Has any solution for blind to run windows under linux?

John Heim jheim at math.wisc.edu
Sun Jan 11 18:40:33 UTC 2009

Just yesterday I finally got Windows running in a virtual machine  
under linux. I've probably been working on it for 2 months. Not every  
evening, obviously there were holidays and stuff in between. But it  
was a heck of a lot of work.  I finally succeeded and had absolutely  
no sighted assistance.

I downloaded and installed vmware server2 -- which is free. I wasted a  
lot of time trying to get vmware to recognize my sound card. The add  
hardware wizard just would not let me add a sound card to a virtual  
machine. I finally just wiped out vmware and reinstalled. Then it  
worked like a charm.

I also found that I had to have a Windows machine in order to use the  
vmware web interface. You can use orca and firefox but the  
accessibility is no where near as good as it is with IE and jaws. I'm  
not sure I would ever have been able to figure out how to use the web  
app if all I had was firefox and orca. I knew where the links should  
be based on my knowledge gained in IE & jaws.  So that was another  
reason why the project took me so long. I actually had to set up a  
second machine running Windows to talk to my linux machine running  

Once I had the virtual machine configured, I installed Windows XP on  
it via an open-source Windows installation system. See http://unattend.sourceforge.net 
  for details. I had set this system up some years ago but I hadn't  
used it in some time. The reason is that you have to keep rebuilding  
the installer boot CD every time you get new hardware. It boots a  
linux kernel and then installs Windows via a dos emulator. But that  
means you have to keep updating the linux kernel for new hardware.

The good news is that the system will install Windows on a vmware  
virtual machine without modification. So after configuring the virtual  
machine, I put a unattended boot CD in the drive, powered up the  
virtual machine and had a Windows installation about an hour later. It  
was pretty cool actually, I was able to watch the disk space taken up  
by the virtual machine climb as Windows was installed.

The next significant problem I had was in accessing the virtual  
machine on my linux box. I could power up the vm from the other  
machine running Windows. But I didn't want to run windows in a vm  
under windows, I wanted to run it under linux. I hadn't used the linux  
GUI for some time and orca wasn't even working. So I spent another  
evening or 2 getting orca working. That actually is time well spent. I  
really like gnome and orca. It probably has more flaws than voiceOver  
but it's way easier to use. I find it way more intuitive and it takes  
far fewer keystrokes to get things done.

Once I had orca installed and working, I was able to power up the vm  
via firefox. But I never did figure out how to access the vm concole  
via firefox. I could never find the link since orca doesn't recognize  
it as a link. I finally found a link to create a desktop icon to  
connect to the vm concole. So now all I have to do is click the  
desktop icon to access the Windows vm. That's preferable anyway.

That was yesterday. I was able to configure the accessibility  
functions in Windows and install jaws. Unfortunately, jaws doesn't  
work very well. The video intercept driver doesn't work and that means  
the jaws cursor doesn't work. Obviously, that is a significant  
drawback. I'm going to find out if I've done something wrong. I've  
seen some blog entries that tend to make me think it just won't work.  
If so, I may give nvda a try. Nvda is an open source screen reader for  
Windows. The blog for the developer says he does his development in a  
Windows virtual machine under linux. So I'd presume nvda would work.

So that is where I am today. I am hoping to be jaws free soon. I was  
about to type the words 'I have nothing against freedom scientific'  
but that's not true. I find their licensing draconian. I don't think I  
should have to contact them to re-authorize jaws every time I swap out  
a CD-ROM drive or add memory to my PC. But I also don't want to have  
to ask my employer to shell out $1000 for another jaws license in a  
year or 2. I work for the Math Department at the University of  
Wisconsin. $1000 is a lot of money. In the big picture it's nothing.  
Every time they hire a new professor, they give him $1500 for a new  
computer which the profs then waste on a giant monitor. These guys all  
buy a $500 computer and a $1000 monitor.

I just don't want to have to go to my boss and tell her that I need  
the department to spend $1000 on a Windows screen reader for me. I'm  
supposed to be better than that. Its embarrassing.

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