vinux, Another Accessible Linux Possibility
martin at dc.cis.okstate.edu
Fri Jan 8 14:10:44 UTC 2010
Over the Newyear's weekend, I tried yet another
distribution of Debian Linux that talks. It is called vinux and
the vi part stands for "visually impaired." It uses speakup as
its software speech engine and it runs a text console. This
means that it gives new life to middle-aged computers that
aren't top-end but are too good to get rid of yet.
The live CD comes up talking and gives you a Unix
console. There is a menu system to get you started on how to
install vinux on your hard drive.
It is good for anybody who has some working knowledge of
Linux or any other common form of Unix. It appears that you must
have either 256 megs of RAM or that must swap space on your
drive. I tried it on an extremely RAM-deficient Gateway system
which is about 13 years old and
made the mistake of being too cheap on swap space. The system
had 64 megs of RAM and 189 megs of swap. The speech came up fine
but I knew we had trouble when it began repeating various error
messages followed by "no space left on device." Each of those
represented a package that didn't make it on to the new system.
I increased the swap space to about 256 megs today and
it appeared to do much better.
The fellow who created this distribution appears to have
done things well in that the speech engine and all the audio
devices play nicely together. I was able to get the mplayer
package to install and run. speechdispatcher and speakup just
talk right over the sound when they need to.
I installed vinux on a Dell Enspiron laptop with 256
megabytes of RAM and there was no trouble at all. It just works.
Now for a couple of warnings. When you install it, you
get a default British keyboard layout. It is the same as ours
for numbers and letters and most punctuation marks, but the @
sign as in bobby at gmail.com and the double-quote are swapped.
What should be the \ is the #, and a few other surprises. Also
the Caps-lock key does not announce its status and works much
differently than it usually does under speakup. Set it with
shift-capslock as normal, but release it by just tapping
Caps-lock. The pitch of your echoed key strokes will tell you if
it is set or cleared. Anyway, you can become root on the Live CD
by sudo su - and then run loadkeys us. You get an American
keyboard and, strangely enough, the Caps-lock announces
afterward. This works until you reboot.
After you install vinux, the process of making the US
keyboard default is complicated a bit because the normal
procedure of running install-keymap us is slightly broken. It
puts the US map in /etc/console for some reason instead of
/etc/console-setup. I just got lucky and figured that one out.
You have to manually copy the boottime.kmap.gz file to the right
place and it does start to work.
It probably doesn't hurt to edit /etc/default/locale to
change LANG to "C" so that dates and other generated output
look normal to us.
I have been using it on 3 different systems for about a
week and have had no serious issues. I did try a serial RS-232
port and ckermit on one system and it worked fine. I have not
yet tried the serial PCMCIA serial port on the laptop. I
certainly hope that works as is it is important at times in my
Anyway, I think this is a welcome addition to Linux
accessibility. Too bad the main distributions don't have it as a
boot option on their distribution CD's.
Martin McCormick WB5AGZ Stillwater, OK
OSU Information Technology Department Telecommunications Services Group
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