Monday, November 08, 2004

I just returned from Brazil yesterday: an exciting and meaningful trip that I'll talk about more later, I hope. Today I was at the beginning of the Microsoft Global Library Forum, and Bill Gates spoke to our (reasonably small) group.

Gates was well informed about most of the technical issues around this meeting, which is the heads of libraries for the print disabled from around the world. Some of his key points were:
- Longhorn (the next version of Windows due out in two years) is going to have more disability features built in, especially along the lines of speech recognition. Still, speech reco is not going to be at a level where people use it commonly instead of typing (he projected that more like 6 years out)
- Thinks that small devices are going to be very exciting for book content. Alluded to their investment in audible.com as an example of a product that justifies low prices/high volumes.
- The low price/high volume theme was sounded frequently: used to position Microsoft's move into PC operating systems as well as the issues around disability issues

Our meeting goal is discussing how to implement the global library for the disabled and share the efforts for accessibility across the sector. I asked Gates a question around international intellectual property questions, which is one of the key issues of the meeting. His main answer was trying to align the interests of disabled users with the mainstream so that they could afford the standard products (high volume implies low prices implies reasonable accessibility). Sound generally, but not the whole issue. We have a need to cover these issues in more detail with him. For example, he asked us why the DAISY format needed to be different than the regular XML used for other electronic books.

The audience asked Gates a good number of questions, and he was able to answer them specifically and with detail, discussing both Microsoft corporate positions with Gates Foundation programs. I have been frequently critical over the years about Microsoft's disability policies, but this meeting is quite encouraging so far, especially with the active attention of the founder on disability issues and the hosting of this meeting to address a key global issue in our field.

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