One of Microsoft's hole cards in halting the spread of open source has been trumped, by IBM.
The argument, which succeeded in Massachusetts, was that open source was not friendly to screen readers and magnifiers used by the blind, so mandating an open source file format like ODF was discrimination.
There were counter-arguments, and Microsoft finally agreed to add ODF support to Office, but now the other shoe has dropped with word that IBM has donated IAccessibility2, an API for giving the blind full access in Linux and Open Office, to the Free Standards Group.
This is a big win for both abled and disabled users. Blind folks can now get the savings of open source, and a major impediment to government mandates of open source has been cleared.
As Peter Abrahams of Bloor Research notes at IT-Director:
It means that the AT [Accessible Technology] vendors can concentrate on providing more function for the user and will have to spend less time extracting the semantic information from the applications. The open standard will facilitate extensions for new interface requirements, such as those required to make virtual realities (such as Second Life) accessible. I also expect that it will be either supported or harmonized with APIs on multiple platforms including Linux and Apple Mac, reducing the issues faced by multi-platform applications such as Firefox.
In other words, this is big news on many levels.
To give a brief example. Note that in the upper left corner of this piece there is the logo of the FSG. A screen reader can render the text here, but what if that illustration is important? How do you convey that information to the blind reader?
It's this kind of hurdle IAccessible2 crosses, and with an open format that can be used by software makers, device makers, and Web sites.