First Look: Screen Readers in Vista
I bought a new HP desktop that came loaded with the Vista OS. This PC has a Core Two Duo 6420 with both cores clocking at something like 2.2 GHz, a very large cache, fast hard disks, 2 gigabytes of RAM and loads of other niceties that I’ve yet to explore. As I cannot do anything too interesting on a PC without using a screen reader, on my first sitting, I hit Windows+U to start up Narrator and then proceeded to install Window-Eyes. I probably would have installed JAWS first but I have a Window-Eyes installation CD and I install JAWS from the web download (I got an 8.0 CD but can’t recall where I put it). After installing Window-Eyes and getting the machine to see other computers on my home network, I installed the latest version of JAWS from the download page on the Freedom Scientific web site. A little later, I played with SA to GO and installed the desktop version of System Access. The following are my first impressions of the four screen access programs I’ve tried so far:
My overall impression thus far is that, excepting Narrator which doesn’t claim to be a complete solution, JAWS performs much worse than the others. Window-Eyes and System Access both have some problems but both also outperform JAWS.
A bit of background before I get into specifics: I intentionally did not read any
To install Window-Eyes, I closed Narrator and inserted the WE CD into the drive. Doug’s voice spoke clearly into my headphones and I hit “s” to run the WE installer with speech. It then said that it had to restart the computer to continue and I accepted the “Restart Now” option and waited for the computer to reboot. It came up with Window-Eyes talking at the login prompt, I typed in my password, hit ENTER and the installation continued. I chose the simple installation and it concluded quickly and launched the full version of Window-Eyes. I played around a bit and then returned to the Window-Eyes installer to add Eloquence so I could use it with WE. This went very smoothly, I returned to the WE interface to switch synthesizer and adjust speech rates and such.
After playing around with various network settings and such so I could see the other computers on our home network, I launched Internet Explorer and went to the Freedom Scientific web site and followed the links to the JAWS downloads page. From there, I picked the ILM version of the latest JAWS update which, according to the marketing information said it was a final release for
After logging in again, the JAWS Authorization utility came up. As I’ve done for the past few years, I went to another machine on my network and opened a text file in which I save my JAWS authorization code. JAWS performance in Windows Explorer seemed terribly slow. Keyboard interupt seemed to work poorly so hitting a number of consecutive down-arrows caused JAWS to read much more than I would have liked and I found that the CONTROL key only stopped speech in some situations. When I got to my file I hit ENTER and it loaded in Notepad. Moving around the document in Notepad caused JAWS to only say “blank.” Susan had to use the mouse to highlight my authorization code so I could copy it and paste it into the JAWS Authorization manager. Somewhere in this process, another
The first thing I noticed is that, due to no apparent rhyme or reason, JAWS started talking in Notepad where I didn’t before. I will assume this had something to do with it having been obscured by other windows and that when its edit area was told to repaint that the JAWS OSM caught the new information.
I then adjusted speech rates and the like and continued playing around with JAWS in
Next, I quit all screen access programs, hit Windows+R, typed www.satogo.com and struck ENTER. Within a couple of seconds, Internet Explorer had launched and I was asked to hit ENTER to begin using the software. It asked me to hit ALT+R a couple of times and then type in my Serotek account number. I did this and after waiting a little while as the System Access tune played in my headphones, SA launched on my computer and I could use it right away.
I’m not a big fan of DecTalk which is probably the biggest complaint I have about SA To Go as that its default synthesizer and I’m not sure if I could switch it to another as I didn’t look. I increased my speech rate and continued playing around with
Next, I installed the full, desktop version of System Access without any problems and listened to the Serotek song play as it automatically downloaded and installed updates. I adjusted speech rate and a few other things I like to configure when using SA and embarked on a similar set of tests with the newest screen reader on the block.
HAL is the only major screen access program I have not tried yet on my
My overall impression is that Narrator has seen the greatest improvement moving from XP to
In the years since JAWS 3.20 first introduced a talking installer, I have always felt that it provided the cleanest route to getting a screen reader onto a system. I’m sure that if I had read the
Playing around some more, I must admit that I felt most comfortable in JAWS and System Access as they have keyboard layouts with which I am most familiar. I use a Kinesis keyboard and JAWS is the only screen reader to ship with a layout designed for this very ergonomic bit of hardware. I put Window-Eyes into its JAWS layout and started changing keystrokes to simulate the JAWS Kinesis arrangement and, the more I customized, the more comfortable I felt.
Primarily due to the scripts written by the gang on the blind programming mailing list, a project led by Jamal Mazrui, JAWS performed the best in VisualStudio when I installed it on the new computer. Also because of third party configurations, JAWS performed very nicely in the ssh client, putty.
Overall, though, more operating system dialogues read properly with Window-Eyes and System Access than with JAWS. Both Window-Eyes and System Access are much faster than JAWS nearly everywhere I have tried thus far in Vista and, oddly, WE and SA seem to have the greatest speed advantage in Windows Explorer even when set to the classic look and feel.
The tests and comparisons I have performed so far represent a “first look” at Vista with the various screen readers I have installed so far, thus, I would not use this article to make any purchasing decisions as I have really only compared the installation routines and operating system features and have not even installed Office 2007 on the new box and JAWS has for a long time dominated these professional applications and I don’t think FS would let WE or SA catch them in support for this important suite of tools.
I would also like to mention that the SAPI voices included with
My hatred for pre-installed software has not decreased with the purchase of this new HP. The most annoying of the bloatware programs on this PC is the Norton virus protection program which, due to lots of custom controls, works like crap with every screen reader I tried. Recently, InfoWorld compared about 10 virus/malware/adware protection programs. NOD32 came in first place far ahead of Norton, McAfee and Microsoft, the three most popular. NOD32, the protection program I use on every computer in our house, allows users to turn off its graphical interface and, thereafter, it works very, very nicely with JAWS, Window-Eyes and SA in Windows XP (I haven’t installed it under
As usual, though, the “All Programs” menu on my new PC is resplendent with lots of crap I don’t want. I am writing this on an XP PC which I’ve owned for over a year and a half and I’ve still not figured out how to fully remove AOL, a service I have never used nor do I intend to use in any future I can predict for myself. I saw that AOL was pre-installed on my new HP and wonder if it will be a permanent fixture.
This new PC has 640 GB of hard disk space so the bloatware hardly means anything in terms of wasted storage but I hate seeing crap I don’t want in my Add/Remove programs list where I actually want to find programs I do want to update or remove. Then again, I got this computer from NewEgg at a great price and bloatware often provides a way for computer manufacturers to keep retail prices down by taking advertising revenue for loading this garbage onto new computers. I’d rather deal with removing a bunch of stupid programs than pay more for the computer.
So, look for some additional articles on my adventures in Vista with Office, VMWare and Ubuntu with the Orca screen reader and checking out the
Rumors are starting to form about the upcoming JAWS 9.0 release. So far, Blind Confidential has only heard that it will do “revolutionary things on the Internet.” As I was removed from the JAWS beta team back in 2005, I have no non-disclosure with FS nor do I have access to the software so all I can report on are rumors and conjecture.
FS had included language about support for