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Reviews on hardware and software products for people with disabilities. We will also feature other relevant technology products that could be useful for you. If you would like to know about a particular product, please write to us at

Laptop Computers and Electronic Notetakers for the Blind: A Comparison

by Curtis Chong

Are you struggling to decide between buying a laptop computer and an electronic notetaker? Curtis Chong, who is now the director of field operations and access technology at the Iowa Department for the Blind, has compiled a very useful list of pros and cons for both of these electronic wonders. In his job Chong is responsible for internal information technology, vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and all programs dealing with access technology, including the department's Project Assist program, which provides tutorials to run software with specific versions of various screen-access software. Here is his distilled wisdom and experience on this important subject.
Laptop Computer and Electronic Notetakers for the Blind - Full Article


Alternative Browsers: low on hype, high on performance

Nimish Dubey

If you can't count beyond two when naming browses, read this review that gives you an overview of some popular alternative browsers. Some of these are even better than the two you had in mind.
Alternative Browsers - Full Review

Alternative Browsers: low on hype, high on performance

Nimish Dubey

Whoever said that the Internet gave users more choice was clearly not talking about the browser situation. Notwithstanding the fact that the Net has gained widespread popularity over the last half-decade, most users seem to be unaware of the different browsing options at their disposal. To most, the word “browser” seems to be synonymous with either of the Big Two – Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator – which come pre-installed with the computer. The few who do look for alternatives rarely go beyond Opera, now available free off the Net.

This is more than a little ironical as the Internet is literally teeming with browsers that weigh a fraction of their better-known counterparts. What’s more, some even come with features that would make even the Big Two blush. Here’s a look at five that give you a pretty good browsing experience at no cost at all!

CrystalPort – the tabby browser

One of the most impressive of the alternative browsers is CrystalPort. It weighs a modest 2.17 MB and is available free off the Net.  The browsing revolves around a “Tab” facility. Each Tab represents a different Webpage and picks up the contents from the Favourites folder. The user can modify Favourites as per his or her requirements. What’s more any open application can also be captured in a Tab. Tabs can be saved under different names and all one has to do to access a Website or open an application within the browser is click the required Tab! Different Tabs can be viewed within the same window by utilising a “Tile Mode” view option in the browser. There is also an AppCapture feature available free for a limited period that literally lets the user open an application within the browser.

NeoPlanet – snazzy browsing

The uncharitable persist in referring to NeoPlanet as a “skin of Internet Explorer”. While the fact remains that NeoPlanet is built around the IE engine, it cannot be denied that it is the most spectacular browser in cyberland, as far as appearances go. A vast skin archive allows the user to alter the appearance of the browser while a channel bar allows one click access to well-known sites. And, of course, there is also an e-mail client, a download manager and an instant messanger built into the browser. Browsing, however, can seem a bit slow at time and the constantly flickering advertisements in a corner can be a wee bit irritating. However, if looks count in your book, give this one a try. It costs nothing and at 3.5 MB does not strain your dial-up connection.

Enigma – float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

If it’s basic browsing that you are looking for, this is perhaps the best browser in cyberspace. Weighing an incredibly low 371 KB (you can actually carry it on a floppy), Enigma does not come with too many bells and whistles but has enough to give the user a satisfactory browsing experience. One can export Internet Explorer Favorites or Netscape Bookmarks to Enigma or create one’s own Favorites. There is also a stunning search tool that allows the user to access some of the best-known search engines without actually having to travel to their sites. Add to that a facility to kill pop-up windows and things seem rather rosy. That is not to say there are no glitches – one can only go forward or back one page at a time and the scroll bars often behave in an eccentric manner, taking you to the previous Webpage instead of up or down on the current one. But all that seems a small price to pay for a browser that packs so much in so little space!

1x – lightweight that packs a punch

Another feather light browser is 1x. At 1.4 MB, it is another that can be downloaded easily and even carried on a floppy. Like Enigma, this browser too focuses on the basics rather than the flashy features – one just sees a six-button toolbar and a URL box.  There are, however, some explosive features beneath the vanilla wrapping. A very useful “snippet” feature allows users to drag and drop sections of Webpages onto a special “snippet” pad. There is also a previewer Paper Save mode to print compact hardcopies of web sites in two-column format, and a modem statistics viewer to one’s online connect time. The flip side is that 1x supports Microsoft's ActiveX standard and that could create a few security headaches, although the jury is still out on that.

NetCaptor – one for the research community

Coming in a compact 740 KB package, NetCaptor is another browser that merits a mention and definitely a use or two. Previously known as Simul Browse, this browser too allows users to access multiple websites within the same window by using a “tab” facility, albeit a trifle differently from CrystalPort. Groups of tabs can be saved and re-opened – something that researchers are just going to love. The browser also comes with a PopupCaptor feature to get rid of pop-up windows. It also carries over all of Internet Explorer’s Favorites and History thus saving a few headaches for those worried about moving to a new browser. There are also keyboard shortcuts for completing Internet addresses. The ads that come with the free version can be a bit irritating, though.  

And that’s not all

And there are more from where all these came from. HotJava, AtomNet, Rdesk, Amaya and good old Lynx are among the several other browsers that deliver yeoman service even if it is their fate to be damned with faint praise from the media. Information on them is available at several places, although is perhaps the best source for getting news about the latest in browsing.

So the next time you wish to surf the Net, just keep in mind that you do not really need to click on those IE or Netscape icons on your desktops unless you really want to. There are other browsers that can do as well. And most of them weigh a lot lesser than the so-called behemoths.

The Internet is all about choice, isn’t it?

The Famous Five – Essential Details

Name Manufacturer URL Size Cost
CrystalPort CrystalPort Inc. 2.17 MB Free (Paid version available soon)
NeoPlanet NeoPlanet Inc. 3.4 MB Free
Enigma Sutton Designs 391 KB Free (paid version available too)
NetCaptor Stilesoft Inc. 720 K Free (paid version available too)
1x Science Traveller International 1.4MB Free (paid version available too)

Laptop Computers and Electronic Notetakers for the Blind: A Comparison

by Curtis Chong

Blind people often need portable electronic devices to perform such tasks as notetaking, dealing with e-mail, word processing, appointment management, and so forth. Traditionally the solution has centered on off-the-shelf laptop computers equipped with screen-access technology or specialized devices for the blind, often referred to as notetakers or PDAs (personal data assistants). This document attempts to provide a concise list of advantages and disadvantages for each class of device to enable potential buyers to make a more informed decision.

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