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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Third Party JAWS Scripts and Why I Need Them

Once upon a time, I could do all of my computing with a single screen reader, namely JAWS.  Now, as I wrote a few weeks back, it seems that I need to use different screen readers for different tasks, I can use JAWS in most of the cases that I switch to another screen reader to handle but, in these cases, my efficiency drops dramatically.  Later this week, a new computer will arrive at my house with Windows Vista Ultimate loaded on it and I will take my first steps into the latest OS released by MS.  Virtually all of my friends who use Vista have told me that I am fortunate to have multiple screen readers at my disposal as JAWS alone won’t do the trick in Vista.

 

This morning, I read the announcement from TNT describing the interesting new sets of scripts that JAWS configuration wizard, Brian Hartgen has crafted.  I am very happy to see Brian broadening his product line and I’ll be very happy to see Brian make more money as his efforts in JAWS scripting are among the best in the world and he deserves every penny he makes.

 

What surprises me are the programs for which Brian has been writing scripts.  In the not too distant past, JAWS users expected the best support for Microsoft Office, including Outlook and its tricky calendar out-of-the-box.  JAWS users also expected that features of the operating system, in this case Vista, would work properly without installing third party scripts – those for sale or done as community, open source projects.

 

In those halcyon days of yore, people who made their living writing JAWS customizations, people like Brian Hartgen, Jim Snowbarger, the Dancing Dots gang, and a few others, did so for fairly obscure or exceptionally complicated applications.  Support for programs like Sonar, Dragon Naturally Speaking, SoundForge and others were sold to underwrite the cost of making the scripts and to make money for their authors.  In the recent TNT announcement, though, features like the Outlook calendar and the built-in speech recognition subsystem in Vista are supported in scripts users need to buy separately as JAWS 8, including its various updates, don’t provide this functionality as part of the $1000 purchase price anymore.

 

In those days gone by, JAWS included scripts for VisualStudio, an essential for us programmers.  That support stopped after VS 6.0 came out and, now, Jamal Mazrui and the gang on blind programming do the work.  Window-Eyes works great with Skype straight out-of-the-box but JAWS users need to poke around the Internet to find Doug Lee’s scripts to enjoy the full Skype interface with JAWS.

 

I applaud FS for supporting the richest configuration capabilities in the industry as without them and without the third party scripters (professional or volunteer) JAWS users would find fewer and fewer programs accessible with the world’s leading screen reader.

 

Years ago, I remember sitting in my office at FS and talking to Glen Gordon on the phone.  In a number of conversations, we would express pride in how we (meaning FS) were able to support a new operating system on or soon after the date which Microsoft released it to the public.  In the years since I’ve been gone, this seems to have lost its priority as the last time we had this conversation, we were talking about Windows Mobile 2003, which we supported in PM 2.0 in December of that year – FS has since skipped Windows Mobile 2005 and hasn’t released a WM 6 solution yet, operating system releases that Code Factory supported on or near the day they came out.  With Vista, people tell me that Window-Eyes and System Access do a better job than JAWS and have been doing so for months now but I can only wonder what has held JAWS back in the opinions of other users as I haven’t started using Vista yet.

 

Learning that, to use features built into Vista, like speech recognition and modules of Outlook 2007, like its calendar, will now require that I pay for the support, makes me question the value of the JAWS SMA I bought last fall.  In the past, one of the aspects of a bug that would get its priority raised in a JAWS development cycle was whether or not something worked properly in an earlier, especially the previous release.  We had such great pride in how we supported Microsoft Office in a manner that professionals could use it to do complicated jobs.  Now, I need to buy scripts from TNT if I want to upgrade to Office 2007.  Why has this happened? 

 

Meanwhile, every time I start up Window-Eyes or System Access, I find myself increasingly impressed by something they do right that either doesn’t work in JAWS or, most painful of all, worked in an earlier release of JAWS but doesn’t anymore.  In the article that Jim and Greg wrote that I pointed to last week, they ask why a blind person needs to pay $1000 for a screen reader in order to use a brand new $300 computer from Dell.  I would expand this and ask why I, an advanced JAWS user needs to buy JAWS for $1000, Window-Eyes for $900 and System Access (I got my copy of SA for free so I don’t know what it costs but I’ll guess $500) – approximately $2400 worth of Access Technology to use an 18 month old Toshiba laptop that is probably worth about $100 at Leroy’s Bail Bonds and Pawn Shop these days.

