Sonar GNU/Linux merges with Vinux

Tony Baechler tony at
Thu Mar 16 12:53:53 UTC 2017

Be warned that my comments are most likely unpopular and controversial. See 
below. I'm not really interested in discussing this further, so don't expect 
a response.

On 3/15/2017 3:30 AM, Kyle wrote:
> Sonar merges with the Vinux Project.

Well, this is indeed unfortunate. First, it was never said what "common 
goals" were discussed. Granted I don't closely follow either project, but 
I'm disappointed and surprised to see Vinux heading towards a Fedora base. 
Red Hat has stated many, even numerous times, both in their inaction and in 
published docs on their sites, that they have no or very little interest in 
core accessibility. Yes, I realize this list is hosted by Red Hat, but 
honestly, anyone can host a mailing list nowadays, so to me, that doesn't 
count. Look at, Yahoo Groups, etc. Unlike Debian, Ubuntu and 
Slackware, to the best of my knowledge, Fedora has never made their 
installer accessible out of the box. I understand that now their installer 
talks with Orca, but I think that's more by accident than anything. Fedora 
does claim to have accessibility with the Gnome desktop though, but I don't 
think one can easily use Speakup and a text console to do the install. I 
could very well be wrong on this as I quit following Fedora years ago for 
the above reasons. There were projects like Speakup Modified (now dead I 
think), but they were community projects with no support from Fedora 
developers. Presumably, since Sonar is being folded in, they will use a 
distro other than Fedora. In the long term, I think Fedora would be a very 
bad idea for many reasons which I won't go into here.

I think it's a great idea for there to be an a11y, or even 
blindness-specific nonprofit to be formed. I would even say it's very long 
overdue. If Apache, Mozilla, the Linux kernel and many others can do it, 
there is no reason why the blind community can't. I would even suggest 
moving this and other Linux lists to that organization. Yes, I realize that 
nonprofit and not-for-profit are different. I would push to make it a U.S 
based nonprofit. Start a Kickstarter or other fundraising compaign. I would 
donate to it. As much as Facebook doesn't support accessibility and 
generally is against the open source spirit, a page on there, Twitter, 
Tumblr, etc would be a very good idea. There needs to be a strong publicity 
team to write articles for both the blindness magazines (ACB Braille Forum, 
etc) and the mainstream Linux magazines like LWN. Amazingly, there has been 
almost no mention of Speakup in the mainstream Linux community at all. I 
think a fair number of companies and developers don't take us seriously 
because they don't know we exist and that blind people not only can and do 
use computers but in fact can and do use Linux on a regular basis. I just 
got an email from someone asking if I'm blind, how do I read and write? 
There is still a huge amount of ignorance out there. I realize this isn't 
strictly a Linux accessibility issue, but what leads to the next great 
breakthrough might be started by a developer seeing that blind people want 
an accessible desktop like everyone else. With an actual organization, KDE 
could be pushed for accessibility and developers from the organization could 
help. In other words, not only does it need to be a nonprofit a11y 
organization who works with other developers and develops software, but it 
also needs to be an advocacy and lobbyist group to demand big and small 
companies make their software accessible.

However, I see a huge flaw in the merger. I think we're going down the same 
path as Windows screen readers. I'm not saying that Vinux would go 
commercial. What I'm saying is I fear they would end up like a big company 
who shall remain nameless. There are other screen readers out there such as 
NVDA, but very few people take them seriously because this big company has 
almost a monopoly. Granted, Linux is still far from having a huge share of 
the market, but if it should reach the 90% or even 50% point some day, it 
would be very unfortunate for rehab agencies and employers to force people 
to use Vinux because that's the only specialized distro for the blind. What 
would be much better is to work with the mainstream distros like Debian and 
Ubuntu to fix accessibility problems. Ubuntu is the most popular distro on 
the desktop. While accessibility is good, it has problems. When 16.04 came 
out, Orca was broken. I believe there are only a small number (no more than 
a few) people on the accessibility team. Debian could also desperately use 
help. It would look much better for the blind community if an organization 
donated their time and talents to auditing the packages in Debian and either 
fixing those with accessibility bugs which could easily be fixed or working 
with the upstream developers, providing patches and consulting with them to 
make their packages more accessible. To me, it seems like a huge waste of 
time to put a ton of energy into beating Fedora, Ubuntu or whatever distro 
into submission and slapping a "Vinux" or "Sonar" label on it when that same 
upstream distro with very few tweaks could be made that way out of the box. 
If you absolutely must modify packages, desktop settings, etc from the 
upstream defaults, such as for low vision users, create a Vinux repository 
instead or work with the Ubuntu community to create an official Ubuntu 
flavor called Ubuntu VI or something. There is already a Ubuntu MATE flavor, 
so why not work with them directly? While we're at it, what about Orca? I 
see only one main paid developer working on it. I'm sure she could use some 
help, not to mention thorough testing. Getting back to the Windows screen 
readers, I fear that blind people will not be given the choice of what 
distro they want and will be locked out of mainstream use because there is 
primarily one Vinux to rule them all.

In conclusion, I will continue not recommending any specialized distro to my 
clients and other people. I think they are almost always a mistake. As we 
have seen yet again, it does lead to fragmentation and generally bad luck 
for all concerned. I couldn't get any of them (Sonar, Vinux or Talking Arch) 
to work reliably on my 2009 machine which runs XP great and has a very old, 
well-supported standard sound card. I had to invent my own live / rescue CD 
because there wasn't anything reliable. Hopefully the official Debian rescue 
CD will have reliable speech soon. Something like a Vinux rescue CD would be 
a great idea, but not a live system with an unreliable graphical desktop, 
horrible speech (ESpeak) and an unreliable infrastructure which crashes for 
no obvious reason while the mainstream Debian and Ubuntu distros don't. All 
of that said, I wish both teams the best of luck and I guess we'll see what 
happens. I would only add that if you haven't taken the plunge and actually 
tried Linux, give Ubuntu MATE a try. It's fast, works well and can be 
installed independently by the blind in about an hour. It does, 
unfortunately, still use ESpeak. Getting a commercial company to release a 
decent synth as open source would be a great thing for a nonprofit to do, 
even if it required buying the rights.

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