WebbIE 4.2 – response to feedback

I’ve had some great feedback on WebbIE 4 – thank you all. This has resulted in two things:

First, it turns out that the USB stick versions of WebbIE have some strong supporters who use them in various teaching and support environments. I had anticipated the death of versions of WebbIE designed to run solely from a USB stick for what I thought were good reasons:

  • Microsoft Windows has made it increasingly hard to run software from a USB stick. It used to be that you could write some simple code and a program would launch just by inserting the USB drive. Now you’re likely to see nothing at all, and have to navigate to the drive – if you can find it – and launch the program by hand from Windows Explorer. There are excellent security reasons for this downgrading of the experience, but I perceived that it made the USB sticks significantly less usable and hence useful.
  • More generally, corporate and institutional security is getting better, so being able to walk up to a random computer, shove in a USB stick, and run a program off it is surely something of the past.
  • Having people run USB versions means that when a user runs into trouble I can’t be sure that they have the latest, bugfixed, working version. Sure, that’s fine for savvy technophiles. But often people with USB stick versions are the least technical: the system has been set up with the USB stick versions by a friend or support worker. The user has no chance of updating the USB version, and I have no way to trigger an update, even if I can identify that they need one. Very messy.
  • The new rewrite of WebbIE into the .Net programming language means that I can’t guarantee, as I could with Visual Basic, that the programs will run on any Windows machine as a user. You have to be an administrator to install the necessary .Net Framework. So the development of the WebbIE USB versions are stuck at version 3, so it will be increasingly hard to support them.

However, I’ve had various messages from people asking for the USB stick version, and making a reasonable case. They say that they use it for independent access, for (indeed) walking up to machines, especially in libraries and running WebbIE and for distributing easily around organisations. My worries about support are still valid. But if people find it useful, that’s great.

I’ve therefore linked directly to a zip file containing the WebbIE USB stick version on the front page of the website. This is WebbIE 3 and all its associated programs. I hope that’s useful for people.

The second thing is an update to WebbIE, now to 4.2. I’ve done lots of bugfixing, and tried to address the perennial problem of recognising when the page is loaded so it can be processed and the ticking noise turned off. More interestingly, I’ve made some changes again based on user feedback:

  • Print has always been in WebbIE, but I’ve never been quite sure what to print out when the user hits it: the text view, in large print and little decoration, so it can be read by someone with limited vision? Or the web view, so it looks like the web page as seen in Internet Explorer and can be shown to ticket inspectors and filed away as bank statements and the like? In WebbIE 3 I tried to print whatever the current view was, web or text. In WebbIE 4 I decided on printing the text view, but after user feedback it now prints the web view. This lets you get a perfect printed copy of the page for reference. Users can print the main text view by copying and pasting in Word or Wordpad, which saves me having to write code and keeps the number of printing applications down to keep things simple.
  • Favorites or Bookmarks have always been an important feature of WebbIE. These are shared with Internet Explorer. In WebbIE 3 they would appear if you opened the Favorites menu (Alt and A) and you could cursor down them. In WebbIE 4 I created a new “favorites homepage” that shows quick links to main WebbIE functions, like “open a web page” or “search the web”, followed by the favorites. The idea here was that you could just start WebbIE and cursor down to hear your favorites, without having to do an Alt key combination to get a menu up. That’s been very popular with some people, especially novice users. However, people usually expect web browsers to go to their online home page. Also, you can’t type letters to select favorites in a text area, because it isn’t a list: many screenreader users know to start typing the list entry they are looking for and it will be selected, which means they need some sort of list control. I’ve therefore allowed the user to select whether the home page is my favorites WebbIE page, or the Internet Explorer web page. I don’t like adding new options, but this is a generally known and understood one, and there are important different use cases. I’ve also added a new function, Show Favorites, on Control + B (for Bookmarks) that brings up a new window with the favorites in a list (actually a treeview to cope with folders) so a user can press B (in QuickKeys mode) and they cursor or type to get their favourite with ease. I hope the hybrid approach suits most people effectively: new users can use the WebbIE home page, more advanced users can use their familiar page and the bookmarks list.

Finally, a new beta version of R.S.S. News Reader is also up on the site, so do try it out and let me know how you get on! Soon I’ll be able to write new programs again, which will be fun.

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