 

I understand that FS has an overwhelming market share with JAWS and that it might not make great business sense to invest much time or money in a product that the majority of the market already owns and, in most cases, has plunked down the SMA dollars for the next couple of releases.  From a purely dollars and sense standpoint, investing greatly in JAWS is probably imprudent as when one has a near monopoly position, why should they innovate?  What would possibly motivate FS to spend more than the minimum on a product where they already own the market?

 

BC readers should not blame FS for these changes in what JAWS does and does not support.  They are running their business following a very sensible strategy, invest in development in products in which they can take share and dollars from competitors and, therefore, grow their business rather than investing in a product which already has a lock on the market in which growth possibilities are fairly small.

 

Who then is responsible for the general malaise in the screen reader market?  A lot of people who make purchasing decisions, people who write “everything is beautiful” reviews of new product releases, users who do not refuse an upgrade that, in areas important to them, is in fact, a setback – in short, the community of people who are responsible for keeping the vendors honest.

 

I have no suggested course of action on how to change this situation.  I think Serotek is doing some pretty innovative stuff and that Window-Eyes has improved a lot in Office but, as I’ve said before, I still need JAWS to do many aspects of my job and will continue using it until System Access, Window-Eyes or some other solution provides me what I need on a daily basis.  So, I guess I’m more part of the problem than the solution, I’m willing to bitch about the screen readers I use but will continue paying for my SMA and, in a sense, fueling the fire with my dollars as my choices are sparse to non-existent.

 

--End

 

9 Comments:

Blogger Joe said...

You absolutely do not “have” to spend $2,400 on access technology. You made the conscious decision to use Windows and that’s what you’re stuck with. You only “have” to spend extra as a consequence of your own choices. Personal responsibility, please.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Richard Wells said...

Hi Chris,

Here is a suggestion to help with your situation: Compile a list of applications that you can only access using JAWS and present them to Serotek and GWMicro with specific explanations of which components of them you cannot access using their products.

In my own experience, the only thing I still use JAWS for is accessing All-In-Play games. If System Access ever begins working in that site, I will probably remove JAWS from my last computer. Well, if they allow the last SMA the owe me, I may take a look at JAWS 9 to see what else they broke.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What JAWS has over others is breadth of offerings, e.g. Java AccessBridge, (most of office), Citrix support, PDF support, etc. None of the rest to my knowledge support all of these in one package. your post does raise concerns for me however, if they are shrinking their coverage as does appear to be true, they will drastically degrade any advantage over competition and will, in some instances lose ground in large chunks.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a company gets to a point where they think their product is so good that no other product can catch up, they often no longer want to hear anything negative. When they feel threatened by criticism and resent it and try and suppress it, they no longer hear the unpleasant truths. They no longer receive honest feedback about what is good and what is not. They sacrifice opportunities to improve.

When products are designed to please board members and upper management who do not use the products, design devolves to what the developers can accomplish easily. Usability and quality suffer. Features no longer represent consumer needs. User centered design approaches start to resemble challenges to the corporate culture and cannot even be suggested. And consumers suffer. They pay for the product, and then they try to make the best of it through its demise.

Freedom Scientific is painting itself into a corner. Short term thinking and profiteering may keep them looking viable for a few more years, but they cannot continue to succeed without the consumer, and they have demonstrated little or no concern for what consumers want.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I believed has happened here is that Freedom Scientific has gotten so big and so rich, that they feel that they don't need to improve their product, and all they care about is money. They have become almost a mirror image of Microsoft: Establishing a monopoly, originally great products, and then screwing the customers in the interests of their checkbooks. Oh, and let's not forget squashing competition, too. I sincerely believe that Serotek had to get on their knees and beg for FS to leave them alone.

Unfortunately, just like Windows, government agencies and customers who don't bother doing research will continue purchasing it, thinking that the expensive product is always the best.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You stated: "Window-Eyes has improved a lot in Office but, as I’ve said before, I still need JAWS to do many aspects of my job and will continue using it until System Access, Window-Eyes or some other solution provides me what I need on a daily basis." I'm actually seeing quite the reverse of this. Can you be very specific as to what makes you say this?

