Vinux: FAQ

Find out the answers to the most common questions about Vinux!

What is Vinux?

Vinux is a remastered version of the Ubuntu Linux Distribution optimised for visually impaired users. It provides a screen-reader, full-screen magnification and support for Braille displays out of the box! It can be run from a Live CD without making any changes to your hard drive. If you like it you can install it to a USB pendrive or to your hard drive either alongside Windows, or as a complete replacement for it. There is also a virtual version available which can run Vinux as a guest operating system using VMWare Player on Windows.

Why did you call it ‘Vinux’?

Vinux is simply a combination of the abbreviation ‘VI’ and the word ‘Linux’, but in true Unix traditions Osvalso La Rosa has recursively defined it as ‘Vinux Is Not Ubuntu but gnu/linuX’!

Isn’t Linux already accessible?

Yes and No! Many Gnome based Linux distributions provide a full range of accessibility applications by default, however they are not automatically enabled or pre-configured and this can be a significant barrier to users who are new to Linux. Obviously more experienced users who know their way around are able to configure the accessibility options for themselves, although using Vinux might actually save them a great deal of time.

Which is more accessible, Linux or Windows?

This is a tricky one! Proprietary Windows based accessibility software like Jaws, Zoomtext and Supernova currently provide higher quality speech and magnification facilities than is currently available on Linux. However, these are not provided by default and if you take into account the extortionate pricing of these solutions, they are financially inaccessible for many VI users. Therefore Linux is in an important sense more accessible than Windows as the vast majority of VI users around the world cannot afford to buy software that costs three or four times the cost of a computer. Not to mention the fact that, as far as I know there is no speech support available during a Windows install!

What accessibility software does Vinux include?

Vinux provides a screen-reader, full screen magnification and support for Braille displays. The default screen-reader/magnifier is called Orca, although we also provide Speakup, a console based screen-reader and Compiz, a magnifier based on 3D technology. Vinux also provides a wide range of open source software including an internet browser, a file manager, a text editor and various multimedia applications. Vinux is designed to be a completely secure modern desktop system for all the family, visually impaired and sighted alike.

Should I install updates when they are available?

Generally I would not advise you to update packages just because there are updates available, unless you are aware of a specific security vulnerability or require specific features which new versions of a package provides. This will keep your system as stable as possible and unless you are running a server with open ports and/or you are downloading and installing software from untrusted sources you should be very safe.

Do I need to use an anti-virus package?

No, Linux is built in a completely different way from Windows, and each Linux distribution is different so in practise there are no Linux viruses in the wild and therefore you generally don’t have to worry about computer viruses. This doesn’t mean that you won’t download viruses, just that they won’t have any effect on your system. However you can pass them on to Windows users if you exchange files. You can of course still be hacked if you are not protected by a firewall so you should not be complacent, but as the root password is required to make any significant changes to the system you are very well protected. In fact if you only download and install software from the official Ubuntu repositories you are extremely unlikely to download any malware. If you are particularly paranoid you can download and install clamtk which will allow you to detect and isolate any potential viruses or malware. Of course if you are running the Live CD then you are totally secure because as soon as you switch the computer off it goes back to the way it was before you booted Vinux.

What should I do if Orca crashes?

If Orca crashes at anytime you can easily restart it by pressing Ctrl+Alt+O. This will automatically kill off any existing speech processes and restart both Orca and Speech-Dispatcher for you.

What should I do if the computer completely locks up.

Even if the computer locks up completely, the chances are the Linux kernel will still be running in the background. So you can restart or shutdown the computer safely by pressing and holding down Alt+PrintScreen then pressing r,e,i,s,u and then b in that order to reboot the computer, if you want to close it down press ‘o’ instead of ‘b’ as the last character. If this doesn’t work then you will have no choice other than to hold the power button in or press the restart button on the computer. Sorry!

How do I use a Braille display?

USB Braille displays should start automatically when Vinux is booted. Vinux now supports both Grade 1 and 2 Braille. If you have a serial Braille display then you will need to configure Brltty for the specific model you are using.

How do I launch applications?

