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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 May 2000 Issue  Volume 1  Number 3

Product Evaluation

Dolphin's LunarPlus Version 4.01 for Windows 95/98/NT

Looking for a new screen magnification program that is NT compatible? This Product Evaluation reviews one of the main players—Dolphin's LunarPlus. For reviews of the other two contenders—Ai Squared's ZoomText Xtra and Henter Joyce's MAGic— see the January and March issues of AccessWorld.

Companies that make screen magnifiers now either include a screen reader with their product or offer "seamless" compatibility with a screen reader in their product line. Dolphin offers both options. LunarPlus 4.01 for Windows 95/98 and LunarPlus 4.01 for Windows NT combine screen magnifiers with a simplified screen reader, and Supernova combines Lunar and Hal, Dolphin's full-featured screen reader. Ai Squared offers a simplified screen reader as part of ZoomText Xtra. Henter-Joyce offers JAWS, a full-featured screen reader that is compatible with the company's screen magnifier, MAGic.

We conducted tests on LunarPlus for Windows NT in a Windows NT environment and used both Windows 95 and Windows 98 for testing LunarPlus for Windows 95/98. We watched for instances of crashing and we looked at magnification, panning and tracking, color selection and speech on Microsoft Word 97, WordPad 1.0, Excel 97, and Internet Explorer 5.0. Whenever possible, comparisons were made with MAGic 6.1 for NT and ZoomText Xtra 7.02.

Get Ready … Get Set … Help?

Both versions of LunarPlus (Windows 95/98 an Windows NT) were easy to install. .LunarPlus was very stable in all three Windows operating systems.

LunarPlus for Windows NT will not run if either ZoomText Xtra or MAGic are already installed. This could be a serious problem in an NT environment with multiple users, who may prefer different screen magnifiers on the same system.

A helpful installation guide is available in large print and on-line. However, no user's guide was included—only on-line help and an on-line quick reference guide, which proved insufficient. Graphical illustrations would have been useful; without them, we had to switch back and forth between the on-line help and the feature we were learning about in the actual program. On-line help was also less than helpful when we attempted to use the color changer and image smoother options that are enabled by hotkeys. We had to call Dolphin to find out that we needed to make changes in the control panel to perform these functions; the on-line help did not include these instructions. Also, the index in the on-line guide does not list all keywords. For example, the word speech is not included.

Can You Have It All?

Users who have sufficient vision to see the icons in a graphical control panel, which can reduce the need to memorize commands, may be disappointed not to find one in LunarPlus, which offers only hotkeys and a text-based control panel. Pressing hotkeys is faster than clicking icons on a graphical control panel, but some users may want to have both options, as they do in MAGic and ZoomText Xtra. LunarPlus has so many hotkeys that a first-time user must constantly look them up in the hotkey flashcards provided. Also, some hotkeys, such as the "Where Am I" hotkey, did not work.

Holy Magnification!

LunarPlus provides up to 32x magnification, which is greater than either ZoomText Xtra (16x) or MAGic (20x). Most users do not need 32x magnification, but those who do will appreciate LunarPlus' unique feature. LunarPlus, like ZoomText Xtra, provides horizontal and vertical magnification stretching, which is the ability to adjust magnification horizontally to make it wider or vertically to make it taller.

See It Your Way

Like ZoomText Xtra and MAGic, LunarPlus offers many different display modes in addition to the primary one, which is just the magnified display. In the horizontal-vertical split-screen mode it is possible to split the screen horizontally or vertically, allowing one portion to be magnified and the other to remain unmagnified. The various "lens modes" allows a section of the screen to be magnified in either a static or movable and resizable rectangular frame. With "auto lens," one line of a document or a control is magnified within a rectangular frame.

LunarPlus has a unique line-view mode, in which the document is displayed on the screen as a single line that can be scrolled and panned automatically. Like ZoomText Xtra, LunarPlus offers a "hook" option, which captures a portion of the screen and displays it in a static window anywhere on the screen. Up to 256 static windows can be made. For example, users can hook the current page number in Word, spreadsheet coordinates in Excel, an important Web site in Internet Explorer, or the clock in all programs. This feature works well in all display modes.

In the overview mode, the screen reverts to no magnification, and the portion of the screen the current display mode represents is shown in inverse video. This functions as LunarPlus's only "locator" option—ZoomText Xtra and MAGic offer several. Overview can be activated from any mode except the line-view display mode.

LunarPlus provides additional Windows mouse options, but, unlike those provided by ZoomText Xtra and MAGic, these options do not provide greatly enhanced visibility.

