Saturday, July 21

Serotek products and thoughts

Greetings. Let’s try this again. I started this post a little while ago but it was erased by some circumstance, so I’ll try again. Of course, this slightly changes my view on the software that I was and am going to talk about, :)

Serotek is a name that some blind people have heard of, either from their line of products for Windows or, perhaps more likely, from their involvement in a lawsuit from Freedom Scientific recently. Either way, it’s a name that we should be familiar with. Why? Because of the types of products that they are coming up with; products that innovate and push the envelope. I’m not going to get into technical details. There are others that can do that much more eloquently, not to mentioned informed, than I can. I will talk about my experience thus far with their products, aside from the information loss, and tell you what I think.

System Access. This is a new product that Serotek has come up with that performs like, and in fact is, a screen reader. Its not as complex and involved as JAWS, but then again, it doesn’t pretend to be. System Access is what it is, and it’s a pretty good product. It allows you to use your computer nonvisually, from accessing desktop icons, to using Microsoft Word, to sending email in Outlook Express or Microsoft Outlook, to surfing the WWW, and more. Serotek has recently introduced a new product similar to System Access, called System Access to Go or S.A. to Go. They are currently offering S.A. to Go as a public beta for people to test. There’s no indication on when the beta cycle will end, however you can sign up by going to:

I’m using a 4 and a half year old computer running Windows XP Home and am writing this in Word XP,a program that Serotek freelly says that they don’t support. Perhaps hat’s why I’ve had problems with it. When using their System Access program, each time that I’ve come back to Word from another window, my focus has been lost and I’ve been placed on one of the many pages of my currently 28 page blog document. Sometimes I’ve gotten speech when arrowing through the document, and sometimes I haven’t. And then there’s the issue of that disappearing text I had earlier. I should say that it seems that Serotek’s products use some of the familiar JAWS navigation keys. I’ve been able to use the equivalent Windows keystrokes for moving by word or paragraph. About the time that I thought I’d run into trouble (which I’ll get into later), I was able to switch back to the Word window with Ssystem Access, and attempt the save file command in Word (Control with S). I assumed that the file did indeed save and closed the file. This was several hours ago. When I returned a few minutes ago I found that the last post in the file was one I had written before convention. All of the stuff I had written before was gone. That wasn’t very much, but I figure I had written about a page and a half or 2 pages altogether. That as some good stuff with good observations. Hopefully I can recreate that in this post or another one. However, those good thoughts are now in the bit bucket as some call it. This is disappointing to say the least. I plan on informing Serotek about this, even if they don’t’ support Word XP.

I mentioned that System Access and S.A. to Go don’t use many of the JAWS keys I’ve come to know and love, such as moving by character, word, spelling the word, etc. The programs are however much more responsive in Word as a whole, as least compared to JAWS. They are also pretty good in Outlook Express. There is a bit of a delay when arrowing through messages, but I can deal with that, at least for a short time. I’m not sure if I’d want to rely on it all the time, but its good to have available.

The advantage and huge selling point to S.A. to Go is that you don’t need any software on the computer in order to use it. All you need is either an Internet connection or the S.A. software on one of the many new U3 USB thumb drives, for when you plug in the USB drive into any computer, you instantly have access to that computer, whether or not if there’s any assistive software on that machine. This has been the big selling point for some of the Serotek line of products for several years, starting with their Key to Freedom product. That I know of, no one else in the AT industry has been able to duplicate this level of access. Some have come close, like Freedom Scientific with their dongle or thumb drive version of JAWS, but one still needs JAWS on a computer in order to use this, which kind of defeats the purpose of “access anywhere.” I think that Dolphin have also attempted this kind of access as well with their Dolphin Pen, though I don’t know if that requires the Dolphin software on the computer in question in order to work, like FS does. In any case, Serotek are true innovators by introducing and maintaining this level of access.

The last product I’d like to talk about is the S.A. Mobile Network, formerly known as the Freedom Box Network. Basically, this is a safe “sandbox” like environment that they introduced back in 2000 to give blind and low vision people access to many different software, such as email, web browsing, chat, word processing, etc. Among other things, one of their most popular offerings is the ability to listen to the audio track of many different DVS or describe movies. Thik of the S.A. Mobile Network like what America Online attempted to do some years ago.

I’ve gone onto the Mobile Network, after I signed up for a free 30 days trial, and have watched, er listened, to several movies in the last 12-24 hours. I must say that these movies present a very good and enticing argument and plus for the S.A. Mobile Network and Serotek as a whole. The movies range from classics to Holiday favorites to action and adventure, and all points in between.

