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By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2004-07-06 Print this article Print

Mobility isnt something you can patch onto the top of a standard infrastructure, any more than security is. Its got to be built into the architecture. You cant take a system that is designed for sighted people and expect it to work for blind users; the system has to be designed so that the sighted layer is as much of an abstraction as the restricted user layer. Microsoft deserves kudos, here in Amsterdam, for kicking the keynote off with "George"— a blind programmer. He sat, in the dark, on the huge RAI conference center stage, and explained that this was what it was like for him, all the time. And then, when the lights came up, he showed just how bad it is; and he didnt spare Microsoft.
Software architects simply dont design their frameworks in a way that allows handicapped users to use them. You have to patch them. He showed some apps, but he also highlighted Internet Explorer, which doesnt allow you to move from a "Search" window to the result. Its obvious if you can see!—but it takes about a hundred clicks before you find it if youre using a Braille reader.
Well done, Microsoft, for letting him do that; but the lesson goes deeper than designing software for people without eyes, or without hands. People without desks are the future. Software that blissfully assumes a 100M-bit connection and a 4-megapixel TFT display and a QWERTY keyboard is the rule. Its not just Microsoft; youll find Novell and SAP and Oracle all showing the same blind ignorance of the mobile users requirements, latency problems, bandwidth limitations and device choices. The failure of Microsoft mobile isnt terminal. On the contrary, its SmartPhone project is promising and has already taught phone designers a lot—but what the mobile user wants isnt a device. Mobility is a way of thinking, not a phone, not a PDA, not a pocket card scanner. Its the relationship between the user and the users data. And it certainly isnt a set of reserved seats at the back of the bus for "those funny people without desktops." Check out eWEEK.coms Mobile & Wireless Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis.

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