Fosdem O'Reilly
2004 Edition Free and Open Source Software Developer's European Meeting


2004-01-12 - Roger Butenuth


An interview conducted by Alain Buret
FOSDEM - First and traditional question : Please present yourself ...

Roger Butenuth - I have studied Informatik (Computer Science) in Karlsruhe, Germany. During that time my interest for operating systems started, but this was prior to the Linux boom, so I had to invent my own microkernel for the Atari ST. It was my diploma thesis and great fun.

After some work at the University in Karlsruhe I changed to the University of Paderborn and worked on operating systems for parallel computers. Part of that work was the port of two different SCI (scalable coherent interface) drivers to Linux. I finished my Dr. (Phd.) in Paderborn and since Oct. 1999 I am working for sd&m, a German software company.

FOSDEM - How and when did you start beeing involved in BRASS ?

Roger Butenuth - The BRASS project started in 1998/1999: My former girlfriend (now my wife) wanted to use the internet, which was not possible with MS-DOS. Searching the internet I found a program for braille output: brltty. Other solutions (Emacsspeak, Speakup) for speech did exist, but there was no program with speech and braille support. My first attempt was to add speech support for brass, but the code looked too confusing to me, so the first step was a complete refactoring of the brltty kernel. Currently only the low level part of the braille interface code is still the same as in brltty.

FOSDEM - Does BRASS interact with other accessibility project like brltty or something else ?

Roger Butenuth - As stated above, BRASS is based on the brltty code and therefore under the GPL. The braille program from SuSE contains some of the speech code from BRASS, but most of SuSEs sbl code is still brltty code. My hope is that we are able to unify the interface to the low level braille code, so all programs can share these parts. It should not be difficult, but I have not much time to work on this.

FOSDEM - What feature is still missing in BRASS ? What do you think that is still missing in the accessibility software in general ?

Roger Butenuth - The documentation is more or less missing and there could be more support for speech only operation without a braille terminal. Some functions are unreacheable from the usual keyboard, you need a braille terminal to access them.

FOSDEM - Do you think the accessibility projects should join their force in a bigger one, rather than beeing separated ?

Roger Butenuth - There are two classes of accessibility projects: Small ones like brltty and BRASS, which support the Linux console. These can be handled by a small group of developers (1-3). I don't know how much coding has to be done to make KDE, Gnome, or any other X-Toolkit accessible, but is much more. In contrast to Microsoft Windows you are not ready when you have accesibility in KDE: There are still other toolkits like Gnome, Motif, etc. A common toolkit would help a lot in this area.

FOSDEM - Introduce in few words what you're going to talk about during your presentation ...

Roger Butenuth - I will repeat some of the history of BRASS already told in this interview, but the main part will be on the architecture of the software and how it is used by blind people. Another interersting part is the software speech based on mbrola and other programs. This should be reusable in other accessibility projects or any software which needs speech output.

FOSDEM - What are you expecting from your talk at FOSDEM and from the interactions with other developers present at the event ?

Roger Butenuth - I hope some other developers - working on accessibility projects or other projects - learn how you can use Linux without a monitor. Personally I am interested how long it will be until programs like OpenOffice or Mozilla are usable by blind people. Unfortunately my time is limited, so I can not contribute much to that solution. May be somebody wants to help the BRASS projects and writes some documention.


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