Great article about System Access to Go has been posted to BBC's Access 2.0 blog.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Sunday, June 24, 2007
This year we are excited to be a part of the American Council of the Blind's national convention being held right here in our home city of Minneapolis, Mn. Visit us at booth 9 to check out Serotek's latest products including Braille support for System Access, System Access To Go, System Access Mobile, Remote Incident Manager and Remote Access Manager. Meet Mike Calvo, Matt Campbell, and the rest of the Serotek team. At the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 30 to July 7, 2007. The exhibit hall will be open Saturday through Thursday; so make sure you come on by!
Our CEO Mike Calvo has accepted a speaking invitation for the 2007 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science. Mike will speak about Remote Access Manager ( RAM ) for network administration, training and technical support within the enterprise, and Remote Incident Manager (RIM), for field technical support. Read the press release for additional information. The National Federation of the Blind's convention will be held in Atlanta , Georgia at the Marriott Marquis Hotel from June 30 to July 6 and Mr. Calvo will address blind and visually impaired computer technicians on July 2, 2007 . Those wanting to meet with Mike can contact the Serotek suite at the Marriott or by contacting Serotek's main office at (612) 341-3030.
Whichever convention you visit, we are sure that Serotek is going to demonstrate that you, too, can have Accessibility Anywhere.
Friday, June 22, 2007
This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.
Windows Live Messenger
The command to read the status bar in the conversation window works again.
The typing sound is back.
When you start a new conversation, System Access will speak your first message, as it should.
When you press the accent grave key immediately after opening a waiting conversation window, System Access will read all of the messages sent thus far. Please let us know if this behavior should be changed.
The command to read recent activity in the conversation window is now associated with the accent grave key regardless of keyboard layout. By mistake, it was formerly associated with the apostrophe in the U.K. English keyboard layout; it was probably associated with other keys in other non-U.S. layouts.
Internet Explorer and Outlook Express
System Access now behaves correctly when you try to move to the previous word but you're already at the start of the page or message.
Eliminated unwanted mid-sentence pauses in plain-text email messages.
When you cross a page boundary while moving through a document with the up and down arrow keys, System Access will now speak the new page number after the contents of the line and a short pause, unless you've disabled optional messages.
System Access now provides appropriate feedback when you select a whole column with Control+Space, a whole row with Shift+Space, or the whole sheet with Control+A.
Removed the "Optional Messages" and "Read Tool Tips" settings from the System Access preferences dialog in the FreedomBox browser. These settings are now only available from the System Access Menu.
System Access now downloads your settings on startup and uploads them on shutdown even if FreedomBox is running when System Access starts.
When you change settings on the System Access menu, System Access uploads your new settings in the background, to make sure they will be available wherever you run System Access next.
Removed the U.K. English version of DECtalk from the list of available synthesizers in System Access to Go, since we don't include that synthesizer in SA to Go.
Replaced the sound that System Access plays when a tool tip appears.
In System Access to Go, if a firewall prompts you to allow System Access to connect to the Internet after you've logged in, System Access will speak in that dialog, unless you entered "trial" or "demo".
Fixed a keypress handling bug which sometimes caused the Enter or Space key to be "sticky" in the thank-you dialog after sending logs or SA to Go feedback. This bug may have also affected other applications.
System Access now correctly reads the fraction "three fourths" when it's represented as a single character, such as in Word.
When reading the window title with Modifier+T, System Access now indicates after a short pause whether the window is minimized, maximized, or at normal size.
The state of the check boxes in the list view of the Volume Control properties dialog is now read.
When using the FreedomBox Network in System Access to Go, the browser now asks if you're sure you want to leave the FreedomBox Network when you press Escape or Alt+F4.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.
Fixed a compatibility problem with McAfee VirusScan 8.0 which caused Internet Explorer and Word to crash.
- Fixed another compatibility problem with McAfee VirusScan which prevented System Access to Go from speaking in Outlook.
Fixed a bug which prevented reading of some PDF documents.
Eliminated an error that some users encountered immediately after pressing Alt+R the second time in System Access to Go.
Fixed a bug in the SAPI 4 implementation which caused the speaking rate to revert to the synthesizer's default after some interruptions. If you had this problem before, please test this new version with your preferred SAPI 4 synthesizer and let us know if the problem is fixed.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The Serotek Team wants to thank you for your support of SAToGo. We have had an overwhelming response to our beta release of SAToGo and we are methodically reviewing each and every comment. If you haven't heard from us yet, you will. Many of your comments have already been turned into fixes and the software is getting better in real time. Keep those comments coming. We are grateful for your support and help bringing about a revolution in universal accessibility.
