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Re: [Accessibility] Call to Arms

From: Chris Hofstader
Subject: Re: [Accessibility] Call to Arms
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2010 15:33:01 -0400
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eric: it's a matter of pragmatics or something but if the current free
solutions are inadaquite or don't work at all...

cdh: Although almost all of my career until this year was spent making proprietary software, I have always held that the ideal of free software went beyond the theoretical issues regarding software freedom (to which I subscribe entirely) but also that free software is the most pragmatic solution.

cdh: In 1983, this whole GNU/Linux thing was gaining some ground but was still viewed as a hacker toy in many areas. Today, 90% of the Internet runs on some sort of GNU/Linux based system.

cdh: Remember the horrible days back in the late 80s and early 90s when most WAN systems were proprietary? Remember things like MS NT Server, Novell Groupwise, Lotus Notes (pre-IBM acquisition), Novells thing, IBM Domino and a few others? Getting any one of these proprietary systems to work reliably was a real big effort; getting two or more of them to communicate with each other required a tremendously expensive consultant. Free software, programs like MOsiac started popping up and people started dropping the proprietary and hardly reliable WAN systems.

cdh: Then came programs like Apache and so much more from the FLOSS world. I don't know what the 10% of the Internet that uses proprietary servers are using nor do I understand why they would be doing so.

cdh: NOw, imagine if the Internet had to try to progress using all of those different proprietary WAN systems and trying to keep them talking to each other? We'd still be thinking that the silly hamster dance was pretty cool.

cdh: I've used NaturallySpeaking on Windows and MacSpeech (a DNS based dictation program for Macintosh) on a number of occasions. I admit their recognition quality is pretty good but we can't go in and make them better or add API calls we would like or let some of our scholarly friends try out some new theory that might be a major step forward. With proprietary software, we get what we get.

cdh: Also, a speech recognition/dictation engine goes way beyond the community of people with disabilities and we can cast a much wider net for volunteer computer scientists, computational linguists and hackers.

cdh: Meanwhile, Nuance is bound by a huge debt burden that came (of course) from acquiring everything from ETI to Dragon to KESI to the Talx guys to SpeechWorks to L&H to some Israeli speech synthesizer to virtually all OCR companies aside from Fine Reader business and lots more. While they have incredible market share in most of their business segments, they are laying off high priced hackers and hiring commission based salespeople and are spamming all of we old customers on at least a weekly basis so they can catch up with their interest payments. A lot of their employees are looking hard for other gigs as they can feel the place going bad and I've even heard rumour that ETI might be spun off into the good old Eloquence only company that made the de facto standard speech synthesizer for screen readers.

cdh: So, business issues entirely unrelated to a program can serious hurt its quality, especially if some of their old reliable hackers walk away. In a libre planet, the source is their for all to see, learn and help improve. Shaky companies can mean disaster for their users.

cdh: So, protecting our liberties will also be protecting our investment in our software.


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