Cover by Andy Oram, Greg Wilson

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Painless Access to Online Information

With all the necessary affordances to generate rich auditory output in place, speech-enabling Emacs applications using Emacs Lisp's advice facility requires surprisingly small amounts of specialized code. With the TTS layer and the Emacspeak core handling the complex details of producing good quality output, the speech-enabling extensions focus purely on the specialized semantics of individual applications; this leads to simple and consequently beautiful code. This section illustrates the concept with a few choice examples taken from Emacspeak's rich suite of information access tools.

Right around the time I started Emacspeak, a far more profound revolution was taking place in the world of computing: the World Wide Web went from being a tool for academic research to a mainstream forum for everyday tasks. This was 1994, when writing a browser was still a comparatively easy task. The complexity that has been progressively added to the Web in the subsequent 12 years often tends to obscure the fact that the Web is still a fundamentally simple design where:

  • Content creators publish web resources addressable via URIs.

  • URI-addressable content is retrievable via open protocols.

  • Retrieved content is in HTML, a well-understood markup language.

Notice that the basic architecture just sketched out says little to nothing about how the content is made available to the end user. The mid-1990s saw the Web move toward increasingly complex visual interaction. The ...

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