Ubuntu, Debian and Vinux!

Anthony Sales tony.sales at rncb.ac.uk
Mon Jun 29 20:27:07 BST 2009

Hi everyone,

First of all I hope this isn't going to end up in a mini flame war in the
same vein as when I announced the start of the Vinux project. let's be clear
from the start we are all on the same side i.e. we all want an accessible
linux distro that just works out of the box. Whether that distro is Ubuntu,
Debian or any other isn't really important. I for one would happily abandon
the Vinux project if I really thought there was a suitable distro for the
kind of VI learners I work with everyday. But there isn't!

So what can we do about it. Yes I could throw my efforts in with Ubuntu, but
I am not an experienced or qualified Linux developer, I am just very
determined and happy to experiment. I wouldn't know were to begin
contributing to a project like Ubuntu. But aside from my own inadequacies,
Luke and others are doing their best to make Ubuntu accessible. But some of
the difficulties they face have been cause by the direction Canonical have
taken. They have for example refused to include an orbitrc file for root on
security grounds, and although I am sure Luke will eventually come up with a
solution, he also has to deal with pulseAudio etc. I think given the nature
of the changes needed to make a robust, stable and responsive accessible
distro Canonical should acknowledge that the requirements are demanding
enough to have a special version of Ubuntu aimed at VI users. In fact I did
suggest this to canonical in the beginning and they did not want to go down
this route.

I suppose in an ideal world there should be a distro that is accessible to
all no matter what your disability, but in practise this rarely happens.
Firstly the VI are a small minority of people without much economic clout,
and secondly the difficluties a VI user faces in using a primary graphical
interface are enourmous. So we can either compromise and accept something
that is just about accessible, or we can produce something specially for the
VI. I am a realist, I am fed up of waiting for an easy to use accessible
linux distro, so I decided to get off my ass and make one. And I got quite a
lot of harsh criticism for doing so, and had it not been for the
encouragement and support I received from Osvaldo I would probably have
abandoned it shortly afterwards. 

However, the beauty of linux in in choice. There are different ways to solve
these problems and neither is correct. They are just different. I think a
multiplicity of solutions is a good thing anyway. And if nothing else
starting the Vinux project has really forced me to try to understand how
Linux works under the hood. I would not claim to be a linux expert, but I am
very experienced teacher with years of experience teaching visually impaired
students and adults and I know what sort of system they need. It has to be
very simple to use and require no initial understanding of Linux or the
command line etc.

So back to Ubuntu. As a sighted individual I think Ubuntu is great, it has
made the Linux desktop accessible to people with no interest in computers per
se, it is easy to use and configure and most hardware just works out of the
box. This made it an obvious base for Vinux. However 9.04 caused a lot of
problems and given the rapid and cutting edge nature of the realeases I
decided reluctantly that I would have to fall back on Debian, which provides
a much better accessibility experience once configured, although I would have
to do a lot more work on the hardware side etc. What VI users need is a
stable, responsive system, not a cutting edge distro with flashy 3D effects
etc. So I was not forced to change, but taking everything into account I
chose Debian, but it was not an easy decision. 

However as I said earlier I would abandon the project in a flash if Ubuntu
(or any other distro) was accessible to VI users out of the box as it was to
sighted users, I just don't think this is going to happen any time soon.

Your pessimistically,


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