Thursday May 29, 2008

Announcement at LinuxTag on OpenOffice.org 3.0 Beta

Earlier today, at the LinuxTag conference in Berlin, Sun issued the press release titled: "OpenOffice.org 3.0 Beta and Extensions Show Strong Momentum; Office Productivity Suite Delivers Document Accessibility for Mac Users with Disabilities" (emphasis is mine). The release immediately goes on to state: "Advanced Integration of OpenOffice.org with Apple VoiceOver, ODF Editing is Now Accessible on All Key Desktop Platforms".

I am incredibly proud of the OpenOffice.org community for their great work on accessibility overall, and especially for their work realizing accessibility on Macintosh with this release. With this beta (and the subsequent final release later this year), Macintosh users will finally have an accessible office suite - blind users of VoiceOver are able to read and write office documents (including Microsoft .doc files, since OpenOffice.org supports reading/writing those as well as the native OpenDocument Format).

As is stated in the press release:

OpenOffice.org 3.0 Beta is receiving very positive feedback from the community for its strong accessibility support on Mac OS X. OpenOffice.org is the first application that is multi-platform accessible, exposing a rich set of information to assistive technologies on Windows, Solaris, GNU/Linux and with this upcoming release, Mac OS X (Intel-based Macs only). OpenOffice.org 3.0 will be the first version to run on Mac OS X that will have the look and feel of an Aqua application while supporting the Mac OS X accessibility APIs, and integrating well with the built-in Macintosh VoiceOver screen reader - offering better accessibility support than many other applications available for Mac OS X.

For nearly a decade Sun has argued that the right way to realize technology accessibility is to divide the task into three parts: (1) the tasks of the platform or OS (to define an accessibility framework); (2) the tasks of the application (to expose its contents and information via that accessibility framework); and (3) the tasks of assistive technologies (to utilize the information provided by applications via the platform accessibility framework in order to make things accessible). As the Macintosh platform has had a rich and powerful accessibility framework in OS X for some time now, and assistive technologies utilizing it like VoiceOver since at least OS X v10.3, that means that 2/3rds of parts are taken care of and it now the remaining task of applications to leverage the accessibility framework for AT compatibility. And that is precisely what the OpenOffice.org Mac team has done - making OpenOffice.org the first and to my knowledge only office suite (and one of the very few large third party Macintosh applications) to be accessible through VoiceOver.

The press release (and this blog posting) close with a quote from Curtis Chong:

"We are very pleased with this latest demonstration of leadership by Sun, Apple, and the OpenDocument community to further the cause of accessibility to the Open Document format by the blind and other people with disabilities," said Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science. "This move - to make OpenOffice.org accessible on the Mac - is an important step for people who want access to the OpenDocument format and the OpenOffice.org software, and it is reassuring to know that as OpenOffice.org moves into the Mac arena, it will be usable by everyone. We sincerely hope that similar efforts are underway to ensure access to OpenOffice.org on all platforms where it is available."

Wednesday May 07, 2008

OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta - with support for Mac, VoiceOver & Mac accessibility

The OpenOffice.org community has just announced the availability OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta. This release contains an impressive set of features, including native support for Macintosh, and support for most of the portions of the upcoming ODF v1.2 specification.

For me, one of the most noteworthy aspects of this beta release is direct support for the Macintosh accessibility framework and specifically interoperability with the VoiceOver screen reader. With OpenOffice.org 3.0, blind users on the Macintosh will finally have access to an office suite - enabling them to read and write office documents and spreadsheets and... In fact, because OpenOffice.org supports reading and writing .doc and .xls and .ppt files, this will allow blind users of the Macintosh to work with colleagues on Macintosh and Windows who might be using Microsoft Office. Of course it also means that ISO 26300:2006 format ODF documents are now accessible to the blind on Macintosh.

Earlier this year Sun demonstrated VoiceOver working with a development build of OpenOffice.org for Macintosh at the CSUN Conference on Technology and People with disabilities. We also had a chance to meet with a number of Macintosh AT vendors at the conference, and saw good results with their AT tools and the OpenOffice.org development build.

Download your copy of OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta today! Download the Macintosh version of OOo 3.0 beta here. Please be sure to report any problems found with the beta at the OpenOffice.org QA site. You may also want to check out the set of test cases to use as a reference for accessibility interoperability.

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Peter Korn

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