WebbIE 4.5.0 now available

I’ve updated WebbIE 4 today, with some minor changes and bugfixes.

WebbIE 4 has supported the new HTML5 AUDIO and VIDEO elements for a couple of years, playing then in the page where they are found with a dedicated player control to make it easier for screenreader users – just play and stop, but that’s usually just what you need. I’ve now added ability to download and/or open the content of these VIDEO and AUDIO HTML5 elements directly in your default media player: the user just has to hit the Open button in the media player, and it will be opened in whatever is the default media handler is for your system. Note that this doesn’t work for embedded data URI elements! There are also new shortcut keys for the media player: Ctrl+P to play, Ctrl+O to open, and Space to stop.

Refresh in WebbIE re-parses the page, effectively, but doesn’t go and get the page anew. You can now press Shift and Control and R to perform a “proper” page refresh, reloading it from the server.

You can now open saved MHT files from File > Open, and I’ve added a TeamViewer download link to the Help menu for support purposes.

Finally, WebbIE no longer changes the case of URLs you type into the address bar, so if you are trying to access a web page on a case-sensitive server – like a Unix server – you’ll now be able to reach it.

WebbIE 4.3 – some HTML5 fun

New WebbIE 4 – more support for HTML5 and WAI-ARIA

WebbIE 4.3 has some cool new features based on the latest HTML5 and WAI-ARIA technology.

HTML5 is the latest update to how web pages work. It has a number of things that are helpful for screenreader users:

  • A web page can have a MAIN element. This is good for the Crop function in WebbIE, which will use this to help decide what to crop and what not.
  • Forms have a bit more definition, so email input boxes, sliders and progress bars have appeared. This is good for WebbIE because when you try to set one of these inputs you can get a special custom experience that works with your screenreader. For email address inputs, WebbIE will check that you have typed a correct email address and explain what is wrong. This is useful since it can be hard to correctly type and then fix email addresses with a screenreader, letter by letter. For sliders, WebbIE puts up a pop-up window containing a standard slider with the values all correctly set so your screenreader should recognise and operate it perfectly. WebbIE also presents progress bars sensibly in the text view.
  • WebbIE 4 has always supported the AUDIO and VIDEO elements, so you can play and control music and video in web pages easily.

WAI-ARIA is a mechanism to help screenreader users use complex web pages like Facebook. Facebook uses special WAI-ARIA code to label parts of its page with information – the small flags and images that mouse users can click on.

  • WebbIE supports the aria-label and aria-labelledby attributes, so more elements on a web page will have correct names and text – fewer “link: config.php” type entries.

Of course, this all pre-supposes that web pages use these elements correctly – which as we know is often not the case. Still, where a website has taken the effort, WebbIE will support these features and produce a better experience.

There are other HTML5 elements, but I’ve decided to add support to WebbIE as and when these elements are supported in Internet Explorer. That way WebbIE will be more reliable and perform better. This will be a problem for Windows XP users, who can’t update Internet Explorer past version 8, but I’m afraid that I have to advance WebbIE to keep it relevant so they will have to stay on WebbIE 3 or find that some features do not work as advertised. I’ll always keep WebbIE 3 around, just like I still do WebbIE for Windows ’98 – I just won’t support it any more.

Finally, there are many performance improvements.

  • WebbIE loads much, much faster.
  • Lots of bugfixes: also, WebbIE will no longer report any problems but will soldier on as best it can.
  • Improved support for the HTML “LABEL” element, so more form elements (e.g. input boxes) will have meaningful labels in the text and useful prompts when you try to use them.
  • WebbIE now supports “localhost” as a URL.
  • WebbIE once again defaults to showing the Internet Explorer homepage. People generally expect web browsers to go to a home page on the Internet: loading your Favourites might well be a better mechanism – and it is still there – but it took people by surprise and caused confusion. This only applies to new WebbIE installations: people running WebbIE 4 already will have to change their settings to suit.

Do try out the latest WebbIE and let me know what you think.

Switch to WebbIE 4

I’ve had various reports of problems with users of Windows XP with ASDL modems that WebbIE 3 doesn’t start up. Also, Google search is broken. I’ve seized the opportunity to tell people who’ve mailed me to use the new WebbIE 4 instead, and that’s confirmed to me (after a bit of bugfixing) that it’s working and pretty much there.

I’ve therefore decided to push ahead with the official release of WebbIE 4, and with it the other new .Net-version programs – PDF Reader, BBC iPlayer Radio, and BBC Live Radio. I’ve removed all of these from the WebbIE MSI installer file that used to contain every program. I’ll continue to distribute this so the people can get the remaining programs, until I either convert then to .Net or build separate installers.

The front page of WebbIE therefore lists separate installers for the new .Net programs – WebbIE, PDF Reader, BBC iPlayer Radio and BBC Live Radio – and links to the updated MSI that still contains Podcatcher, Clock, Calendar, and RSS News Reader. I’ve also left the old WebbIE 3 installer still on the page.

A reminder of the advantages of the new .Net programs:

  • Per-user installation (ClickOnce or MSI) with automatic updates. Not having the latest version is the Number 1 reason for mailing me with a support query.
  • Working modern code that will keep working for another eleven years.
  • Better support for screenreaders through MSAA/UIA support.

It’s a bit of a journey, but I think it’s the right direction! Thank to everyone for feedback.

ChromeVox browser extension

ChromeVox is a self-voicing browser extension (add-in) for Google’s Chrome browser. It’s designed by T.V. Ramen, the guy behind emacspeak.

It’s optimised for Chrome OS, at present (Google’s operating system that basically just gives you the Chrome browser as your desktop), probably because it is the only plausible accessibility story on Chrome OS for blind people, but it works fine on other systems.

You get a bunch of hotkeys that let you navigate around the page and a synthesized speech voice. The functionality is pretty geeky: if you’re comfortable with the idea that a web page is a hierarchical arrangement of nodes of different types, then you’ll fit right in. However, if you’ve already learned your many hotkeys for your screenreader to use Firefox or Internet Explorer, then you’re probably not going to find anything more useful in ChromeVox.

It’s maybe most interesting for Thunder Screenreader users, who can use ChromeVox with Chrome to give them the advanced geeky webpage navigation features previously enjoyed by JAWS or NVDA users, but can still fall back on the simpler Thunder features in Microsoft Office or WebbIE – and all for zero cost, since both Thunder and ChromeVox are free.