In watching these movies I’ve discovered that while I started out the session with System Access, after a said period of time in which I haven’t pressed any keys on my computer, S.A. disappears. I know this because I’ve attempted to check the time a number of times and was unable to do so. When the movies were over, I’ve also attempted to move to another window finding that I got no speech. I tried bringing up JAWS and Microsoft Narrator with no success. Incidentally, Narrator’s not so bad if you adjust the speech rate to a faster speed. Its still the same voice, but at least he doesn’t sound as drunk. Anyway, I know that JAWS came up because my Braille display came to life but nothing was displayed. There was no speech either. Perhaps S.A. was blocking the speech, since if Narrator did load, the program spoke with hesitation, menaing there were many pauses when it was trying to announce some things. All but one of the times that I’ve watched a movie, which has probably been 5 or 6, I had to eventually restart my computer from a complete shut down state. Being able to watch movies is quite nice, but I’m not sure I’d pay for this ability if I have to reboot my computer after the movie’s over. The one time that I didn’t have to restart was when I closed the media player’s window and got S.A. speech back, but I was still unable to check the time during that session after awhile. The point when I lost my work in Word, I had started a movie and had it on pause. I had a feeling that I might have to restart at some point, so I paused the movie, went back to Word, and tried to save the document. I don’t know if the presence of the movie or media player had anything to do with my data loss, but if so, that’s not a good selling point either.

Like I’ve said, I’m still evaluating things and my conclusions might not amount to much. However, over all, these are great products. While I may not pay the money for System Access or the Mobile Network for this computer, after all it is still 4 years old. There’s a good chance I will try it on Windows Vista, whenever that next computer comes. Even when my 30 day trial runs out, I’ll still use the S.A. to Go program, if at all possible. Its great not needing any software and just being able to type in a web address or bring up a favorite to launch a screen reader. And then, when done, to just close the window or unload the program, and have there be no trace of the program on that computer. There’s one other part of S.A. to Go that might interest others but doesn’t really do much for me: the ability to remotely control another computer with both System Access and S.,A. to Go. For the person in information technology, tekkie, or computer repair person, or even for the true geek, this is pretty cool. Also, as far as Windows Vista is concerned, System Access doesn’t have any trouble in working with Vist’as graphics. Which means that unlike JAWS, Window Eyes, and other screen readers, you don’t have to unload or change the display settings in order to use System Access. For any sighted people in your life, this is pretty notable it would seem.

There you have it. I’m off to play some more in this virtual sandbox. Serotek is running a "summer conference special" on their site until 7/30/07 that combines many of these products for only $500. Check it out if you're interested. To learn more about Serotek, visit them online at


  1. Hello Wayne,

    System Access is great. I don't experience most of the issues you're talking about, but please do feel free to send a note to reporting these issues. Serotek is much more responsive than the other, larger players in the AT industry, and I'll bet you'll find all or most of your issues resolved in short order.

    Serotek is the only company that is able to offer fully portable screen reading from a USB Flash memory drive, as they do not rely on display chaining (DCM) or Mirror Drivers. Freedom Scientific, GW Micro and Dolphin are totally dependent on these technologies in order to function. Unless they make major changes in a real hurry, these entrenched companies will never be able to offer truly portable screen access like Serotek can.

    This same lack of video chaining or dependence on the Mirror Driver means that Serotek's Remote Incident Manager (RIM) product permits, for the first time, blind technicians to gain remote access to computers owned by sighted people, without any previous screen reader installed on the sighted person's computer; that's absolutely revolutionary!

  2. Hi Darrell. Thanks for your comment and explanation of this technology. I have contacted Serotek and will be glad to post corrections of my issues. I think its good to have a backup for your main access technology, and Serotek's products would definitely fit the bill, if only because they're not as complex as the other ones.

  3. Howdy Wayne!
    You missed some great barbecue and fun at the ATC meeting yesterday. I am a Trekker, not a geek, and I understand very little about computers and access software. I do like what computers can do for me, however, especially with respect to communicating with people all over the planet and new technologies such as my KNFB reader. I heard that the KNFB reader is morphing into a machine that can provide information about one�s surroundings. I was unable to attend the national convention this year, and I feel really out of the loop. One of these days, I hope to get my own web site up and running. Incidentally, Chris Hofstader no longer works for Freedom Scientific. I do enjoy his blog and post comments frequently.
    Chairman Mal
    Power to the Peeps!