You can launch applications in one of three ways: You can press Alt+F1 to open the main menu and then navigate the menus and sub-menus using the cursor keys. When you find the application you need press enter to launch it. You can alternatively press Alt+F2, type the name of the application you want to launch then press enter, or you can open a terminal by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T, typing the command you want to run and pressing enter.

How do I download and burn Vinux?

In order to try Vinux you need to download the iso image from the website and burn it to a CDR using an application that supports writing iso images to CD. An iso image cannot just be copied to a CD like an ordinary file. It is a complete image of CD and must be burnt with a suitable tool like Nero, Roxio, DeepBurner on Windows or from the file manager of any modern Linux distribution. Once burnt you place the CD in the drive and reboot your computer. Most computers are set to boot from a CD drive by default. If not you may have to modify the bios or press a key after powering on the computer. If for any reason the CD won’t boot you should check the md5sum of the iso image you downloaded and the CD itself to make sure it wasn’t corrupted during the download or burning process.

How do I boot and/or login to Vinux?

When the Live CD starts to boot you will first be taken to the boot screen which unfortunately isn’t accessible yet. If you wait for a few seconds it will boot automatically into the default Vinux system. Once you have installed Vinux you will hear Orca greet you when the GDM login screen is ready. You should type your username, press enter and then type your password then press enter again.

How do I install Vinux?

There are two different ways to install Vinux. It can be installed to a standard hard drive either as a dual boot system or a stand alone system, or it can be installed and run from a USB pendrive. The ‘Install Vinux’ launcher will allow you to partition your hard drive and install Vinux to it. You should create at least one Ext3/4 partition for the operating system and one Swap partition to provide virtual memory, but you can have a separate Home partition as well if you want to. Installing Vinux to a computer as the only operating system is the easiest to do and involves the least risk. If you attempt a dual boot install and make a mistake you may lose your existing data, operating system and software, so make sure you have a backup of anything important before you try this. If you are not confident that you understand the process thoroughly then don’t attempt this. It is easier and safer to install Vinux to an old computer or second hard drive to begin with, if you like it you can always install it to your main computer later on.

How can I install Vinux to a USB pendrive?

The ‘Startup Disk Creator’ launcher allows you to install Vinux to a USB pendrive. Simply insert the USB pendrive and when the application starts point it to the Vinux iso image or the live CD. Once you have decided how much memory you want to assign to the persistent storage file you can install it to the pendrive. Once installed you can boot from the USB pendrive and save any changes you make or documents you create to the home directory on the pendrive. You may have to press a key or modify the bios settings if your computer doesn’t automatically detect and boot from bootable USB drives.

Where can I get a list of Vinux keybindings from?

You can view a complete list of all the available keybindings in Vinux by pressing Ctrl+Alt+K at any time. This will open a read-only text file which lists all of the keybindings for Orca, Compiz, Speakup, Yasr and Gnome. Please try to remember these keybindings are only available when the relevant application is running i.e. The Gnome keybindings are only functional while running the Gnome Desktop, the Orca keystrokes are only functional while Orca is running and the Speakup keystrokes are only functional while in console mode etc. For example, the Gnome keybindings enable you to open various applications: A terminal with Ctrl+Alt+T, the Home directory with Ctrl+Alt+N and the internet browser with Ctrl+Shift+W. The Orca keybindings enable you to control the accessibility settings, for example: Insert+Up/Down to increase/decrease the voice rate, Insert+Plus/Minus to increase/decrease the magnification and Insert+d/t to get the date/time. The Speakup keystrokes allow you to navigate the virtual terminal and control what is read while in console mode.

How do I activate the magnification?

If Orca is running you can start or stop full screen magnification at any time by pressing Insert+g. You can turn the Orca speech on or off by pressing Insert+s and the colour inversion and cross hairs can be turned on or off by pressing Insert+n and Insert+x respectively. The Orca magnification may be a little jerky on older computers in which case you may find using keystrokes to navigate produces a smoother response than using the mouse. Alternatively you may close Orca and press Ctrl+Alt+3 to enable the Compiz Magnifier, but this will only work if your graphics card supports 3D. Press Ctrl+Alt+2 to turn it off again.

