Robert Kingett, a guest blogger, discusses the new features of the JAWS 14 screen reader, as well as how it compares to NVDA. He also lists several NVDA bug fixes.
By Robert Kingett
When I wake up in the morning, or afternoon, whichever happens, and check my email and twitter feed to see a billion emails and tweets about the new JAWS release I moan in pure terror. Surely people know that I have stopped using JAWS by now, right? Especially my duplicitous bantering about the differences between JAWS and NVDA. Since the new beta of NVDA was released sometime in the beginning of October I was content. Besides, NV access hooked me with their vast array of bug fixes and NVDA enhancements. It always amazes me when people read the blogs only to tell me just a few of the things that were shelled out in the next release of NVDA. I wonder how many other people apart from me actually read the entire list of changes bug fixes and enhancements and even scope the internet to install add ons just so that I can do many things the casual NVDA person can't do. I'm assuming that I'm one of the few, given how many people tell me they won’t upgrade because of the minimalist approach the nonprofit company has taken. When people laugh at me because I download every beta available for the new release of NVDA I just have one sentence that I utter all the time like a very good song that forces my iPod to stay repeating.
“At least it's free.”
I'm glad there's free software out now to make computers accessible to everyone. I’d even go as far to say that NVDA has achieved the same universal accessibility on the pc that VoiceOver has done with the Macs of today. People would tell me that I'm wrong because you don't have it installed on computers and such when you turn it on. They tell me you have to download it. While this is a bit of a snag if you don't have a screen reader, a sighted person can do it faster than you ever could downloading system access and the like to get NVDA.
Still a lot of the blindness community, blindness organizations especially, would want to get JAWS For Windows. Why? I don't know. It would actually help the economy a fraction, I believe, if everybody started using open source materials… (Yes I'm typing this in Microsoft Office Word. I don't practice what I preach, unfortunately.)
While I'm a fractional hypocrite I know enough to know a better deal when one opens up to me. Since so many of my fellow blind buddies told me that JAWS For Windows had finally surpassed NVDA in terms of features I knew that I had to stick my nose into the “what's new in JAWS 14” business and poke around with a hypodermic needle of critical analysis.
I decided to sit back, sip my espresso from the local coffee shop, and really dive into what this new version of JAWS has to offer.
I have to admit I was eating a bowl of popcorn as I was listening to the new JAWS features. there are not really any JAWS enhancements except for a few in the scripting area. All the hype is about new features to add pizzazz to the new product, forgetting about performance and functionality. The first new feature reminds me of something that Firefox has all by itself without a screen reader present.
This new feature is called flexible web.
New JAWS FeaturesFlexible Web
Frequently, you will encounter Web pages that contain a lot of excess content which can make it difficult to locate the actual content you want, or interrupt the flow when reading. For instance, many sites contain Google ad frames. These can be troublesome for JAWS users as they disrupt the reading order of surrounding content.
Really? I thought the web was as easy to slip and slide through as a waterslide. I really don't appreciate the opening to this, and all the other features, presented on the webpage. Here, I'm going to explain two things.
1. There was a bad grammar error not to mention spelling error up there. I have corrected it. if you look at the original version on the webpage the word “interrupt” is “interrupts.” This is a bad grammar error and sentence flow.
2. This introduction makes me feel part of a secret group, like a secret club that's exclusive. It's like me going to a barbershop because I heard that they offer a new addition to the shop but when I get there a fat man in a gray business suit sits me down softly in a chair to explain the fundamental reason why people get haircuts and how boring it is to come to the same shop all the time. I don't feel like a power user with this introduction. I feel like I'm a part of a group that everyone else is a part of and they don't know it yet.
Flexible Web enables you to take more control of Web pages by allowing you to quickly find the content you are looking for, as well as hide content that interrupts the reading experience. You can hide sections of content, such as Google ad frames or other types of unnecessary content, for a smoother reading experience. In addition, you could have JAWS begin reading at a level one heading, or ARIA main region, as these may contain the most interesting content.
This new feature seems to be as though it's going to be a useful tool for webpages that you want to visit often and for doing tasks a lot quicker. This, however, can already be done by adding a few add-ons in Firefox. Since most ads are flash based, get the disable flash plugin along with the ad block plugin and you will have a better experience with navigating irritating webpages with NVDA and Firefox. Internet explorer people, sorry. Deal with it or get JAWS 14.
The really neat thing about this new feature is you will be able to make the changes into a rule for every time you visit the webpage. If, however, you’re either really skilled at whizzing through the web by key mashing or you know a webpage like the back of your hand I see where this would become useless. I'm sure it will ignore the content in the JAWS curser but it will still be blinking or moving on the website. This will leave sighted JAWS users aching to use Firefox with the two add-ons I mentioned. I've never tried out this new release of JAWS so I can't tell you how smoothly it works or how accurately it works either. You make a temporary set of commands for JAWS to follow on that webpage. The thing that's funny is you first have to navigate to the element you want to hide and then hide it. what if there's multiple elements all distances apart from each other? This is a big problem and it just seems like it's more trouble than what it's worth.
