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15.2 Using UNIX With Speech Output — 1994

As a graduate student at Cornell, I accessed my Unix workstation (SunOS) from an Intel 486 PC running IBM Screen-Reader. There was no means of directly using a UNIX box at the time; after graduating, I continued doing the same for about six months at Digital Research in Cambridge — the only difference being that my desktop workstation was now a DEC-Alpha. Throughout this time, Emacs was my environment of choice for everything from software development and Internet access to writing documents.

In fall of 1994, I wanted to start using a laptop running Linux; a colleague (Dave Wecker) was retiring his 386mhz laptop that already had Linux on it and I decided to inherit it. But there was only one problem — until then I had always accessed a UNIX machine from a secondary PC running a screen-reader — something that would clearly make no sense with a laptop!

Another colleague, Win Treese, had pointed out the interesting possibilities presented by package advice in Emacs 19.23 — a few weeks earlier, he had sent around a small snippet of code that magically modified Emacs’ version-control primitive to first create an RCS directory if none existed before adding a file to version control. When I speculated about using the Linux laptop, Dave remarked — you live in Emacs anyway — why dont you just make it talk!

Connecting the dots, I decided to write myself a tool that augmented Emacs’ default behavior to speak — within about 4 hours, version 0.01 of Emacspeak was up and running.


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