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Zoomware 10: Read Your Computer Screen Without Pain

Back in the day when a scanner cost at least 3 months’ salary, ZoomText from Ai Squared was known as The Application of Choice for folks who had to use a computer but had a hard time reading the screen. There are other options for those who are completely blind and do not use vision at all to read. But for people with some sight, using what vision they have makes them more independent and widens their horizons. ZoomText was, and still is, The Tool for enlarging all or part of a computer screen.

However, ZoomText is too much application for a large group of users. First of all, it costs a lot, starting at $395. Though it’s not "expensive" if it is your only way of accessing what’s on your monitor. It can enlarge up to 36x and has lots of adjustments and features, including text reading. More money and more features than apply to a significant segment of the population.

Enter ZoomWare, a lighter, nimbler version of ZoomText. The intended market for ZoomWare is the large group of people with minimal visual limitations, folks who’d like images as well as print to be just a bit bigger, and people whose vision works better with a color combination other than black text on a glaring white screen.Screenshot-Zoomware

There are a lot of Baby Boomers with aging vision whose computer glasses aren’t quite adequate any more. Some younger folks with learning differences have always appreciated a slightly larger view, and for some reading disabilities, changing the font and background color make a world of difference. At last there’s an application that addresses these latter needs at a reasonable cost, based on standard market computers.

Getting going was disappointingly arcane. Setup did not start automatically, so I followed the instructions to "go to the Start Menu and click OK in Run dialog box." The next sentence starts, "Once ZoomWare has been installed . . ." Not a clue about what to look for in the way of Setup programs, where to look for it, or what to do with it once I find it.

I am imagining that a lot of the potential users of this application are folks who don’t necessarily have a lot of history installing computer applications. After an annoying tour of Vista’s "new and improved" file management strategy, I located my DVD drive with the ZoomWare disk and drilled down to Setup.exe and double-clicked. At my first try nothing happened, then I got told I already had an instance of Setup running. I finally got to the setup routine, which is thoughtfully provided entirely in 18 point font. Whoever designed this part of the interface remembered who the audience is.

Moving right along to a part of the installation designed by someone else, the EULA let me know that I get 30 minutes of use before I have to restart or activate ZoomWare. The QuickStart Guide tells me, "Product activation is a simple, straightforward process that takes just a few seconds. . . " That is, if my Internet Service Provider hadn’t taken the weekend off. Wonder if someone is there in Vermont waiting for my phone call at shortly after midnight local time on a Sunday morning. I’m just evil enough to have tried their phone number. I guessed right the first time, and can wait until 9 a.m. Eastern Time to activate by phone. It’s not the fault of Ai Squared that my internet provider has taken a vacation from server maintenance, but since the audience for ZoomWare is less likely than the average user to be interested in jumping through installation hoops, it would be nice if they could redesign the activation process to be more user friendly and to take into account know vagaries of ISPs.

While I’m picking on the installation process for ZoomWare, let me add my complaint about getting the DVD out of the packaging. It is held in place by a clear plastic snap that rests inside the clear center of the DVD. The 2 parts of the snap need to be squeezed together to release the DVD. Considering that this product is designed for visually impaired users, it seems sensible to make the snap some obvious color to stand out against the DVD. And how about a couple of raised arrows in contrasting color on the moving parts to give me a clue about which way to squeeze?Zoomware 2

Onward with the original purpose: making my screen easier to read. ZoomWare has 5 areas of control: Magnification, View, Color, Pointer, and Cursor.

Logically enough, by clicking on the little Z on the ZoomWare control box, the degree of magnification shrinks down to normal, or no magnification. By clicking on the big Z, the degree of magnification can be increased to about 2x. If you need more than that, check the original product, ZoomText, which magnifies up to 36x. Way too big to make sense out of in most cases. In keeping with the theme of addressing a general audience, precise calibration terminology is avoided. Both products use font smoothing technology that renders even the largest magnifications legible.

The View window allows the user to select the percentage of screen that will be magnified: everything, about two-thirds, or a 3.5" x 2.5" rectangle (at my 1440 x 900 resolution). If you choose the largest View area and/or the larger magnifications, the entire screen will not be visible and you will have to learn to navigate to the edge of the display, beyond the immediate display. Several times this has sent me hunting around the screen for the ZoomWare controls, my applications bar, or my menu bar. This idiosyncrasy of display also prohibits any meaningful screen capture to show changes in magnification area. ZoomWare also suffers from the general curse of screen enlarging applications: the enlargement follows the cursor no matter what, so you can’t have one corner of the screen enlarged (say the controls of a graphing calculator) and work somewhere else on the screen. Most users get used to this different way of navigating and orienting to the screen; some don’t.

Zoomware 3The Color tab allows the user to select Normal, Reverse, or Tint. Reverse inverts the black and white areas of the screen, so that text becomes white against a black background. Easier on some eyes. Tint changes only the glaring white areas of the screen, applying a transparent tint of a variety of blue, yellow, or gray tones to the white areas and reducing glare considerably. Different eyes and brains have definite preferences about the best color filter.

ZoomWare gives the user choices among normal, medium, and large pointer, mouse location indicator. The user can choose to color the borders of the I-beam, so that it contrasts better with the background. The central I remains a black pole. The large Pointer is about twice Normal size.

The Enhanced Cursor adds a triangle of color above and below the text cursor. The insertion point or I- beam remains unchanged, but a translucent triangle below and above follow it, making it much more visible. The fact that the triangles are translucent means that text in the line above or below the insertion point is still relatively readable. As for the Pointer, the cursor enhancements can be colored for personal visibility in the color scheme of choice.

In summary, for a product that is designed to be used by people who are disabled enough to need it – but not so disabled that they have a built-in support network that includes assistive technology, it would be nice if installation and set-up were smoother. However, once installed ZoomWare provides a well-organized package of features designed to meet many vision needs in making computer screens more visible. The cost is reasonable for the features offered. Adaptive technology is not generally aimed at the mass market so it tends to be relatively expensive. Potential users are invited to try it out at www.GetZoomWare.com. Give it a shot. If you run into trouble, readers of this article are invited to contact their local user group for assistance. You may find that you save the cost of the product in reduced use of eye-drops for burning eyes and reduced use of painkillers for headaches and/or stiff neck and shoulders from straining to read to the screen.

Product Information

ZoomWare 1.0

MSRP $149 download; $179 boxed
Ai Squared
P.O. Box 669
Manchester Center
VT 05255
(802) 362-3612


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