A speaking version of Linux, designed to give the visually
impaired an experience of open source computing, has been
The talking distribution, called Zipspeak, is developed from
version 7.0 of Zipslack, which is a simplified version of Slackware
Linux. Zipspeak is able to talk to its user using a
text-to-speech application called Speakup, developed specifically
to work on Linux.
The operating system is relatively small, but might not be a
favourite choice for experienced Linux users because it is
designed, for ease of installation, to install on top of Windows.
It does, however, offer the visually impaired a Linux system that
Phil Jenkins, communications officer of the Royal National
Institute for the Blind, gave the idea of a speaking version of
Windows a cautious welcome, but said that Linux is not yet popular
enough for such technology to make its mark.
"For anything that isn't popular there is no incentive for
adoption," he said, adding that in general blind people have to use
very expensive specialist technology.
Patrick Volkerding, who founded Slackware, said the speaking
product was developed by a Slackware user who downloaded ZipSlack,
added Speakup to it, and is now offering the modified version of
"As long as they follow the rules of open source and include all
the relevant source code for the system online, we're happy to see
them do this since it's not a market niche we try to serve," said
He welcomed the use of technology that allows the visually
impaired to use a command line interface because "you get nowhere
near that sort of control in Windows".
The new operating system has already gained much attention on a
newsgroup for blind Linux enthusiasts, called Blinux, where voice
support for Linux without a hardware solution, such as DECtalk, is
described as "somewhat shaky".
Hans Zoebelein, who maintains the Blinux mailing list, said
Linux has many advantages to Windows, including the fact that the
client server model of the operating system makes it easy to adapt
"Linux can be run in 'non-graphical mode', whereas Windows is
locked with graphics," he said. "Linux is affordable. Windows and
its blind support software is not."
According to the newsgroup, the main advantages of Linux for the
visually impaired is that the whole operating system can be
maintained from the command line. This is a big bonus for people
using an ASCII screen reader or a Braille display. Posters to the
group have also praised the patience of Linux developers with blind
However, the market share of Linux is not as big as that of
other operating systems and many applications are not available
under the operating system.
Some of the products that appear on this site are from companies from which QuinStreet receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site including, for example, the order in which they appear. QuinStreet does not include all companies or all types of products available in the marketplace.