2:37 PM  
Anonymous CorporateDistaste said...

Well? What a great posting. FS astat first was a great and willing beast to work with, but now after hmmm bout six or so years (after JFW 3.5), things went down the tubes.
The really interesting thing about FS is even if the product they are writing about totally sucks, they still puf it up and make it sound SOOOOOOO.....innovative! When really...it's a honking $1000 buggy, memory leeking RAM nightmare, as in the case of JAWS for Windows. I just got the PAC Mate Omni Upgrade in April, and overall it's not a bad machine, aside from the fact that it freezes up about every ten minutes leaving me stuck in FSEdit or the Pocket IE, and forced to warm reset (and also three hard resets from then till now). Now, it seems to me, that FS puts a decent base and core into a product like JAWS or the PM, but once the foundation is laid roughly with chipping bricks, they just paint it different colors and add stories atop the moldering pile of shit. the old PM Was JUST fine, but ah no, gotta make it better, gotta make it "faster" (which it's not, it's slow as hell when you open Skype or even save large FSD files and update Windows Media library or play WAV in GSPlayer), and it's basically a Vista Mobile! The good thing is the save data thing where if your battery goes flat, you don't lose a byte of info because of the RAM (and that should have been 256 megs instead of 128). I like the PM but FS needs to work on the new calendar interface - pocket JAWS sucks wiht it so far...
Ok. Now for some real hardcore stuff...
I don't understand why FS doesn't put more support into open-source apps and especially Mozilla Firefox, Sunbird, Thunderbird, etc etc. Like I say, they get the virtual buffers working half-decently and then switch to....Internet Explorer Beta 8! OK. Is FS Microsoft's lapdog, or is the whole Corporate America thing getting to Lee's head? I don't even think people forgot about FS being baught out in May of last year by some company that by the research I did, only buys up companies they know will make a killin' for them. My view, everybody should switch to Ubuntu and Linux and strive to make the open-source community rain with real accessibility!
I'm not saying this stuff to get anybody upset - I give credit to Dug Lee and Brian (and everybody else making JAWS more usable), I'm just warning you. When JFW 10 comes out this October, take a good long hard minute and think about what you're going to blow that SMA on. If you like the new features and you want to get it, go right ahead, I'm not gonna stop you. Who knows - maybe FS will become interested in its Windows customers again.
If not, get pissed and do what Michael Currans doing - developing his own free product that in my opinion is faster, stabler, and has definite potential to grow into an awesome open-source, free solution for people stuck in Windows and like the GUI interface.
Anybody who's spreading this news to FS about Mozilla, that's great work and keep the bug reports coming. they might not do a damn thing, but at least we can say we tried. I still report things almost daily (they're starting to get used to my email.... :)

good luck with FS and the corporate dream they've woven!

6:16 PM  
Anonymous bail bonding said...

"You absolutely do not “have” to spend $2,400 on access technology. You made the conscious decision to use Windows and that’s what you’re stuck with. You only “have” to spend extra as a consequence of your own choices. Personal responsibility, please."I compltely agree with this comment Here's what one prominent eye doctor says about using JAWS: "After losing my vision, I realized the importance of assistive technology as part of optometric rehabilitation. I would not be able to perform my duties as the Chief of Low Vision if I didn't have JAWS.”

Dr. Bill Takeshita, OD, FAAO, FCOVD, Chief of Low Vision, Center for the Partially Sighted, Los Angeles, CA, Director of Low Vision, Braille Institute of America

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using Windows isn't exactly a personal choice though is it. Well maybe if your not living in the real world, don't have to have a job in order the pay the rent etc., you can afford to only use open source, say orca but if not then it is a pretty much world-wide case that you'll end up having* to use Windows, and I've yet to find a screen-reader that just has the capicity 'out of the box', as it were to use with the most commonly used applications, meaing Microsoft... system access, NVDA are all useful, but they can only be secondary if you need to have a reasonable level of performance, compatibility and want to work at a decent speed on a PC.. it sucks, but it sucks less than not having it.. its just a way-overpriced piece of suckingness.

6:12 PM  

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