Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A New Version Of The Thunder software

Oh dear!!! I am not very good at this blogging business. Margaret and I work hard every day but, well, I am sorry that it has been so long. Sorry I can’t do all I should do and thank you to the many who respond with your comments and thoughts.

Good news, however. We now have a new version of Thunder, V2, up and ready for everyone at It is really good and I hope we get lots of feedback from you. So what is new?

Obviously, Thunder has been brought up to date and now works well with Windows 7, both 32 and 64 bit versions. Don’t be put off by wise guys telling you that Windows 7 and Office 7 are not good for blind users. Microsoft have made great efforts to improve the accessibility and it is just a case of learning a few new keystrokes and tricks of the trade.

Until now, we have relied on the WebbIE text browser for the Thunder internet experience. That is great and we have no plans to stop using WebbIE and Alasdair amazes us by constantly updating and improving his software. He is a mighty supporter of blind computer users. But now, for the first time, Thunder users can start to enjoy Internet Explorer mainstream and Sensory Software Ltd have been pretty ingenious with their keystrokes. What I mean is that you can achieve a great deal with very few and easy keystrokes. As an example; you can keep pressing the PGDN key and hear much of what is available on websites. Pressing the END key takes you through any form filling you encounter. The function keys are used to deal with other matters: F4 gives you that fantastic easy Web search facility and F2 then F3 permits you to search for a word within the webpage you are on. F7 hops between headers and F10 brings up the list of links. All very easy and works whatever the language. There are plans to develop all this so that we are well ready for when IE9 comes along. But if you find that WebbIE suits your purpose, just stick with it.

Thunder is more stable than ever and the memory stick version is now as responsive as if the software were installed on the machine you are using. It is absolutely amazing that, for the price of a memory stick, around £6 in the UK, and maybe with a bit of help from a mate, you can use your Thunder on other machines, in the library, internet cafe or at your friend’s home, without installing anything at all on the host computer. Compare this with the price of commercial alternatives and, if money becomes short, well, , why spend? Keep your money for training or something else.

We have been busy in other ways too. Since before Christmas, we have been organising fifty web learning days around England for combined audiences of blind and seeing people. At each learning day, we have aimed to recruit a Thunder Champion to spread the word locally and encourage other blind people to get connected. We are pleased that all this has given work to three blind certificated IT trainers at a time when work is hard to come by as the larger blindness organisations take the cream. And we have landed a second European Commission contract to put Thunder into more languages: Greek, Turkish, Polish, Bulgarian and Spanish. In all these countries, many blind people are poor and will never be able to spend out on commercial products. We remain passionate that by right access to computers should be there for all blind people. It is taking a little while but we are not put off by lack of support from organisations with money and we continue to get great feedback from Thunder users round the world.

When we started Thunder in 2006, we were the only “nuts” to be doing something for free which others were charging an arm and a leg for. But now we are not alone. NVDA comes out of Australia and is a great product too and the Mighty innovating Apple Corporation integrates its Voiceover talking and magnifying software into all of its products, from the cheapest iPod to the most expensive 27 inch screen desktop as well as the iphone. And we already know that the iPad, shortly to be released, will also be accessible to us out of the box. We have never had so much choice or accessibility.
So thank you to everyone who supports what we do and keep the feedback and responses coming in