Particularly Inaccessible Software
By Veli-Pekka Tätilä
Alasdair - broken links and unavailable files have been removed from this page and are lost forever.
This page is about mainstream software I dislike passionately as a screen reader and magnifier user. So here are alternatives and workarounds that should help in making these apps usable. Currently the apps include Acrobat Reader, Real One Player and Winamp 3.x and later.
- Acrobat is slow and a huge diskspace hog in relation to any other PDf reader. It loads a zillion mostly redundant plugins and needs a startup service to speed it up, which is quite telling.
- When Acrobat is set to deliver the whole document at once, enabling you to cursor around with auto scroll and document read, moving around a large doc is unacceptably slow and the response times are terrible.
- For docs that are hundreds of pages long and don't have special accessibility support, Acrobat Reader needs to scan their stream order, which takes minutes of modal waiting. That accessibility info is not cached so the wait is present every time.
- Often PDf docs have restrictions on plain text copy or export which Acrobat does poorly, accessibility support and sometimes they use fonts which look like ASCII but whose character codes don't match up resulting in garbage. I've also seen text with no whitespace, text that doesn't support my accessibility colors in Acrobat and so on.
- Automatic updates are annoyingly intrusive, manual and silly all in all.
1. The performance, update and some formatting issues are best avoided by not using Acrobat Reader at all. Magnification users should try out Foxit PDF Reader . Screen reader users should get Xpdf here in stead. Though XPdF extracts text, losing formatting is not a big hit in most cases, especially if you're an avid user of the find dialog and regular expressions.
Having PDFs automatically converted to plain text using XPDF is somewhat involved, here's how to do that. IN your folder for batch files, add a file like:
pdf2txt.bat: @echo off C:\tinyapps\xpdf-3.02-win32\pdftotext.exe -layout -eol dos %1 %temp%\pdf.txt cd %temp% pdf.txt
Where C:\tinyapps\xpdf-3.02-win32\ is the full path of the folder to which you extracted xpdf. The script converts PDf to text with DOS line breaks and layout info and extracts the final file in your temp folder as pdf.txt, opening it with the default program. Your temp is typically at: C:\DOCUME~1\username\LOCALS~1\Temp. To associate the script with a program in XP, go to tools, folder options, file types. Choose or create the dot pdf entry for PDf files and hit advanced if it is enabled. if it is grayed out, hit reset first to have no program associated with Pdfs. Once in the advanced dialog, create a new action named Open and type in the application box c:\scripts\pdf2images.bat "%1". Where c:\scripts\ is the path to your batch file. Then make the new action the default for PDFs and Ok out of all the dialogs. Converting to text takes a while but is much faster than the equivalent command in Acrobat Reader and the files generally look better. If the PDF conversion fails, it is usually due to protection settings that forbid copying text or images.
2. Another way to convert PDF to text without installing Acrobat Reader is to use Adobe's on-line conversion tools when needed. The service is still operational and rather easy to use.
3. If either of the above seems too radical, there are several ways to get pdf to text within Acrobat. YOu can either make sure in the view menu that the continuous layout is selected and then choose edit, select all and edit copy. After some very long and CPU intensive processing you should have a plain text copy on the clipboard. Alternatively, use the save as text command in the file menu. restrictions of copying content, saving as text and so on may mean that one or both of these methods will fail, however.
4. At times you are still allowed to print out PDfs even if accessibility support is not working or you cannot read in plain text. In such cases virtually printing to PdF lifts the accessibility restrictions and in some cases can workaround problems with fonts that look like gibberish as ASCII values. I'm using PDF Creator as a Windows printer myself.
5. Many OCR applications are able to load in and recognize PDf files. The most obvious use is reading PDF files made up of screenshots of pages and convert them to an accessible format. OCR may, in some cases, work-around access restrictions and font problems, too, and allows you to choose the target format. A lot depends on the app itself.
However, some older OCR apps like OmniPage 9 don't know how to extract images out of Pdfs. For that you can use XPDF, Irfan View and the following batch script. It works principally much the same as the reader script once you have created a new command for PDF files, but don't make it the default.
pdf2images.bat: @echo off C:\tinyapps\xpdf-3.02-win32\pdfimages.exe %1 IMG if errorlevel 1 echo Image extraction error. & goto end set temp_files=1 attrib -A IMG-* C:\apps\irfan\i_view32.exe .\IMG* /convert=*.tif if errorlevel 1 neq 0 echo IMage conversion error. & goto end :end if %temp_files%==1 del /a:-A IMG* set temp_files=
If all goes well you should have a bunch of image files starting with img after having run the abovfe script on a PDf file that only contains images of pages i.e. has no accessible text. If processing is interrupted some temp files may be left behind, their deletion is based on the archived attribute, however. Again you should replace C:\apps\irfan\ with the full path to your Irfan View installation folder.
