changing scripts have been revamped so that the desktop background and desktop icons change colour as well, and we have gone with a dark theme by default, with the window controls in the traditional top-right corner position. In addition there are now both desktop icons and menu launchers to take users straight to the Vinux website and the support/development groups.

Now for the bad news. I have already found a small bug in the latest release - however it is unlikely to affect the majority of users and there is a very simple workaround for those who are affected. Because of a minor typing error in one of the build scripts (I used a lowercase 'u' instead of an uppercase 'U' - I was tired!) the keybinding (Shift+Windows+Alt+Up) which was supposed to modify the multimedia keybindings in the event of the sound card being muted wasn't enabled. The workaround is simply to press Alt+F2, type 'volume_keys' (without the speech marks) then press Enter, then press Alt+Y and Enter again. Now you can use Windows+Alt+Right to unmute and raise the system volume. Of course, I also managed to provide completely the wrong keybindings for the new multimedia volume controls in the keybindings.txt file as well, just to confuse matters (I did mention I was tired didn't I?). So to clarify, once you have activated the new multimedia keybindings (should you need to) you should use Windows+Alt+Right/Left to raise/lower the volume and Windows+Alt+Down to mute/unmute the volume. My OCD Demon is now muttering away about the fact that I should remaster Vinux 3.1 to eliminate this stupid error, otherwise the world will probably end. On the other shoulder my Sanity Angel is reminding me that I really need a good rest and if this is the only bug it has I should count my blessings and rejoice!

To be continued...

Monday, 31 May 2010

Vinux: The Third Generation!

On behalf of the whole Vinux community I am happy to announce the 3rd release of Vinux - Linux for the Visually Impaired, based on Ubuntu 10.04 - Lucid Lynx. This version of Vinux provides three screen-readers, two full-screen magnifiers, dynamic font-size/colour-theme changing as well as support for USB Braille displays. Vinux is now available both as an installable live CD and as a .deb package which will automatically convert an existing installation of Ubuntu Lucid into an accessible Vinux system! In addition, we now have our own Vinux package repository (from which you can install our customised packages with apt-get/synaptic) and a dedicated Vinux IRC channel. In the very near future we will also be launching a Vinux Wiki and releasing special DVD, USB and Virtual Editions of Vinux 3.0!