I have been on the road the past week, and it has kept me from sitting down to write about two steps Microsoft has taken in the past week and half, and what I see happening around accessibility technologies.
Just to make sure I have my terms clear - accessibility technologies (some refer to them as AT - yet another acronym) are generally any technology used as a means for citizens with disabilities to utilize computers/applications. From my limited understanding of the specifics of how this works, the majority of work is in dealing with inputs and outputs (seems obvious). So, either data entry (alternative keyboards, mice, use of optical technology), or alternative screen output (braille readers, text-voice, etc.). I'm sure there is more - but those are the basics. Furthermore, who might use these technologies is not limited to those with physical disabilities. Some would suggest that these technologies are critical for helping illiterate citizens, or the aging population, or others use computers to better their lives as well.
So, two things were announced this week by Microsoft. The one I have already blogged on was the open source project to build a translator for Open XML to DAISY XML. Users will be able to "Save As" DAISY from Office. By bringing this technology mainstream the opportunity for rich documents to be made available for use by a broader community is a very powerful thing. If you wonder at how important this is, just recall the discussions of importance for document formats to be accessible during the Massachusetts ETRM discussions a while back.
The effects of that can be clearly seen in the strong push (mean $ spent, and resources dedicated) by SUN and IBM to get cracking on converting a Microsoft technology (MSAA) into what they are calling iAccessible2 (work being done at the Linux Foundation). I think it is great that everyone is paying more attention to these issues, as the real winners in this scenario are those who need technology the most.
So, the DAISY work is one item. The other is related, and arguably more important. Microsoft has committed itself to working on interoperability for accessibility technologies. In order to do that, you need to dig a layer deeper - and think about how Windows and Linux as platforms relate to the accessibility story - and how interop is important there.
Enter the Microsoft/Novell relationship, and the fact that the newest piece of technical collaboration between the two firms is around...yep, you guessed it...accessibility. This is something that the entire Linux community should be happy about.
1) Microsoft is making its User Interface Automation (UIA) specification available under the community OSP (MS promises not to assert patents necessary to implement UIA in perpetuity, against anyone in the world).
UIA is the next generation of accessibility technology. It takes AT work out of process - meaning that customers will have a better long-term experience with greater application choice at the same time that AT Vendors will have greater return on their development investment.
2) Novell will build (with input from MS) the UIA framework on SUSE Linux - allowing it to interop with the Linux Accessibility Toolkit (ATK) which ships with SUSE Linux, Red Hat Enterprise, and Ubuntu Linux.
3) This release of technology, and development, will be done in such a way as to complement, not compete, with AT work that is being done by IBM, Sun, and others as they work on iAccessible2 as well as other Linux-related projects.
I always had a good relationship with my parents, but when my cat Snooky died I....oh, wrong kind of analysis.
This is a long blog post already so I will be brief.
- The DAISY announcement should highlight yet again how important the idea of translation is to the document format discussion. Other than the rhetoric around ODF, there is no supporting the idea of single format - it is not practical, and it is detrimental to innovation. Translation, translation, translation - software is endlessly malleable and flexible.
- I've said this before - interoperability is about connecting people, data, and diverse systems. If you break that into its component parts, it means looking at an issue holistically. Interop for accessibility will not be solved by any one specification or standard. It will be solved based on implementations in products, collaborative agreements/projects between vendors, IP structured for collaboration, and standards based on quality specifications. All of these elements are becoming evident in the AT space.
- The Novell/Microsoft agreement continues to add value for customers and for the industry as a whole. Not only did the announcement of last week talk about 30 new customers who are moving to the Novell/MS solution - but it spoke of momentum around virtualization, systems management, directory, identity management, and doc format interop. Now, accessibility can be added to this list.
Interoperability is never going to be "solved." Every new technology, every new product or dev project, will create new interop challenges. The real measure is based on consistent, specific, actions that contribute to an overall commitment to interop. And, like any other facet to business - each move has to have a business case behind it that makes sense otherwise there is no return on the investment.