Difference between revisions of "TalkingArch"

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This page describes a modified ArchLinux install CD that includes spoken output for blind users. The modified version is mostly equivalent to the official "ftp CD", but the system should start speaking as soon as you boot with it. Speech is provided via the sound card, using the eSpeak software synthesizer and the Speakup screenreader. It is only available for the i686 platform; x86-64 is not supported. There are two versions: an Isolinux version and a Grub version. One may obtain ".iso" images via HTTP.

Grub: download detached signature
MD5 sum: e0854e63d59cea73b94ba0d5b46206d0

Isolinux: download detached signature
MD5 sum: 23a40cb13455a8580cc04730e741d6eb

The detached signatures were made using the gpg key associated with the address cmbrannon79 at gmail dot com. The key ID is CE8D2EE8. The fingerprint is A2C6 0177 783D 222E 3677 E247 83A0 DB7D CE8D 2EE8

This is release 3 of the ISO. It fixes a major defect found in release 2. The sound card initialization script shipped with release 2 only unmuted the Master and PCM controls. This is not sufficient for all sound cards. The script included in release 3 should unmute all necessary controls.


This CD was produced by Chris Brannon, and the downloadable images are hosted by Tyler Littlefield. Thanks to the following people for submitting valuable feedback regarding release 2: Chuck Hallenbeck, Julien Claassen, and Keith Hinton.

Installing from the CD

The following list of steps is a brief guide to installing ArchLinux using this CD. The instructions assume that your root partition will be mounted on /mnt.

  1. When booting, Grub provides a very long timeout. Press enter once the drive stops spinning.
  2. Use the installer on the CD, as per the Beginners Guide.
  3. Install the alsa-utils, speakup, and espeakup packages: pacman --root=/mnt -Sy alsa-utils speakup espeakup
  4. Customize /mnt/etc/rc.conf: Add speakup and speakup_soft to the MODULES array. Add alsa and espeakup to the DAEMONS array.
  5. You also need to save the state of the sound card, so that it will be retrieved on reboot. Execute the command alsactl store and copy the file /etc/asound.state to /mnt/etc/asound.state. Alternatively, alsactl -f /mnt/etc/asound.state store
  6. When you boot the system from the hard disk, it should start speaking.

Handling Dialogs with Speakup

The ArchLinux installer, /arch/setup, makes extensive use of the dialog program. Users may experience some difficulties when navigating several of the menus and dialogs. This is not specific to ArchLinux. Other text-mode installers often have similar problems.

The following discussion was compiled from suggestions on the Speakup list.

First, enable highlight tracking. Press the star key on the numeric keypad. If you use a laptop that lacks the numeric keypad, press the sequence capslock control 8. Speakup will say "highlight tracking". This is sufficient to navigate most of the menus with the arrow keys, but there are a few notable exceptions, described in the following paragraphs.

Choosing a Filesystem

The "choose filesystem" menu doesn't cooperate with highlight tracking. It is difficult to determine which of the entries is selected. There are two solutions. The first is suggested by Adam Myrow.

You can also use insert+period on the numeric keypad to check out the color of the text under the cursor. By going from line to line, and checking the color, it should become apparent which item is selected. For example, in Slackware, the highlighted option is bright red on blue, and the others are red on cyan. In this example, highlight tracking gives improper feedback, listing the option above the one that is selected.

Note for laptop users: the equivalent key sequence is capslock slash.

The second solution is even easier, assuming that you want ext2, ext3, or ext4 as your filesystem. If you want ext2, just press enter after the menu is displayed. If you want ext3, press down-arrow once, followed by enter. Two down-arrows from the top of the menu gives you ext4. This is Chris Brannon's preferred method. Just count menu entries, and press down-arrow the requisite number of times.

Setting the Date and Time

The "set timezone" menus are a joy to navigate, because the entries are numbered. Just type the corresponding number and press enter.

The "set date and time" menus are problematic. Ignore them, because there is a better way to set your system's clock. Once you have booted ArchLinux from the hard drive, install the ntp package. Next, execute the command ntpdate rolex.usg.edu You need to be logged in as root to perform both steps. Your system's clock will be synchronized with a time server located in the US state of Georgia. You may wish to find a time server that is closer to you. Chris Brannon never manually sets a system's clock, since setting it with NTP is so much easier.

Maintaining Your Speech-enabled ArchLinux Installation

You shouldn't need to do anything extraordinary to maintain the installation. Everything should just seamlessly work.

Mastering Speech-enabled ISO Images

The ArchLinux developers build their CD images using a set of shell scripts and configuration files named archiso. I added a configuration to archiso that allows me to build accessible CDs. If someone wants to produce customized images containing Speakup, he can do the following.

Grab sources using git:

git clone http://members.cox.net/cmbrannon/archiso.git
cd archiso
git checkout --track -b talkinginst origin/talkinginst

All of my work is done on the "talkinginst" branch. The master branch mirrors the master branch from git://projects.archlinux.org/archiso.git

Install the scripts contained in the archiso/ subdirectory of the sources.

Change to the configs/talking-inst directory, and type make ftp-iso. Alternatively, make BOOTLOADER=syslinux ftp-iso yields an image having Isolinux as its bootloader. There are several more targets for "make". For instance, ftp-usb produces an image suitable for a flash drive.

Additional Notes

Presently, this CD is only usable with English-language speech.

The Custom Package Repository

Chris Brannon's custom repo is still available. It contains a handful of packages that Chris and others find useful, such as the edbrowse web browser. If you want to use it, add the following lines to /etc/pacman.conf:

Server = http://members.cox.net/cmbrannon/blind/i686

Since speakup and related packages are now available in community, they are no longer included in the custom repository.


This CD image is not an official release. It is not endorsed by anyone other than Chris Brannon. It is provided solely for the convenience of its creator and other blind users, and it comes with absolutely no warranty.