Sun demos accessibility for open-source systems

Sun Microsystems demonstrated what it calls the third generation of desktop computer accessibility technology, which it hopes to start shipping for the Linux operating system next year.

Peter Korn, Sun's chief accessibility architect, demonstrated a bundle of accessible software collectively called Java Desktop System. It consists of Linux or Solaris x86, version 2.4 of the Gnome graphical interface system'-which incorporates Sun's accessibility architecture'and a suite of applications all programmed to interact with the accessibility features in Gnome. Applications include the StarOffice productivity suite, the Mozilla Web browser and Sun's Evolution, a calendar and e-mail application.

Korn said of the accessibility features, 'This is incredibly liberating.' Korn was a keynote speaker at the annual Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase, or IDEAS, conference in Washington.

He predicted that by building, or buying applications built to, open-source APIs, government agencies would more easily be able to keep up with Section 508 accessibility mandates with less risk of breaking applications when one element of a system changes.

One innovation is how on-screen keyboard buttons can include drop-down menu items specific to a given application or function. This lets mobility-impaired users complete tasks much more quickly than do the on-screen keyboards available under Microsoft Windows.

Korn demonstrated the Linux version of Java Desktop System on a PC, but the software was a Sun internal build, not even the beta version. He said when the software eventually ships, it will come installed on Solaris x86 machines, but will be offered separately on disks when combined with Linux.

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