Lots of Software Update Goodness Released Today

This is quite a day for software updates, which should be of interest to both my blind as well as sighted readers. First, I am positively thrilled to announce that version 4.1 of OpenOffice has been released. For those who haven’t used either Openoffice or LibreOffice, these packages are free, powerful office suites, very similar to Microsoft Office. It contains, among other things, a word processor very similar to Word, a spreadsheet similar to Excel, etc. Did I mention it’s free? Version 4.1 includes some long-awaited and, for me, highly anticipated built-in accessibility for users of screen readers. Previously in OpenOffice (sounds like we’re about to watch scenes from last week’s episode), you needed to install not only Java but you had to enable the Java access Bridge in order to get OpenOffice to talk with screen readers. You also had to enable assistive technology support from within the program’s options menu, and this could be a daunting set of steps for some users. this is now a thing of the past. First, people shouldn’t be running a computer with Java installed, unless there is a program they’re running or a Web site they’re visiting that absolutely needs it. It’s a security risk. However, with the new Iaccessible2 code, you should be able to install OpenOffice, run the program and have it talk with your favorite screen reader. This is exciting because, until recently, Microsoft Office was one of the few suites totally supported by screen readers. I have nothing against Office. OK, I hate the ribbon but aside from that, it’s a powerful suite of programs that will do anything you’d want or need and you can get Home and Student 2013 for around $139.00 or the 2010 edition for around 89 bucks. However, some people just can’t afford the extra expense to buy this package just to have a word processor and I don’t feel they should have to do so. With OpenOffice, you now have a free alternative.
Right now, as far as screen reader support is concerned your mileage will vary. NVDA seems to offer the best support. Today’s latest update of JAWS 15 does support the suite, although I often get the message “edit has flows from” when I move focus to the menu bar and then leave the menu bar and return to the document; I will report this bug to Freedom Scientific. I also haven’t done a lot of real-world testing with this newest version and so there may be some unknown bugs still needing attention. However, it’s worth playing with and the more people choose to work with it and report bugs to Apache, the quicker we’ll get all of them ironed out.
Speaking of the JAWS update, this also was released today and should be presented as an update for users of version 15. It has the usual type of fixes we’re used to seeing in FS’s free updates for things such as improvements to Office, Firefox, Internet explorer, etc.
Speaking of Firefox, version 29 was released today, with the ability to allow users to customize the look and feel of the user interface. I realize this isn’t going to get a big, fat whoopdeedoo from my blind readers but the good news is that everything as far as keyboard commands still works, including access to the beloved, old-school menu bar.
Mozilla also released version 24.5.0 of the Thunderbird email program, which contains around a half dozen security fixes.
Happy updating!!

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