[BRLTTY] History of Brltty

Nicolas Pitre nico at fluxnic.net
Thu Dec 10 01:26:36 EST 2015

On Wed, 9 Dec 2015, Rob wrote:

> What is the history of Brltty? I have to admit, it is an indispensable 
> tool in my arsenal, but how did it all get started to end up as the 
> wonderful program it is today?

It all started in 1995 with Nikhil Nair and James Bowde, two students at 
the University of Cambridge, UK. Nikhil was blind and wanted a native 
solution for using his CombiBraille with Linux.  The oldest BRLTTY 
release announcement I could find is for version 0.22 Beta in the 
December 1st 1995 edition of Linux Journal (meaning that BRLTTY is 20 
years old this month):


I was already a big Linux fan at the time. To be able to access a Linux 
computer, I needed a second computer running DOS and the proprietary 
software to drive my Alva BC340, and use that second computer with a 
terminal emulator to access the Linux computer via a serial cable.

Linux was already quite capable back then, especially for accessing the 
burgeoning Internet with a 14400 baud modem over a traditional phone 
line (and that was fast!).  That's how I stumbled across the first 
BRLTTY announcement. That was so cool I couldn't resist downloading the 
code and start tinkering with it. Then the process of 
reverse-engineering the communication protocol for my Alva started.  
Eventually (i.e. after some long nights) I had it figured out and I 
wrote the second BRLTTY driver.

I was so excited about being able to use the native Linux console 
directly that I had to share this with someone else who could appreciate 
this accomplishment. In other words that someone else had to be another 
computer geek who happened to be blind as well. That's how I ended up 
inviting Stéphane Doyon on a whim, whom I had never met before, to come 
to my place for some hacking session on his own braille display.

Equipped with two computers and one already functional braille display, 
we were able to reverse-engineer the communication protocol for his TSI 
Navigator in only one day of work. The third BRLTTY driver was born.

We submitted our drivers to the BRLTTY maintainer and a strong 
collaboration between Nikhil, Stéphane and myself ensued to improve the 
BRLTTY core code.  Eventually, version 1.0 was released:


A few months later, BRLTTY gained its initial speech support and version 
1.0.1 was released:


In early 1998, Nikhil couldn't dedicate as much time to BRLTTY and 
that's when I took over the maintainer role. That corresponds to BRLTTY 
version 1.9.0.

Then, several people started contributing to the project. Many of them 
are still following this mailing list. Notably, a certain Dave Mielke 
whose contributions were significant.

Fast forward to 2001 or 25 BRLTTY releases later, I was short of enough 
free time to properly maintain the project.  Given that BRLTTY already 
did all that I needed, it is possible that my motivation also dropped a 
little. It was time for another maintainership transition. That's when 
Dave stepped up to the plate. And Dave's dedication to BRLTTY really 
brought it to another level of refinement. And 15 years later Dave is 
still running the show.

> As a side note, how many of us use 
> Brltty as our sole means of navigating in Linux?

Count me in. Since early 1996.


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