It's easy to see that Vortex is frustrating to read

Pros and cons:
+        Very large text display
+        Works with most word processors
–        Unusual text delivery method

Real-life requirements:
Win95 or NT

Tenax Software Engineering bills Vortex IV as the greatest advance in reading since the
stone tablet. But I suspect even Cro-Magnons would go back to their cave drawings after a
few minutes with this flashy but frustrating program.

Users with vision troubles will indeed see single words better, although some might be
maddened by the one-word-at-a-time display. The program appears best suited for those who
prefer to read quietly by themselves rather than listen to an artificial-voice package.

In my informal tests with a relatively diverse group of people, more than half of them
hated the Vortex presentation style. Others saw some benefits.

To read with Vortex IV, you first load a text file. Vortex translates most word
processing files such as those of Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect.

Loading the file into the program is a simple matter of pointing and clicking the
correct window. Then you select the reading speed.

What happens next is what separates the lovers of Vortex from the haters.

The program displays the selected document, one word at a time, over two-thirds of the
screen. A bar beneath lets users control speed. Users with vision problems can minimize
the speed bar and see each word at full-screen size.

In practice, I found most words can display at about 100-point font size in full-screen
mode, or slightly smaller with the speed selector still showing at the lower half of the
screen. At larger point sizes, multisyllable words flow illegibly off the screen.

The Vortex IV documentation says average reading speed is about 230 words per minute,
though I did just fine with the speed set close to 1,000 wpm.

You can go as high as 2,000 wpm, which resembles an MTV ad instead of a serious reading

One good manageability feature is the mouse button interface. To pause the word
display, simply click. This is most useful at high speed, when looking away for a few
seconds means missing whole sentences.

But you cannot scroll backward. What happens if you sneeze before putting the program
in pause mode? The only way to go back is to restart the reader at the beginning of the

You could display the whole document on screen, but that defeats the purpose.

If sight-impaired users can’t read the document normally in WordPerfect, they
won’t be able to read it that way in Vortex, either.

A friend who is legally blind gave me mixed reactions to the program. The text was
indeed easier to see, but giving up control of the way it was presented was frustrating.

My friend suggested that Tenax Software should change the program to scroll through
documents with the arrow keys, or add an option to display text only when a key is held
down, making a sort of deadman’s trigger.

Users can choose their fonts, text colors and one of six background colors. I read most
easily with a black background, and I can’t imagine anyone selecting the bright-red

Vortex should let you display phrases instead of just one word at a time. It would be
far less difficult to comprehend the meaning if three or four or five words scrolled by at
once. Good communicators know that what comes immediately before and after a word is
important to understand the context. 

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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