The Serotek Team
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
System Access to Go represents a major step forward, not just in accessibility software, but in the fundamental way software is delivered. It is feature-rich, easy to use, and amazingly inexpensive. But it is in no way the end-all and be-all of what accessibility software can be. Nor was it created from whole cloth. It rests on the shoulders of accessibility giants like Ted Henter, Doug Geoffray and Dan Weirich, Jim Fruchterman, and others who broke down the barriers to the digital world and created a structure and process by which those without sight can use the computer and Internet with nearly the same ease as those with sight.
Serotek gladly acknowledges its debt to those who went before. Without them there would be no adaptive technology industry. They gave us standards and a framework that makes innovation possible. At the same time, we must point out that we are standing on their shoulders, which means we are reaching higher and accomplishing new accessibility goals that are beyond the capability of traditional tools. We can do that, in part, because we joined the party after lots of the hard work was already accomplished. We didn't have to invent what was already there; nor did we have to carry the burden of legacy software, accommodating users with older versions and a huge investment in training. We entered the frey lighter, with fewer restrictions and the benefits of 20/20 hindsight. We have used this advantage to create an even greater accessibility advantage for our customers.
If you follow the history of technical innovation you will note that it is almost always the late comer who breaks the mold and disrupts the technology pattern to the benefit of technology consumers. It was not IBM that created the personal computer; it was companies like Commodore and Apple, among others. It was not AT&T that gave us the cell phone. The fact is, the dominant player in any technology has a very difficult time innovating the next generation. Their investment in the entrenched technology -- their bread and butter -- is great, and they cannot afford to innovate at the expense of their cash cow. As one industry veteran noted, "A cash cow can be a damned heavy monkey on your back." Only new players with nothing to lose can take the risks of doing things in an entirely new way.
This is as true in the adaptive technology field as it is in mainstream technology. However, the unfortunate truth is that the dollars are a lot less in adaptive technology, so innovation is far more difficult to justify. There are no big venture players throwing billions at adaptive technologies. It's a game that has to be played for the love of rattling the cage and changing the mix. It is a matter of commitment to community and caring that each and every one of us has the same opportunity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The challenges thrown at disruptive technologies are remarkably similar: people say that it doesn't do everything the traditional technology did, it's based on a mistake and when the mistake is corrected it won't work, it promises more than it delivers, and so on. Often the challenges are thrown by people who haven't taken the time to even use the new technology or by those who lack the vision to see how something might be done in a new way and thus open up vistas that have never been possible.
Let's look at System Access to Go versus these challenges.
First, SA to Go is simply a new delivery approach for System Access. Whether or not all System Access features work perfectly in the beta release, you can be sure that when the full product is presented to the marketplace it will be as robust as System Access. It has to be; it's the same software.
But it is also true that System Access doesn't deliver every feature and benefit that the traditional screen readers deliver. It really doesn't need to. What it does deliver are the features and benefits used most by most people most of the time. Screen readers are no different than any other technology. The vast majority of features go unused by most users. It's a comfort, to be sure, to know the features are there, but without a specific need, there is no incentive to invest the training time and dollars to become adept at something that will never be used in day to day life. System Access is an accessibility tool for the way we live, work, study, and communicate. And from the current, highly functional base, over time, other features will be added as demand dictates. (That, by the way, is precisely how the traditional screen readers evolved.) And, because System Access can do many things traditional screen readers cannot do, we expect that whole new applications that we have yet to imagine will emerge simply because they can. Think of it like the transition from rotary dialing to touch-tone dialing. Originally SA to Go technology may be just a replacement. Eventually it will spawn its own definition of what accessibility means.
During System Access development, Serotek worked closely with Microsoft, and Microsoft was fully aware of the techniques System Access uses to effectively access the Windows operating system. Not only did Microsoft not object; they have actively encouraged us and helped us to market our approach to accessibility.
Will Microsoft change its approach in the future and close some of our access methods? It's always possible. We certainly aren't so arrogant that we expect we can dictate what Microsoft chooses to do. On the other hand, there is no particular reason for them to close this path, so we do not expect it to happen precipitously. After all, some of the access methods we used in System Access have been around since Windows 3.1 and are still used even by Microsoft. Anyone that opines that Microsoft will change things about its operating system, unless they are reading documents that we aren't, is just stating an opinion. As a Microsoft partner we are just as in touch and privy to the same information as any other accessibility technology vendor.