How do I connect to a wireless network?

There are two different ways to connect to a wireless network. The normal way is to navigate to the panel by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Tab, press Tab twice and you should land on the wireless icon. Press enter to open the list of available networks, select the one you want and press enter. You will then be asked for the encryption key if one is required. The other way is to Launch Ceni which is a text based Network Manager. You can use this to manually enter all of the required details and connect to a wireless network. If you are using Speakup in a console session this is really the only option.

How do I use console mode?

To switch to console mode and use Speakup you have to press Ctrl+Alt+F1 from the running Gnome session or the GDM login screen. You can then use Speakup to input commands to the console and read back any output generated. If you are running the Live CD you can start using Speakup straight away, if you do this on an installed system you need to login with your username and password. To switch back to the graphical desktop press Alt+F7 (or Alt+F2-F6 to open more console sessions). Speakup is much faster and more stable than Orca with Speech-Dispatcher but it requires an in-depth knowledge of the Linux command line to be used effectively.

How do I run applications with root permissions?

You can run administration applications from the menus with Orca support on both the Live CD and an installed system. However, once installed you will be asked to enter your password whenever you run an application which requires root permissions. You can also run applications from the terminal by prefixing the command with ‘sudo’.

How do I change the default language and keyboard layout?

The default language on the Live CD and the installed system is English. If you want a different language or keyboard layout then you will need download and install the required language packs after the initial installation. To do this you should open the Keyboard Manager from the Preferences menu and the Language Support Manager from the Administration menu. You will of course need a working internet connection to complete this process.

How do I install new software?

There are three different ways to install new applications on your Vinux system. You can use the terminal, the Add/Remove Programs application or the Synaptic Package Manager. If you know the name of the application you want to install, the terminal is the easiest option. Open a terminal by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T then firstly type ‘sudo apt-get update’ to update the available packages list. In order to install a new application then just type e.g. ‘sudo apt-get install nameofpackage’. To remove an application you just type e.g. ‘sudo apt-get remove nameofpackage’. If you don’t know the name of the application or just want to see what is available you can use one of the other two GUI based applications. The Add/Remove Programs application offers a simple list of the most popular applications sorted by category. The Synaptic Package Manager lists all available applications (25,000+) and has a lot more options etc., but it can be a bit overwhelming for people new to Linux.

Does Vinux contain any non-free software?

This version of Vinux does not by default contain any restricted multimedia codecs or non-free firmware which is illegal to download or distribute in countries in which software patents are enforceable. You can however install these from the Medibuntu repositories if you need them once you have installed the system to hard drive.

Why won’t Vinux play MP3 files or copyrighted DVD’s by default?

Vinux is based on open-source software released under the GPL, approved by bcs business analysis training body and supplying proprietary codecs or drivers would potentially violate software patents in certain countries. You are however free to download and install these codecs and drivers after you have installed Vinux to your hard-drive using the EasyInstall scripts.

Why are some standard Ubuntu applications missing?

In order to fit Vinux on a single CD we have had to remove a large number of programs which are included in a standard Ubuntu installation or Live CD. The most notable of these are Open Office; which provides a full office suite including word processing, spreadsheets, slide-shows, databases and graphics etc., and Evolution; which provides a fully featured e-mail client. These applications and many others can easily be reinstalled once you have installed Vinux to your hard drive using the EasyInstall scripts.

Why is the Live CD slower and less responsive than an installed system?

The Live CD does not perform as well as an installed system and this is primarily due to the fact that the operating system is loaded into the available RAM and then has to load files from the CD when required. Because optical drives are not as fast as hard drives this means that the system will be a lot more responsive and stable once installed to your hard drive.

Why does Vinux have a GUI interface?

This is a complicated issue! It may seem counter-intuitive to provide a graphical interface if the distribution is aimed at visually impaired users. However, there are several advantages to providing a GUI: Firstly, many people who are registered blind are in fact partially sighted and can navigate a GUI with the aid of magnification. Secondly while using a text based interface is easier to navigate it requires users to learn, remember and type complex commands. Thirdly, blind and partially sighted users are often taught or supported by sighted people who need the GUI to provide feedback to the learner involved. Finally, having a GUI means that the system can also be used by sighted individuals with no knowledge or experience of assistive technology.

