Blind vs. mainstream distros

Linux for blind general discussion blinux-list at
Sun Apr 23 09:25:10 UTC 2017

Your name isn't showing up for some reason. You make some good arguments. 
Comments below.

On 4/21/2017 6:05 PM, Linux for blind general discussion wrote:
> My only concern with this argument is that it seems like it takes longer to
> get fixes pushed up stream then it does to spin up a custom distribution. It
> also seems to me that a lot of what's needed in a custom distribution is
> packaging and customization as opposed to programming.

 From my experience, mostly what's needed is custom scripts and config 
files. A lot of this could be done with custom packages. A thought I had was 
asking for community submissions of scripts which make programs more 
accessible. They could be put into either a tar archive or .deb package 
which anyone could install on any system as config files aren't arch or 
platform specific. I decided it would be too hard for one person to keep up 
with and make sure new versions didn't break the old config files.

Initially, yes, it would take longer to get fixes pushed upstream. That's 
why I suggest working with the upstream software developers and not the 
distro developers. That way, a fix to ALSA or Firefox is picked up by all 
major distros instead of one at a time. However, in some cases, that isn't 
possible. I'm referring to installers. If a few unknown people submit 
patches, the review process takes a long time and the patches might not be 
accepted. If a nonprofit organization is formed specifically for that 
purpose and not only submits patches but posts them either on github or 
similar, not only do they get more review but they are more likely to be 
taken seriously since there is an actual organization behind them. I know 
there are exceptions, but I think most people take Apache, Mozilla and Gnome 
much more seriously than a single, random developer. When they know your 
reputation and you have submitted enough patches, you can commit directly 
upstream, but as you say, that takes a long time. Case in point, it can take 
years to be an official Debian developer who can maintain packages without 
> I look at Vinux and Ubuntu as an example. It seems like Luke and the Vinux
> developers were able to get a lot more accomplished in a lot less time
> working with Vinux then they were able to do by trying to push things
> upstream in Ubuntu. Focusing on getting changes upstream, when there could
> have been a Vinux available, would have meant fewer blind Linux users and
> some of those blind Linux users would have spent more of their own time
> setting up and customizing Ubuntu and finding and installing accessible
> applications. If you think vinux users are going to just quit and give up
> when they run into a Linux issue, I'd think that problem would be even more
> prevalent if they didn't have a Vinux where a lot of the work was already
> done for them.

Yes and no. First, don't forget that Vinux was itself based on Ubuntu. It 
wasn't built from scratch. Ubuntu had serious accessibility problems in the 
past. I wouldn't say it's perfect now, but it's a lot better. Arch might be 
more current for the desktop, but it's a lot harder to install. For a 
mainstream, graphical distro, Ubuntu MATE is very good. When I tried Vinux, 
it had a broken installer and the system crashed. I got a few comments that 
people gave up for those reasons. I understand the major bugs are fixed now, 
but it still doesn't use what I would consider a friendly, customizable 
installer. While I'm opposed to blind-centric distros, I realize they have 
their place and some people want them. I think what you say below makes very 
good sense. Create a custom distro based on Fedora or whatever. When it's 
stable, work with upstream to get those customizations included. What I 
would like to see is a custom flavor of Ubuntu MATE. It would boot up 
talking and have the features of Vinux but would be supported by the Ubuntu 
developers and use the Ubuntu installer. Remember that just as 95% of Ubuntu 
is based on Debian, at least 95% of Vinux is based on Ubuntu. Really, in 
terms of code and custom packages, we're talking about a small number of 
bytes compared to the overall distro. To me, it makes little sense to waste 
a lot of time recycling 95% or more of what another distro has already done 
just for a few little fixes.

> IMHO, I think a hybrid approach is the way to go. Build a custom
> distribution, prove that it can work, build up your blind user base and work
> to get those changes upstream. I know it seems like this is spreading an
> already thin resource even thinner, but I think it's the most likely road to
> success.

I hadn't thought of this in that way, but I think you have something. The 
big problem with any niche distro, blind or not, is the small user base and 
lack of support. If you can get even, say, a dozen developers and dedicated 
support people and build up a solid user base, that speaks louder to 
mainstream distros than a few blind guys playing around with a distro one or 
two others put together. I remember in the early days of Speakup that this 
was the case. No one took it seriously. There was no official kernel 
support. When 2.4 came out, the patches for 2.2 kernels broke. When 2.6 came 
out, the cycle repeated. I used custom boot floppies to install Debian 
Potato because I wouldn't have Speakup otherwise. Eventually, Gentoo, Debian 
and Slackware included it. Finally, it made its way into staging and, 
unfortunately, still doesn't have official kernel support. If a nonprofit 
could raise money even for one paid developer, that would help immensely. 
Even FreeBSD includes Orca because it's part of Gnome and officially supported.

> I also think that custom distributions is just part of the Linux ecosystem.
> How many custom distributions are there out there to satisfy every niche? I
> don't think this should be any different for the blind Linux user.

There are about 300 as I recall. I doubt if you've heard of 250 of them. 
Again, in principle, I agree. If I want to make a talking rescue CD or 
someone else wants their pet distro, sure, go for it! If I implied that I'm 
opposed to the freedom to do what you want, I apologize. I'm opposed to 
blind-centric distros mostly due to the lack of resources and community 
support. I wrote to a Sonar developer about having very low volume. He said 
he didn't know how to fix it and that's as far as it went. However, for 
those who want Linux From Scratch or whatever pet distro they like, have 
fun! Just remember you're mostly on your own. I find it interesting that 
more devices for the blind are built on Linux or Android.

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