BBC iPlayer TV 10

I’ve updated the BBC iPlayer TV program to work again. It should update to the latest version, or you can download it from the WebbIE website.

You might ask why it broke! Well, since the BBC broke all their metadata, a nice automated and readable index to the programmes, I have to visit the website and extract the programmes from there. It’s called “screen scraping” and it breaks whenever the BBC updates their website. Sorry about that.

WebbIE Web Browser 5

An unannounced update to the actual WebbIE Web Browser over Christmas: Version 5 fixes problems with the web search feature not working.

This is a super-simple feature: you press Control and W, then type your search term, and hit return. Wait a bit and the Google results appear in a list – you just cursor up and down. Hit return when you get one you want and WebbIE opens it. So much faster and less frustrating than trying to, you know, use Google…

It’s Version 5 despite not being a big update because (1) the fashion is to ramp up the main version number (2) it’s way way easier to ask “what version?” and get back “5” or “4” or “6” than “4.1.23”!

Get WebbIE 5 Now: https://www.webbie.org.uk/webbrowser

A political history of Windows accessibility standards

I see around the Internet articles about accessibility APIs and standards like MSAA and IAccessible2, and I don’t think they reflect the history of the technology as much as the politics of the technology. This is a quick note of my memory and take on it from my experience working in screenreaders and AT.

Microsoft comes up with the first accessibility API in the late 90s, MSAA. It’s fine for buttons and textboxes and checkboxes, but richer user interfaces are too much for it – the document area in Word, or web pages.

So Microsoft comes up with UI Automation (UIA), which is a richer accessibility API that addresses the shortcomings of MSAA. This was in 2005.

But no-one picks it up properly: within Microsoft, Office doesn’t, I assume because of the usual Office versus Windows internal politics. Internet Explorer doesn’t, because Microsoft has stopped developing Internet Explorer. And outside Microsoft, all the screenreader guys have already written their code to “slurp” the contents of Internet Explorer and Office, so they don’t care that UIA doesn’t become the new standard. (And if UIA fails, so much more value for their products, which cost lots of money and so can support developers to write custom code for each and every program that fails to support accessibility standards…)

Outside Microsoft UIA adoption is even worse: Sun and IBM actually go to the trouble of creating a competing accessibility API, IAccessible2, and foist that on Java and OpenOffice to aid their competition with Microsoft and prevent Microsoft owning the accessibility API on Windows like Microsoft owns the document format standard (Word) and the web page standard (IE). (Disabled users have a history of being used to further other agendas, whether they know it or not…) Of course, nerds rally round and also foist it on Firefox, then the only Internet Explorer alternative, because hey everyone hates Micro$oft, right?

But, it’s important to understand, at this point in history – mid 00s – things are kind of OK. JAWS and NVDA and other screenreaders write special code (accessing some kind of application-specific API like the Word DOM) to talk to really really important applications, like Internet Explorer and Office, and use the MSAA accessibility API to talk to everything else. We all argue about the price of screenreaders and whether videos should autoplay but everything is stable. If you want to use more applications with your screenreader you pay more for a screenreader with more special code – JAWS is the standard, of course.

Then it all changes. The web and mobile explodes, by which we mean HTML5 and Chrome and iOS breaking the Internet Explorer/Windows dominance, and websites becoming applications in their own right like Google Docs or Facebook. Internet Explorer is dead, the mainstream declares, which means the sophisticated support screenreaders have developed to talk to its application-specific APIs is all useless: at the same time the websites are getting more and more complex. MSAA isn’t going to cut it, and there is no application-specific API for Chrome, the new dominant browser (there is a chrome.automation in development – how nice!) And here we are in 2018, and it’s much harder to use a web app than a desktop application. (Of course, you’ve probably jumped ship to iOS and an iPad with VoiceOver, or you are using a restricted set of desktop applications…)

Hey, maybe UI Automation’s time has come! Everyone knows VoiceOver is super-accessible and great and built into macOS, and so Microsoft needs a better AT story round Office and Windows, so the newly-invigorated Microsoft builds UIA into Office and Edge and here we go! At least until Edge is killed off too…

(The usual caveats and apologies about focusing mainly on blind people apply: showing my history in that area.)