The one thing that the industry can be confident of is that Serotek will stay right on top of the emerging mainstream technologies from Microsoft and others, and we will always be looking for ways to apply the latest mainstream features to make accessibility more natural.
If there is any criticism that really seems unjust it is the accusation that Serotek promises more than it delivers. We believe our company is unique, not only in the adaptive technology field, but in the entire software industry, for refusing to sell "vaporware." We go out of our way to make sure that every promise made is fulfilled.
That doesn't mean that we haven't had a bug or two from time to time. We have as good a track record as anyone, but not a perfect track record in that regard. But we have always fixed the bugs and brought the performance up to snuff at no additional cost to the user in very short order. In fact we'll put Serotek's release history against anyone in the adaptive technology industry and are confident that we have been faster, cleaner, and more functional, and have more consistently met expectations than anyone. One of the reasons we do public beta releases is to exercise the software fully before the first official release. It's the best test methodology we know.
Our biggest disappointment, though, is how slow our community has been to understand the implications of SA to Go. Hello? People, we are standing on the very edge of universal accessibility. We are delivering, in this beta release, software that can be accessed from anywhere and which immediately turns an ordinary Windows XP or above computer into a fully accessible device. It doesn't hack into any touchy parts of the computer creating a security risk. It simply works as long as it is needed and is then discarded like a used tissue, leaving no residue on the host machine. It's disposable accessibility. It's accessibility anywhere. Yet somehow several members of the community are more concerned about esoteric features, used by a tiny fraction of the public, than they are about the fact that with SA to Go, there need be no inaccessible computers. The shackles that have bound us to one machine, in one place, or put us at the mercy of businesses and government agencies to think that "accessibility" might be nice to offer, are gone. We don't need to fight for our right to accessibility in court. It's simply there.
The giants gave us a platform. Serotek has used that platform to leap forward into a world where accessibility is taken for granted. We are inviting everyone to come along and hoping that among them is the innovator who will stand on our shoulders for the next great leap.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christiansen recently wrote an article for Technology Review outlining the Rules for Innovation. Mr. Christiansen contends that bringing innovation to market is far less of a crap-shoot than venture capitalists pretend. In fact, he outlines a handful of conditions which almost guarantee success. His rules are:
- Take root in disruption
- Have the necessary scope to succeed
- Leverage the right capabilities
- And disrupt competitors, not customers.
We looked at Serotek’s products in the light of Mr. Christiansen’s rules and by any measure we are on track for success.
I would like to give you a brief tour of Serotek’s products and compare them to the factors Mr. Christiansen has identified in his research as absolute characteristics of innovation success.
Taking Root in Disruption
What does this mean? The premise is relatively simple. Companies that are leaders in their markets are almost never the innovators of the next technological revolution. This happens because they are well managed and listen to their customers who always tell them that they want better and less expensive versions of what they are currently selling. Thus these market leaders will continue to produce the best in their specific market niche but they will miss entirely the next technological wave which will sweep in from an unsuspected direction and overwhelm the old way of approaching the problem. Nowhere is this more evident than in computers with their successive waves of mainframes, minis, and personal computers . Each new wave represented a major degradation in functionality, but brought that functionality to a previously unserved or underserved market. Once it had taken hold, each wave gradually overwhelmed the prior markets in a grassroots revolution.
The attributes of disruptive technologies are:
- Low cost
They appeal to a market generally considered too small to be of interest to the mainstream players. The two tests for whether a product is disruptive are:
Does it enable less-skilled, less-wealthy customers to do for themselves things that only the wealthy or skilled intermediaries could previously do?
Does it target customers at the low end who don’t necessarily need all of the functionality of current products?
Clearly Serotek’s products pass these two tests with flying colors. Our user interface and intuitive level of interaction allow people with little or no training and no previous computer experience and with significant physical impairments including blindness and other manual dexterity challenges to access computers. Our target market, the blind and the elderly, are most interested in the Internet fundamentals - e-mail, shopping, chat rooms, entertainment, and information. There is enormous new value to these people by having any access at all. And, generally speaking, our market has been ignored by current vendors as not representing an important economic demographic.
