My experiences with a Mac

David Poehlman david.poehlman at
Sun Mar 16 12:15:08 UTC 2008


I hope all will read what I write inline in Tony's message below because it 
will provide some information that substantiates long term use of the Mac by 
myself and many others and also provides some useful info for those wanting 
to work with The Mac.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Tony Baechler" <tony at>
To: <blinux-list at>
Sent: Sunday, March 16, 2008 6:24 AM
Subject: My experiences with a Mac

Hi all,

Recently, my brother bought a Macbook with OS X on it.  I was interested in
looking at it because Apple claims that Voiceover is a complete screen
reading solution and is good enough that you can do your daily tasks.  You
can read about it and download the getting started manual in pdf and mp3.
dp: If you are using mac osx 1.5, the manual is out of date and you need to 
get the new voice over manual.  I have it but do not have a link for it. 
There are a couple of places to get info and ask questions.
and the voice over list at:macvoiceover at just to name a couple. 
You'll find a lot of useful as well as useless info there but your mission 
is to find links to info.  There is also info on:
you will find lists of keyboard controls and voiceover leopard manuals and 
tutorials among the pickings on these sites.
There are a couple of things which might accellerate learning.  one is that 
control option k turns on "keyboard help" which not only announces the keys 
on the keyboard but will also tell you what the use of those keys in 
addition to control with option will do.  command (adjacent to the space bar 
on either side of the keyboard) sometimes known as the apple key, with 
control option f8 will provide you with an interactive tutorial which can be 
quite helpful.

  I am still very much learning
as I go and I'm not an expert, but I've read a few chapters of the manual
and can now do basic tasks.  Here are some of my experiences.  If you want
me to look at something specific or if you have particular questions, ask
quickly because I will only have access to it for about a week.  It's a
notebook so it has limitations, but it's a fairly nice unit.
dp: what limitations do you speak of here?

I like the
keyboard better than other notebooks I've used.
dp: I like the keyboards on the Powerbooks, the Macbooks and the Macbook 
pros.  Quite snappy.  I also like to ad a usb keyboard when working in 
windows on the Mac although it's not necessary, it makes things less 
awkward.  The nice thing apple did for notebooks was to build its command 
structure around use of a laptop but then they also added the num pad 
interface so that it could be used in leu of or addition to the keyboard and 
it is customizable in leopard.

The core is based on BSD but the OS is completely different than any other
I've used and I've used most.
dp: This is apple we are talking about and they have a habit of being 
different.  Fortunately, the differences are well documented on their sites 
and in the community.

  I've used DOS 3.3 and ProDOS for the Apple
II, MS-DOS 3.3, 5.0, 6.0 and 6.22 for the
PC, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 95 OSR2, Caldera OpenDOS, Windows 98,
Windows 98 SE, Linux,
Windows XP home, FreeBSD, Windows XP pro, and finally Mac OS X 10.5.2
Leopard.  That is almost exactly chronological order.  When I say that I
used them, I don't mean just to try them except the Mac.  I mean that
I've used them for at least several months and have at least a good
basic knowledge of them.
dp: knowledge is good I used windows and some linux and dos stuff before and 
also some outspoken on the Mac but found that much of my knowledge needed to 
be suspended at least for a while while I took a new approach to the Mac. 
This is how many of us have come to learn the Mac os since the arival of 
VoiceOver because our correct assumption was that the os was different 
enough that it warranted looking at in a different way.

With FreeBSD, it has no equivalent to Speakup
so everything I did was with ssh but I got Apache and an ftp server
dp: Apache already works.  I got Macports and the Mac ftp server and a bunch 
of other stuff going via the terminal and the gui on the Mac and learned a 
lot along the way.

With Linux, I've used Slackware, Debian and Gentoo.  While I'm
very far from a Mac expert, I know enough to do basic tasks.  I
downloaded and installed Firefox yesterday.  I got 1.22 MB per second
download speed which is faster than I've ever had on any other computer
dp: not sure why, the network interface isn't all that different unless you 
have a g router and all your other devices are bees.

Mac OS X does have Braille support but I don't know anything
about it.
dp: braille is well documented in the new documentation and it works well 
but with usb displays only.  You can set brltty up in terminal if you want 
to use a serial device but I'm not sure if anyone has gotten this to work 
under leopard yet.

Apple pushes speech only but there was a category for Braille
in preferences.
dp: Speech can be muted and you can use braille only.  The nice thing about 
this is that you won't see those voiceover messages when you are working 
like you do when speech is on.  Braile lacks some niceties but is fully 

Actually, other than a slight learning curve, I'm getting a feel for how
things work.  I would hardly call Voiceover a complete screen reader but
it isn't bad.
dp: What does it lack?

