This is a project, one of many, that I have been working on. As this project has now ended, I thought it would be fun to recap the journey.
July 3rd, Steve from Mac84 receives an email. The email asks him for help to track down version 9 of outSPOKEN, a screen reader for Mac OS 9 that lets visually impaired or blind use the system. Version 8 is available on Macintosh Garden but does not work on Mac OS 9, or so I am told.
As we do in the Mac community, we put these requests for help out into the ether. After all, the hive mind is what makes this community as awesome as it is.
I tell Steve I’ll put out some feelers and get ready to head out to a concert.
This stayed in the back of my mind, though. A few hours of searching the web made two things clear:
1. Quite a few people were looking for this software.
2. This software was rarer than unicorn farts and impossible to find.
This made it a real challenge, and I simply can not resist a challenge!
A bit of research into the company that made outSPOKEN showed the version 9 was not on the market long. Mac OS X’s built-in accessibility features were gaining traction, so the company decided to pull the plug on outSPOKEN in 2003, so they could focus on mobile apps instead. Between the time outSPOKEN 9 was released and OS X’s accessibility becoming the new standard, they sold very few copies. It made sense for them to end the project. This is the story as I was told by a user of this software.
I reached out to a few of the people I had found on old forums that used the software. Never heard back. Not a big surprise as their profiles showed they had not signed in for over seven years.
Plan B was an email to a gentleman named John, who runs the website http://macfortheblind.com. He had sold this software in the past, so he may be able to help. John reached out to several of his blind clients that had used the software and also contacted someone that used to work at Berkeley Systems, who used to sell the software as well, but it yielded no leads.
I followed up with John on August 8th to see if there were any new leads, but unfortunately, there were none. I’m grateful for John’s willingness to help out.
Steve had also not been able to produce any leads. Having now spent a considerable amount of time on this search (every time I thought about it meant a multi-hour journey scouring the web and old archives), I told Steve the search was over on my end.
Sorry, I must direct my time and efforts to other projects.
That same night an audio-related post pops up on Facebook; a user replies, stating he needs audio to navigate his system as he’s blind.
The universe was dropping me less than subtle hints here….
I got to talking with the guy, and he too expressed a desire to get his hands on outSPOKEN 9. Not only did this trigger my need for a challenge again, it got me really curious about the multiple ways disabled users leverage the macOS accessibility features. But more on that another day.
A search engine page was opened, and here I went again, continuing the search. One of the results took me to eBay, a listing that had long since expired. But it got me thinking… why not try an eBay search?
I’ll be damned! One result, outSPOKEN 9.0! The whole box with the disc, manual, cassette tapes with instructions, etc. The seller asked $50 for it.
I wanted to get this. Really bad. I’ve seen how hard this software is to find and did not want to let this opportunity pass me by. But $50 just so I could archive it for others? I’m a nice dude but have a family to feed and bills to pay. So an offer was made: $20, this was at 1:30 am August 9th, and as soon as the offer was made, I started getting really nervous.
What if it sells before the seller reads my offer? I’m not opposed to anyone buying it, but the chances of them archiving it are slim.
5:54 am, a message arrives with a counter offer! $40, shipped.
I had tempted fate enough and made the purchase. Those who support my various works through donations helped pay for it, so thank you! Time for some sleep.
When I woke up, I shared the news with Steve so he can let the original requester know this software would be available soon. And so the wait began.
August 11th, the software arrived a day early! Time to get this properly archived and preserved for the ages.
Using Roxio Toast, the disc was turned into a disc image, and the physical disc was scanned.
Unfortunately, none of the download links on the archives Alva website work, so any hopes of finding a PDF version of the user manual and other paperwork is gone. The user manual has 66 pages, and each page was scanned at 600dpi. Perhaps a bit much for today but ten years from now, who knows how tiny 600dpi scans may look? So my philosophy is, scan it as big as you can.
The welcome letter, key commands list, and installation instructions were also scanned. All of the documents were then run through an OCR application so that they could be exported as PDFs with selectable (and thus speakable) and searchable text.
The user guide did not get the OCR treatment as the cassettes already make that accessible.
Three cassettes were recorded on the Mac in Audacity, then saved as AIFF. The AIFF was then loaded into Adobe Audition where noise, hiss, and other artifacts were removed. The voice was also boosted as the original was extremely heavy in bass. The final version was exported as MP3.
The tapes were seemingly unused yet in pretty rough shape. Luckily no audio was lost, and through some of the tweaking in Audition, a pretty good MP3 could be made of each tape.
Of course, there is only one place where this archived stuff can best be put; Macintosh Garden.
As I was writing this, I figured let me try and see if I can get into contact with the former CEO of Alva. I found him on Facebook and sent him a message explaining what I am up to. As of yet, I have received no reply. If I do, I’ll amend this post. We’re still looking for outSPOKEN updates 9.2 and 9.2.4, so I hope I can get my hands on those through him.
After 9 hours of on-and-off archiving (those tapes were in *really* poor shape) and writing this post, it is time for me to step away from the desk and take a break 🙂 I hope that those looking for outSPOKEN 9 can find some good use for it. Click here to be taken straight to the page on Macintosh Garden. The uploading of files will continue through the next few days.
And thanks again to my generous donors that allow me to use some of the funds for little side projects such as this one. You’re a special kind of awesome!
On to the next challenge….