Furthermore, our business model allows us to earn very attractive returns serving our chosen market. We have created an extremely successful business focused only on this low-end, relatively ignored market segment and now, tier by tier we are bringing our innovations to other market segments (such as students and professionals) without losing ease of use.
The Scope to Succeed
Christiansen discusses two technological paths to success: the integrated path where companies sell their proprietary components and products across a wide range of product lines and businesses; and the non-integrated strategy where companies outsource as much as possible, promote industry standards, and use modular, open systems and components. He claims that the integrated strategy is essential where product functionality is not yet good enough and enormous advantage is gained by creating architectures that push the state of the art based on proprietary technology. The open architecture strategy fits the marketplace Serotek’s products find themselves in.
Simplicity, convenience, and speed to market dominate. Powerful technologies have been developed by mainstream companies like U3, Microsoft, and other technologies, including open source, used in our products, that can be adapted easily to our niche market. At the same time, our proprietary backbone architecture, with our patentable core technologies, give us a sustainable advantage over others who might enter this market. In essence, we have the best of three worlds. Our proprietary technologies conform to key industry standards and allow us to integrate leading-edge components and bring a highly functional product to market fast.
Leveraging the Right Capabilities
Christiansen claims that innovations fail when managers attempt to implement them in organizations that are incapable of succeeding. Three factors determine an organization’s innovation limits:
- Resources to succeed
- Processes that facilitate success
- Values that allow employees to give this innovation the attention it needs to succeed
The limits are surprising. Resources are management and money, but oddly enough, proven managers and lots of money are not ingredients to drive innovation. Proven managers tend to go with what has worked before, assuming that new markets will behave in the same fashion as stable markets. But that is rarely the case. New or evolving markets need new thinking. Too much money allows ventures to follow a flawed strategy too long. For example, many over-funded companies during the dot-com bubble valued advertisers above users. Having to scrape by forces the venture to adapt to the desires of actual customers. Looking for customer revenue to fund operations and development forces the venture to uncover viable strategies quickly. Too much money encourages impatience for growth and too much patience for profits. Cash-rich companies tend to take huge gambles before the right strategy can be known. A better, surer path to a solid company is to be patient for growth and impatient for profits.
The Serotek team brings together entrepreneurs and technologists who have a passion for serving this market. The leaders are blind and understand the characteristics of serving this market. They have dealt first-hand with the barriers that vision-impaired people face trying to use computers and the Internet and the huge learning investment required to become skilled in conventional assistive technology.
The company was built using a bootstrap economic model. Every possible administrative function is outsourced and automated. The company carries minimal overhead but can bring the resources together to serve demand. It is completely scalable, able to grow as demand grows, yet has been able to survive through the cash-lean start-up period.
Process can be a barrier. Good processes are essential to established companies serving stable markets. They allow continued improvements in quality and efficiency. But processes are inflexible. Innovation demands flexibility. Thus a start-up company like Serotek has an advantage over behemoth companies with rigid Six Sigma rules because it can shape itself to the needs of its market segments.
Values can be the third barrier. Existing companies have existing value networks with rigid expectations and rewards based on the type of business that has traditionally brought success. Values are even more rigid than processes and thus disruptive innovations have little chance of being given the priority they need to develop and flourish. Serotek’s value system is completely focused on the success of Serotek's products.
Disrupt Competitors, Not Customers
The final success parameter is to help customers do things they want or have been trying to do; don’t make them relearn how to do things they can already do. And don’t bother making it easy for them to do things they weren’t doing or had no interest in doing. This is a very important parameter for us.
There are members of our community who are extremely skilled at using computers and accessing the Internet. They have invested many hours in honing those skills and they may have little interest in Serotek’s products for personal use. In fact, they may resent it because it seems to give others the same rewards for little effort that they earned with great effort. Yet we are making these people advocates by positioning Serotek’s products as a supplement, not a replacement for their current technology. Serotek’s products let them use powerful Internet-based features and entertainment without forcing them to be tied to a single location. At the same time, those who have an intrinsic fear of computers and technology but are interested in the ability to use computers, connect to family and friends through e-mail and Skype, to shop, or enjoy the many entertainment features available online, can have it now, without undergoing the grueling training necessary to master traditional assistive technology. It is an easy path to major improvements in quality of life.
Meanwhile, the manufacturers of traditional assistive technology are going to face some serious challenges in the future. Where they have always made the user adapt to products and services designed primarily for people who didn’t need assistive technology but for government purchasing agencies, we have turned that strategy on its head. Serotek adapts its products to its users; it doesn’t force its users to adapt to anything but new possibilities. The analogy we use is the “electronic curb cut” which simply removes the barrier for all.