Terminal includes a shell with the standard *nix
utilities, but some things are missing.  The default shell is bash.  The
few man pages I looked at point to BSD.  I am guessing but I think it's
based on OpenBSD.  It comes with Postfix installed.  It's about as fast
as Windows XP which is surprising because I expected it to be faster but
I'm still learning.  The Firefox installation was fairly painless.  I think
the biggest thing I don't like about Voiceover is that you must hold down
Control and Option with all other commands.  It has its own cursor but you
must hold down those two keys and use the arrows.
dp: you can lock the vo cursor with control option semicolon and release it 
with semicolon.

If you're on a table and
want to interact with it, you must press Control, Option, Shift and down
arrow.  Once you make your choice, such as checking a box or picking an item
in a table, you have to press those keys again but instead of down arrow,
it's the up arrow.  This applies even with web pages, dialogues, tables and
most other controls.  It doesn't apply to buttons.  To press a button, you
have to press Control, Option, Space.  I found that in most cases, I can
just press the space bar instead but the manual says to use all three keys.
dp: The manual was written from a VoiceOver perspective.  There is a world 
of Mac beyond VO that VO can address.  For instance, you can use tabs and 
arrows in dialogs and space to activate buttons, change the status of 
checkboxes and arrows to select radio buttons.  On the web, once you have 
set safari up to highlight links on pages when youtab to them in its 
advanced preferences, you can tab through links, activate buttons with space 
and fill in formfields just by typing and even spellcheck what you've typed.

Like Windows, there are close and minimize buttons.  There is also a zoom
in or zoom out button.  To access them, you have to hold down the Control
and Option and use the arrows until you find it.  While still holding down
those keys, press Space to close whatever you're in.  Escape sometimes works
instead but not always.
dp: there are keyboard shortcuts for many commands.  for instance, to quit 
an app, it's command with q.  If you look through the menues, you will also 
see the commands for other things like zoom.

One area where the manual is wrong is where it says that you can hold down
Control and Option and press the letter H for help on the current control.
The manual says that most controls have help tags.  Well, every time I tried
that, I was told that there was no help for this control.
dp: on controls which name themselves, you will get nothing from vo keys 
with h.  If something just says button though, there is a good chance that 
it will provide info.  control shift u is a new command in voiceover for 
leopard which superceeds control option h but that one still works in some 
places.  The newer command is mainly for getting info on the web from my 

I've so far only
used programs supplied with the OS.  It has no equivalent of MSAA, browse,
or forms mode for web pages.  You have to go from upper left to lower right
with the Voiceover cursor.
dp: in addition to using the tab and arrows in dialogues and edit fields and 
boxes you can also use the extensive find utility in vo and the item chooser 
to get round the screen.

I haven't tried any html content yet, so I'm
only going by the manual.  The manual itself is fairly small.  If there is a
more complete manual besides the getting started manual that I downloaded,
it wasn't obvious.  The first three chapters give a general introduction, an
intro to OS X and an intro to Voiceover.  Even if you don't like reading
manuals, those chapters are required reading.  You'll be completely lost
otherwise, especially if you're not used to Windows.  The equivalents of the
Windows desktop and Windows Explorer are built into one window on the Mac.
In the Mac world, the desktop is the same as the file browser or "My
Computer" in Windows.  There must be an easier way to get to installed
applications, but so far the only way I found was to open the hard disk and
arrow down to Applications.  Opening the Applications row in the table
showing all hard disk directories is as close to the Windows start menu as
you're going to get.  There is also the dock which is like the system tray
in Windows.  The dock was fairly easy to use.
dp: you can get directly to the apps folder with command-shift-a and there 
are shortcuts for other folders as well like command-shift-h for your home 
folder.  You can ad apps to the doc and use it exclusively if you only use a 
few of the apps available thus negating any requirements for scrolling 
through huge landscapes.  you can also use letter nav in folders.  Actually 
the desktop is when all finder windows are closed.  Everything else that you 
open except apps or the doc are finder windows.  the closest thing to my 
computer would be the browser in the network interface which you activate 
with command shift k.  click browse and you will se something as close to my 
computer as you get.  The doc is sort of a combination start menu and 
systray but it lacks some systray functions which are available through 
control-f8 such as energy, clock and others depending on what apps you have 
and how you have configured the os.

There are so far several areas where Voiceover falls short for me.  First,
there was a dialogue that came up because the network wasn't set up
correctly.  It never spoke that at all.  I had to have sighted help use the
mouse to close the window.
dp: if this is the dialog I think it is, you need to command-tab to make 
sure you are on it and hit the spacebar.