BBC iPlayer Radio 10

After a good few weeks I have the BBC iPlayer Radio application working again! You should find that the previous version 9 force-updates to the new version 10 when you start it. If not you can use this link for the installer: BBC iPlayer Radio MSI Installer

As usual, it was broken by changes to the BBC system. I’ve had help from some kind BBC staff and I’ve got it working again: it now downloads without needed to convert as well, so it’s a little faster in operation. I’ve also improved the metadata in the files saved to disk for those that use them directly. “Version 10” indicates that I’m following the modern convention of updating the version number by a whole point when you do a release – like Google Chrome – not that there is anything very special and new. Sorry! Smile.

BBC iPlayer Radio working again

Changes at the BBC end broke the BBC iPlayer Radio program for a couple of weeks. The BBC were kind enough to help when I got round to asking, and it should all now be working again.

However, you now get thirty days of radio programmes, not just seven days, so my program takes a while to process all the programmes and display them. Be patient and it should get there.

Thanks to everyone who alerted me to the problem, and the BBC staff for helping out!

BBC iPlayer Radio 9.4

A small change the BBC iPlayer Radio program. It downloads BBC programmes and then converts them to MP3 to play them. Previously it’s used a moderate quality (bitrate) but some users got in touch and pointed out that many radio programmes would benefit from a better quality, especially Radio 3. So BBC iPlayer Radio now uses 192kbps MP3 files.

BBC iPlayer TV 8.0.0

If you’ve tried to use the BBC iPlayer TV 7 program recently you’ll know that it is completely broken. A few months ago all the channels went except for Audio Described, and more recently that disappeared too.

Over the years (fifteen, I think, though that may be Radio) I’ve taken many approaches to delivering BBC TV programmes to blind users, from RealPlayer days to now. In version 7 I received some help from the BBC: a nice, fast way to get programme listings. So I put that into the software, and all was well.

You would think I would learn! This handy mechanism disappeared this year, I think without warning, and the channel listings with it. However, Audio Described lasted a bit longer because it didn’t use the approved BBC mechanism, and on examination it only took a tweak to make it work again. I’ve therefore done the work to make the other channels use the Audio Described mechanism, so we have a new BBC iPlayer TV 8, and you once again have Audio Described, channels including One, Two, Four and News, and a new Signed channel listing too. The listings will all take longer to load, but that’s just how it has to work now.

Generally every couple of years there is a burst of enthusiasm at the BBC and someone will reach out to me with great plans and proposals: a year or two later they disappear with their technical help. Individuals have been kind and supportive, but the BBC faces great commercial and political pressure, so I can’t blame them. Anyway, for the geeks: we’re back to screen-scraping, which is slow but I can patch it up when the website changes and doesn’t rely on flaky BBC cooperation.

Finally, I observe that we now have more hoops to jump through before programmes play – like a BBC logon. You should only have to get this set up and working once, and it will work smoothly after that. But you might well need sighted help to get you through these steps: I have fitfully automate these steps, but it was just too much for me to keep up with changes, so I’m afraid you’re on your own. More reliable, though, which is nice.

BBC iPlayer Radio 9.3.5

A new version of the BBC iPlayer Radio program. This should, I hope, solve any problems you have been experiencing with “skipping” during programmes.

A quick explanation: the BBC provides their radio programmes as AAC files. These play on Windows 8 and later, in theory. But I was having lots of reports of programmes skipping. I thought this might have been the code that downloads the AAC files, but I discovered that the AAC files skipped in Windows Media Player as well as in my program (which uses Windows Media Player internally), and my program successfully downloaded exactly the same file each time. Finally, converting the AAC file to another file type fixed the program just fine.

BBC iPlayer Radio therefore has a “conversion” step after downloading a programme where it is converted into a format that will play without skipping.

New text-to-speech voices in Windows 10 Creators Update

This update to Windows 10 has arrived, and it has more text-to-speech voices.

First, these are again Windows Mobile voices, not SAPI5, so your screenreader or other application may not be able to see or use them.

Second, there appear to be no additional languages, but there are reported to be “more than ten” new voices (e.g. male voices where before there were only female). I’ve identified two new accents or language variants that are new: Australian English and Canadian English.

I believe the full list of Windows Mobile voices as they stand now for Windows 10 Creators Update in 2017 is given in this Microsoft Support article: TTS voices.