Disruptive? Heck yeah! Serotek’s products absolutely turn the tables. With Serotek’s products, people rule, not technology. And so-called disabilities are simply user characteristics that we accommodate.
We read Professor Christiansen’s analysis and pump our fists and shout “Right on!”. We may not have set out to follow these rules, but these rules describe the way we organize and execute our business strategy, out of necessity and passion for our market, rather than driven by any “formula for success.” And we have an abiding faith that this approach will carry through to success - success for our customers who, for the first time, can enjoy the full benefits of accessibility anywhere; success for our investors whom we firmly believe will be richly rewarded for their faith in us; and ultimately success for ourselves as well. We are convinced that we have just scratched the surface. Our disruptive Serotek has a whole lot more disrupting to do, before it too becomes staid and old hat.
Isn’t this fun?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
For Immediate Release
Serotek Makes Web 2.0 Accessible to the Blind
Technology Company Introduces SA To Go
Minneapolis, Minn. - June 13, 2007 - Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of Internet and digital information accessibility software and services, announces the public beta release of a web application called SA To Go (System Access To Go), the first product to make Web 2.0 accessible to the blind and the visually impaired. SA To Go is a web-resident product stemming from Serotek's award-winning System Access software. More than a screen reader, System Access requires no installation and provides complete control of your e-mail, makes web surfing easy, and offers intuitive access to Microsoft Office productivity tools like Word, PowerPoint and Excel. SA To Go makes System Access available on the Web for instant operation and has no permanence on the using computer. Users can now access System Access software anytime, anywhere that Internet access is available.
"We believe SA To Go will revolutionize the way blind people use the computer," said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation, "That's why we felt it critical to leverage the power of Web 2.0 to continue to fulfill our promise of accessibility anywhere."
SA To Go provides instant accessibility. Once online, users can visit www.SAtoGo.com and it appears in seconds. When finished, the user simply closes the program and any personal information vanishes leaving the host computer completely unchanged.
"Microsoft applauds Serotek's innovation with respect to access for all," said Daniel Hubbell, Technical Evangelist, Microsoft Corporation, "SA To Go is a revolution for people who need access to computers away from home."
Because of technologies like Fonix's text-to-speech and its small size, SA To Go loads within seconds giving the blind user the same access on the go as his sighted peers. And since SA To Go is a true web application, accessibility is no longer an expensive option; companies that want to provide public accessibility to customers can do so for a fraction of the cost.
"Serotek's new SA To Go application gives blind and visually impaired users quick, convenient access to PC functions," says Tim K. Hong, VP of Sales, Fonix Speech, Inc. "SA To Go incorporates Fonix text-to-speech, which is optimized to provide clear, intelligible TTS voices without using large amounts of processing power or memory. Fonix speech technology is a good fit for Serotek's System Access Mobile applications."
Serotek is putting the system out for public Beta because they are encouraging user input. The company can imagine hundreds of applications but believes users will direct its true potential.
"We think we've only scratched the surface of the potential of SA To Go," says Calvo, "That's why we're inviting users to take it for a spin and let us know how they think it might be applied."
The company will be surveying users on a regular basis and encouraging users to e-mail their ideas and comments to SAToGo@serotek.com.
To participate in the public beta, users can go to http://www.satogo.com and follow the instructions. Immediate accessibility will lead the user through the registration process. For more information about Serotek and its family of System Access accessibility tools, visit www.serotek.com.
Serotek Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions. Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek launched an online community specifically designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Since then, Serotek has introduced several powerful, affordable solutions that require minimal training, including System Access, for which it was awarded the prestigious da Vinci award for innovation in universal accessibility by the National Multiple Sclerosis Association. For more information, visit www.serotek.com.
Fonix Corporation (OTC BB: FNIX), based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is an innovative speech recognition and text-to-speech technology company that provides value-added speech solutions through its wholly owned subsidiary, Fonix Speech, Inc., currently offering voice solutions for mobile/wireless devices; interactive video games, toys and appliances; computer telephony systems; the assistive market and automotive telematics. Fonix provides developers and manufacturers with cost-effective speech solutions to enhance devices and systems. Visit www.fonix.com for more information, or call (801) 553-6600 and say "Sales."
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential. For more information, visit www.microsoft.com.