Another problem is that there is a permanent
menu bar on the screen but tapping Command or Option will not open it,
unlike Windows.  You have to press Control, Option, M to cycle through the
three types of menus.
dp: I don't knw about three types of menus, only two.  to get to the menu 
bar, press control-f2.  you can use letter nav or arrows alone to traverse 
this menu.

  One nice thing is that the Apple menu is always
visible so you can always get out of a program that locks up, at least in
theory.  There are status menus also, such as for battery power and
bluetooth.  It read all of those fine.  There is no other keyboard way to
access them.  If a mouse user opens them for you, don't press the right
arrow after the last menu or it closes.  Unfortunately you have no way of
knowing what menu is the last.
dp: It's been my experience that I can arrow left and right through the 
menus with no closure.  I can press escape to close the menubar at this 
point though whether I'm using the status menus or the main menu bar.  You 
can turn on a navigation rap feature in vo but I think that's for vo only.

Another problem is that sometimes you're on
a control which you think you can interact with but pressing the keys to
interact with it just gives you a ding for no obvious reason.  I was almost
stuck in Terminal until I thought to look at the menu bar.  There was
nothing on the screen telling me what happened except that cycling through
the open applications showed that Terminal was still opened even though I
was getting no feedback.  I randomly tried the menu bar and found a way to
quit.  That was anything but obvious.
dp: controls are not usually interactable, they are activated with the space 
bar.  The sound you may have heard in terminal was an empty window sound so 
when you interacted with it, you got that sound.  command-q to the rescue.

I would like to briefly discuss the terminal since it will be of interest to
most of you reading.  As I said, it is based on BSD and has the basic
utilities you would expect such as ls, bash, man, less, and nano.  It is
missing other things that you would normally find though, such as there is
no cc or gcc and no text browsers.  There is the standard ftp but no lftp or
ncftp.  I can't tell if Apache comes preinstalled or not but it didn't look
like it even though Postfix is installed and running.  There seems to be no
"root" user from what I can tell but it comes with su and sudo.  If you try
"halt," you're told that you can't.  If you use "su" to become root, you're
asked for a password.  Every password I tried didn't work.  Many file and
directory names have spaces.  My guess is that either you have to add a root
user (but adduser and useradd didn't exist) or change everything via System
Preferences.  The only thing I looked at under preferences was how to adjust
Voiceover.    The voice sounds pleasant.  For amusement, you have to look at
all the different voices included.  Some of them sing.  Anyway, the terminal
left a lot to be desired.  Often it would skip several lines of text or not
read at all.  If I did "ls" in my home directory, it would not read the
directory listing.  If you use the Voiceover cursor, it reads everything on
the screen from top to bottom.  There is no easy way to just read the last
few lines.  In ftp, all I got for a prompt was the word "space."  It
wouldn't read my current directory or give any other feedback.  Obviously a
lot of work still needs to be done in this area.  I somewhat got around the
problems with things not reading by pressing Control, Option, Shift down
arrow to interact with the scroll area.  That seemed to help a little but
still gave me no way to read the last few lines if I missed anything.  It
also has an annoying habbit of not pronouncing whole numbers.  I know
Firefox is fairly big but I couldn't tell how big because it just read off a
bunch of digits.  One good thing it has is a keyboard practice mode which
greatly helps in learning what keys do what.  Since I was using a small
keyboard, it helped me learn the layout.  Another thing it has is a Control
plus Option lock so you don't have to hit those keys every time to move the
cursor.  The problem is still that you have to unlock the keyboard before
you can go back to your application.

So far, based on my experiences, I would consider Voiceover more of an
overlay than a screen reader.  In other words, it runs on top of your apps
and it helps but it's not good enough that I would use it day in and day
out.  It's quite a bit nicer than XP Narrator though and it does have a
cursor which you can use to explore the screen layout.  It has no concept of
things like windows or graphic dictionaries and it only shows you the active
window or dialogue, so it would be impossible for me to dismiss a background
dialogue about the incorrect network settings because it would never read
it.  It has limited mouse support but not like what you would find in
Windows.  There is apparently support for the numeric keypad but I don't
know to what extent.  Since it's a portable, I kept that turned off.

Again, I'll only have a week or so to play with it and experiment, so if you
have any questions or things you want me to look at, please ask soon.  If
this is considered off topic, sorry.  Please feel free to repost to other
appropriate mailing lists.
dp: I see that you found a lot of answers along the way and I and others are 
here to help.  I'll be happy to dialog with hyou off list.

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