Why is Vinux based on Ubuntu?

In my experience Ubuntu provides the best hardware detection and accessibility options of all the major distributions. This means that it generally just works on most computers and needs the least amount of tweaking to remaster as an accessible live CD. Possible alternatives would include Fedora and Debian which provide similar accessibility options, but their strict adherence to GPL licensed software makes them slightly harder to configure.

Why are there two types of magnification?

Vinux provides both 2D and 3D magnification because not all computers can support 3D desktop effects. The 2D magnification is automatically enabled when Vinux boots and can be activated with a simple keystroke. In order to use the 3D magnification you have to enable the Compiz Window Manager and then activate the magnification using a keystroke, however it is not recommended to use both magnification systems simultaneously.

How often will Vinux be released?

We hope to release a new version of Vinux at least twice a year, based on the latest version of Ubuntu, but there may well be minor releases/updates in between these major upgrades. The current release is an LTS release with three years support and updates.

How do you create Vinux?

Vinux is now created by firstly installing the standard Ubuntu system onto a hard drive using the default accessibility settings. We then run the buildvinux script which downloads and configures all of the accessibility packages needed. The final stage is running the buildvinuxiso script which copies the required files into /etc/skel and then calls remastersys to create a new live CD iso of the installed system.

Can you provide Vinux on CD and/or pre-installed on a USB pendrive?

We expect most users to download the iso image from the website and burn it to CD and/or install it to a USB pendrive themselves. However, if there is a genuine reason why you are unable to download it and burn/install it yourself, then we would consider sending you a copy on CD or a pendrive for a small fee to cover the cost of production and postage etc.

How can I contribute to Vinux?

There are lots of ways you can contribute to the project. By trying Vinux and providing us with feedback or suggestions, by providing detailed instructions on ways to improve accessibility which can be incorporated into future versions, by writing scripts to automate the configuration of accessibility settings, by writing accessible software, creating customised artwork or themes or by simply remastering Vinux in different languages etc. If you would like to contribute in any way at all please get in touch!

What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?

Disappointingly, life, the universe and everything cannot have a meaning - as strictly speaking only words and symbols can have meaning. Although, many philosophers believe that ‘42’ is as good an answer as any! (Just checking that your are still paying attention)

The Accessibility Software:

Vinux is a remastered version of the popular Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat distribution optimised for the needs of blind and partially sighted users. By default it provides three screen-readers, two full-screen magnifiers, global font-size and colour changing facilities as well as support for USB Braille displays. When you boot the live CD you will be greeted by the Orca screen-reader/magnifier which enables you to navigate the graphical Gnome desktop using keybindings, as well as providing full screen-magnification if required. For those who prefer to work in a simple text based console there is the Speakup screen-reader. A second full-screen magnifier is provided by the Compiz Window Manager, which uses 3D technology to allow you to magnify and navigate the whole screen using the mouse, or move a resizable virtual magnifying glass around the screen. The Gnome Desktop Manager itself provides you with global keybindings to change the font size and/or the colour scheme on the fly. Finally, Brltty provides Grade 1/2 Braille output via the Orca screen-reader. By default all of the screen-readers use the same Espeak Speech Synthesizer via Speech-Dispatcher which provides a seamless experience for the user when switching from one screen-reader to another!