6. If all else fails, and even the doc's author is not able to give you an accessible version, there is commercial software that enables you to violate some protection bits in the PDf file. The most well known of these is probably Advanced PDf Password Recovery which also works for files that have not been password protected.
- The player is full of custom controls that don't respect your color scheme, don't care about keyboared focus much and many of them aren't in the tab order.
- The app is big and bulky and proprietry.
- You'll have to be especially alert during installation to be able to avoid advertising crud, especially in Real Player 8.
- No matter what your favorite player, Real Player tries to take over all the file associations it knows how to handle and rudely invades your desktop, too. Plenty of user activity is needed to undo the damage or avoid it in the first place.
- RealMedia streams cannot be saved for later listening.
1. ONce again the best option is to switch applications. Real Alternative can play real media without having to install Real Player and it also includes a modern minimalist Media Player app in the spirit of Media Player 6.4. Download Real Alternative here.
2. The other tac is to get versions of Real Player that are not half as bad. somewhat surprisingly Real includes a full archive of Real player releases including ancient, lighter but less compatible releases. Another option is to listen to Real Media files on your cell phone if it supports them. The GUi is much cleaner, more keyboard usable and has absolutely no ads or fluff.
3. AS to capturin Real Media streams, you may record everything played back by the computer in wav format and then convert to ogg, mp3 or the format of your choosing. Most consumer sound cards support this directly. To change the recording source go to volume control, options, properties, choose the recording radio button for your sound card and check all the boxes in the list view. After that you should have a recording source called one of Wave out, DirectSound mixer, Stereo Mixer, What u hear or something similar, the name varies on a per card basis. Select that source and start recording in your favorite audio app. Make sure that Skype is turned off as it tries to normally adjust your recording source back to the microphone. Some good freebie programs for recorrding are Audacity and Wavosaur . I use Sound Forge Audio Studio myself. When recording, don't record in stereo unless your source is stereo and make sure your sampling rate matches the source. If you don't know the rate, set it to 44.1 kHz.
Winamp 3 and 5
Before we start, let me make one thing absolutely clear. Winamp 2.95 is my absolute favorite media player of all time, one of the top 3 apps I truely enjoy using in Windows and given some good DSP and input plug-ins quite a general purpose player and format converter. What I don't like is the direction Winamp 3 went into and to which Winamp 5 is going now. Here's what is wrong:
- Winamp 3's GUI was poorly keyboard usable and had numerous accessibility issues ccompared with earlier releases.
- Old Winamp 2.x input plug-ins, of which there are plenty, were not compatible in 3.x.
- Unlike Winamp 2.x Winamp 5 is commercial if you'd like to activate all the features
- Winamp 5 is not yet supported by older screen readers
- Winamp 5 skins are visually complex, messy and transparent
- Winamp 5 offers lots of fluff like CD ripping, and burning, the media library and podcast support I don't need or I already have. Separate apps like Cdex , Deep Burner , Juice and Xplorer 2 do these things so much better to me. One tool for one job, the goodl old Unixism.
1. If it works, don't fix it. The safest and most compatible option is to continue using Winamp 2.95 which is still a great player givn the right input and DSp plug-ins out there. You can get Winamp 2.x at oldversion.com . Skinning is not very accessibility friendly still, but I've made a Winamp skin for low-vision users .
2. Another option is to have a player which is Winamp compatible as far as input plug-ins go, so you can rest assured that your files will play. One such player, which is also very small, light and does not require installation relying on ini files is the 1by1 directory player . The GUi is very spartan and I use 1by1 as a Winamp replacement on USb sticks. HOwever, sadly it does not seem to be able to handle files with multiple tracks per file such as NSf and SID.
3. The third and final option is to look for a player inspired by Winamp that is not plug-in compatible but with a bit of Googling has input plug-ins for virtually all important formats that Winamp can play. That player, which also has lots of extra features, is still minimalist and doesn't force you to use a skin is called Foobar 2000 . The reason why I haven't switched is an obscure one. Foobar has a pretty horrible MIDi software synth and currently doesn't support hardware MIDi synths as their output cannot easily be captured for further DSP processing. If this one was fixed and so all the DSP processing would be bypassed, as in Winamp, then I might switch players. If MIdi playback is not a problem for you and you feel a bit adventurous, I'd warmly recommend Foobar 2k.