Keeping Track

Tracking allows users to jump to a location on the screen when a Windows event occurs. As in ZoomText Xtra and MAGic, tracking features in LunarPlus include tracking the mouse pointer, menu bars, the caret, dialog boxes, and control buttons. Additionally, LunarPlus offers a tracking feature in which the mouse remains stationary in the center of the display while the screen moves. LunarPlus has easy options for tracking, as does ZoomText Xtra. LunarPlus handles screen shifting well except in one instance. In Internet Explorer 5, if the mouse is moved quickly over the controls, that portion of the screen becomes blank. The controls reappear when the mouse is slowly moved over the controls again.

Because a fully magnified view does not fit on one screen, LunarPlus shifts the screen to display the active Windows event. Mouse and text cursor tracking can be restricted to within user-defined boundaries, as in ZoomText Xtra and MAGic. The top, bottom, left, and right boundaries can be set separately on sliding bars in a dialog box. A unique feature in LunarPlus is the ability to use hotkeys to go to one of six screen quadrants.

Panning

Panning enables users to scroll through lines of text in all directions. In LunarPlus, panning is accomplished entirely through the use of hotkeys (with the exception of the line view mode mentioned earlier). The advantage is that it allows full control of scrolling speed and direction. However, holding down the hotkeys continuously makes it difficult for a user who wants to perform another task in conjunction with reading, such as taking notes while panning.

Colors and Smoothing

Like ZoomText Xtra and MAGic, LunarPlus allows users to invert the foreground and background in black and white. Like ZoomText Xtra, color, contrast and brightness can also be changed through an easy-to-use dialog box. A preview option shows how each choice will affect the screen before the choice is applied. LunarPlus' font-smoothing feature is simple and effective.

The Built-in Screen Reader

LunarPlus is roughly comparable to ZoomText Xtra in speech capabilities. Like ZoomText Xtra, LunarPlus provides speech for text in any Windows application and most of Windows buttons, menus, and dialog boxes. Unique to LunarPlus is the ability to provide speech for bitmapped images. Compared to ZoomText Xtra, LunarPlus offers fewer voice types and no control of verbosity (the amount of spoken detail). Just as in ZoomText Xtra, the volume, pitch, and rate of speech can be varied. The speech can be set to read the current word, next line, previous line, individual letter in a spelling pattern, or the entire document. LunarPlus_ screen reader handles columns (including those in spreadsheets), a feature ZoomText Xtra does not have. LunarPlus can identify blank spaces, read numbers using digits or words, and indicate capital letters through speech.

The screen reader easily read various documents in Wordpad 1.0 and Word 98. It had a difficult time with Internet Explorer 5. Most of the time it would not read a Web site automatically. A hotkey need to be pressed, and then it would only read the whole screen instead of just the homepage currently being viewed. When the arrow keys or the mouse were used to view the page, it would stop speaking. Pressing the hotkeys to activate speech would only send the screen reader to the top of the screen again.

Summing Up

LunarPlus' main strengths lie in its high magnification level, the large number of hooked areas it can make, its unique line-view mode, and its ability to access magnified areas quickly by going to different screen quadrants. Its biggest weakness is that the lack of a clear and thorough instruction manual. Other limitations include a number of hotkeys that do not work, a screen shifting problem in Internet Explorer 5, lack of useful mouse and caret enhancements, and the screen reader's inability to read a Web page in Internet Explorer 5 effectively. LunarPlus for Windows 95/98 is less expensive than ZoomText Xtra, but if you need the NT version, it is more expensive than either MAGic or ZoomText Xtra.

Manufacturer's Comments

"The security system of Windows NT/2000 does not provide a standard supported way to access screen information. Compatibility with competitors' access products is therefore often a matter of chance. We at Dolphin are absolutely confident of the reliability and stability of our method, which is the main concern for our customers.

"The reference to the "Where Am I Key" hotkey is a documentation error, which will be corrected immediately.

"Dolphin always follows the industry standards when implementing software. To perform a search of the On-line Help system, use the 'Find' property sheet, just as with Windows Help. The Index lists section headings rather than all occurrences of a word."

"LunarPlus ships with a full set of high-visibility mouse pointers. These are also available free of charge at <http//www.dolphinusa.com>.

"LunarPlus also includes the Orpheus software synthesizer, which comes with seven software languages. Also included is the SAM module (Synthesizer Access Manager), which provides compatibility with a list of over 20 different speech synthesizers."

Product Information

Products: LunarPlus 4.01 for Windows 95/98, LunarPlus 4.01 for Windows NT/2000

Manufacturer: Dolphin Computer Access; phone: 650-348-7401; e-mail: <info@dolphinusa.com>. Price: LunarPlus 4.01 for Windows 95/98: $395; LunarPlus 4.01 for Windows NT/2000: $795.

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AccessWorld, Copyright © 2002 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.

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