June 30, 2006

Make PDFs talk

Author: Mayank Sharma

Many magazines and book publishers make available a free online version of their products, often as PDF files. Chances are you scroll through multiple pages of PDFs every day. To reduce the number of miles you put on the mouse wheel, you can use free software to read out the documents to you.

Adobe Acrobat Reader has built-in accessibility support for reading out PDFs. The current version 7 can be installed under Linux. If you don't already have the reader, navigate to the product's download section and choose between an .rpm file (41.9 MB) and a tarball (42.1 MB). Installing the RPM package should be as simple as rpm ivh AdobeReader_enu-7.0.8-1.i386.rpm. If you are on a non-RPM-based system, get the tarball, untar it, and run the included INSTALL script.

Once the reader has been installed, navigate to the View -> Read Out Loud menu. If the options are greyed out, you'll need to hook it up to a speech synthesis system.

Festival is a free text-to-speech (TTS) system written in C++ that'll work. If you're on a Debian-based system, apt-get install festival should do the trick. Others should follow the installation instructions on Festival's Web site.

In addition to Festival, you need the gnome-speech library, which provides an interface for applications to convert text to speech. Ubuntu Dapper Drake has this pre-installed. You can also manually install the API. Once that's done, try its test-speech tool to select and test the TTS synthesizers installed on your system.

That's all. Launch the reader again, open a PDF, visit the Read Out Loud menu, and let go of the mouse. Don't forget those headphones if you're in an office, though!

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