The Default Package Selection and Layout:

If you have used Ubuntu before, the first thing you will notice about Vinux is that layout of the desktop and the selection of packages provided by default is very different to its parent distribution. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, in order to fit all of the accessibility software on the live CD we have had to remove some applications. Most of software we removed was inaccessible anyway, but we also had to remove Open Office and Evolution as they are just too big to fit on the CD once we have remastered it. However, these can easily be re-installed once you have installed Vinux to your hard drive using our new EasyInstall scripts. These enable you to install whole suites of applications by simply clicking on a desktop icon or launching them from the System Tools menu. Please note that some of these applications suites are only accessible using magnification and those therefore only appear in the System Tools menu, not on the desktop. Secondly, we have replaced some of the default Ubuntu packages with more accessible counterparts e.g. we have replaced Ubuntu Software Centre with the Gnome Application Installer. We have also added many other useful accessible tools which are not included in Ubuntu by default including: BareFTP (FTP Client), Bluefish (HTML Editor), Ceni (Network Manager) File Backup Manager, Gespeaker (Text To Wav), Gparted (Partition Editor), Gwget (Download Manager), PCManFM (Fast File Manager), Remastersys (Create Live CD), Root File Browser, Smuxi (IRC Client), Sound Converter and Thunderbird (E-Mail Client). We have also provided a small selection of useful text-based tools including: Alpine (E-Mail Client), Irssi (IRC Client), Lynx (Web Browser), MC (File Manager), Partimage (Copy & Restore Partitions), Pdmenu (Package Menu) and Testdisk (File Recovery Tool). Finally, we changed the layout of the Gnome Desktop in order to make it more accessible and easier to use. We removed the top panel, made the bottom panel bigger and replaced the default Ubuntu menus with a single Gnome Main Menu. We then replaced the default background with a much darker one and increased the default font size to 12 Bold.

The Evolution And History:

Vinux was initially born out of a frustration with the default accessibility support provided by mainstream Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse. Although all three of these distributions did provide the Orca Screen-Reader/Magnifier, it was not configured to start automatically, its performance was poor and many vital applications were still inaccessible. This meant that a visually impaired user could only really use these distributions if they knew how to start and/or configure Orca already, even if they got it working it was very unresponsive and unstable, and they had to be comfortable using the terminal to get most administrative tasks done. This effectively meant that these distributions were all but inaccessible to any visually impaired user who was new to Linux, and even if they got it working the performance was so poor that they would undoubtedly run scuttling back to Windows with their tails between their legs. So I decided that the only rational response to this was to create a customised version of a Linux distribution that provided pre-configured accessibility packages by default, thus making it as simple as possible for visually impaired users to try Linux for themselves. I decided to build the first version of Vinux based on Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex. This was the obvious choice as it had very good hardware support, a wide range of accessibility packages in its repositories, and it could easily be remastered using the Remastersys Backup tool. Although it was very simple to pre-configure the accessibility software and get the administrative applications working with Orca, it was impossible to get the speech responsive or stable enough using Speech-Dispatcher with PulseAudio. In reality Orca responded very slowly and often crashed for no apparant reason. So for this reason the second version of Vinux was based on Debian Lenny 5.0 which used Alsa sound rather then PulseAudio. This allowed us get very responsive and stable speech support, as well as introducing Speakup and CLI versions of Vinux. However, in order to gain the improvements in accessibility we had to sacrifice the superior hardware compatibility provided by Ubuntu. Inevitably this caused problems for many users, so it seemed we had to reluctantly choose between accessibility or hardware compatibility…

The Future Of The Project:

Fortunately, it turns out that we did not have to make the difficult decision between accessibility and hardware compatibility. This is largely thanks to Bill Cox who managed to solve the PulseAudio and Speech-Dispatcher related latency/stability problems in Ubuntu. So the third generation of Vinux is based on Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat which will provide responsive, stable speech and excellent hardware compatibility. Bill has also written a set of scripts to automate the process of building Vinux from an Ubuntu installation and created an apt-get repository for our own customised Vinux packages. In the light of this I have asked Bill to take over the roll of Lead Technical Developer for Vinux, I will of course remain the Project Manager whilst supporting my new seo company and continue to help and support Bill in whatever way I can. We are both hoping that this version of Vinux will be tried out and/or adopted by a much wider range of users, as well as attracting more experienced developers who can combine their efforts into making Vinux a distribution at the cutting edge of open-source accessibility. We are also planning to develop closer, more formal ties with the Ubuntu Accessibility Team, the GNU Project and the Open Invention Network, which we feel will significantly improve the awareness and status of the Vinux project in the ‘eyes’ of both the visually impaired and the wider open-source community!