If they really wanted to bump this up they should offer a scan option for ads and frames and such so new users and new webpage visitors can take advantage just as smoothly and quickly as the pros. I’d suggest you only use this on webpages you know you’re going to come back to on a daily basis. I just can't see any reason why you'd even want to try this on a new webpage anyway.
To use Flexible Web, open a Web page you want to customize in Internet Explorer or Firefox. Then, move the Virtual PC Cursor to the page element you want to hide, or from where you want to start reading when the page first loads. Activate the Flexible Web wizard by pressing the layered keystroke INSERT+SPACEBAR, X. Alternatively, presses INSERT+F2 to open the Run JAWS Manager dialog box, and then choose Flexible Web.
It's as if Freedom Scientific are trying really hard to make their features flashy when I'm sure there's a few actual performance hiccups and glitches that still remain. There isn't anything on the main what's new page that tells me about what performance enhancements that Freedom Scientific included in this new version. The dominant is the feature set. What if I don’t want to use some, or all, of the new features? Is there anything for me? Does JAWS load better? Does it handle tables better? Does it now tell you things it didn't before such as new elements? What bug fixes have you worked out? Hello? Hello? Anyone?
Microsoft Outlook 2010 and 2007 Virtual Buffer Message Support.
Does anyone know what this is? If not, Freedom Scientific will explain it all to me in a paragraph that looks like a fat cat trying to jam its way down my shoe with a big fat candy bar clamped in its talons.
Microsoft Outlook uses Microsoft Word for viewing all read-only messages. However, due to the way Word supports table navigation, and since tables are frequently used for message layout, messages opened in Outlook 2010 and 2007 tend to be very difficult, if not impossible, to read fluently. While there is an option to view a message in the default Web browser, it is cumbersome and slow to have to activate for every message.
Is this actually a problem that people have had? This can be rectified very easily in the options menu of MS Outlook. This can be fixed on any version. NVDA has improved support for applications alone and not added a new screen reader focused solution to read messages. Really? Is this actually a feature? I don't understand why this has to be broadly announced. The performance of JAWS, and anything else in the screen reader market, relies heavily on application support alone. With this new upgrade, Freedom Scientific has taken something that should have been worked on performance wise, and taken it, chewed it up, and spit it out looking like the way Freedom Scientific wants it to.
JAWS is starting to remind me of the government or something a bit scarier like hairdressers. Instead of assessing how to merge its style with the type of hair JAWS just takes one look at it and slaps on a wig that it's designed, not even leaving any room for compatibility.
This new feature enables you to open a read-only message and read it using the Virtual PC Cursor just like reading a Web page in Internet Explorer or Firefox. You can navigate messages by character, word, line, sentence, paragraph, page, heading, table, link, and graphic. By default, tables are presented in a simple layout with one cell per line and provide a much more efficient means of reading complex messages.
I have a hard time understanding why this even exists. Users have devised their own method for reading problems. If you’re having a problem with a graphic swarming email for example, switch everything to plain text. If you want to keep things in HTML but you have a hard time reading one message, copy and paste the contents into note pad and enjoy reading an accessible version of that awful email.
This doesn't enhance the performance at all. Moving on.
Vocalizer Direct Synthesizer
JAWS 14 supports Vocalizer Direct voices from Nuance Communications. These new voices work exclusively with Freedom Scientific products. Vocalizer Direct offers many benefits including improved performance, especially in the areas of latency and speech quality, as well as support for more languages and dialects, including Hungarian, Thai, Irish English, and South African English.
Note: All the Vocalizer Direct voices will be supported in future versions of MAGic and OpenBook. Install them now for JAWS, and these other products will take advantage of them in the future without the need to install again.
This is good. Next.
Windows 8 Support
Freedom Scientific has been working closely with the Microsoft Windows team over the past year and we have made the necessary changes in JAWS 14 in order to make the Windows 8 experience a very smooth transition. JAWS will perform with all your familiar applications used in Windows 7 or XP with a few exceptions, outlined below. When using the new Windows 8 Start Screen, or the new style apps such as e-mail, browser, calendar, or even the store to shop for Apps, you will find JAWS 14 really makes it a smooth transition for experienced JAWS users and very easy to learn for first-time users. You can also install the new Vocalizer Direct voices and use them with JAWS on Windows 8.
I kind of wish they'd just tell me the candy and stop telling me that the candy is really good but they won’t open it for me. Oh well, I blame the writers, not the entire company.
I just have to point out that NVDA has already done much work on this and much more with windows 8. Fare is fare though so let’s see what's going to happen with JAWS and windows 8.
Windows 8 Start Screen and Search Tool Support
I wonder how many paragraphs it will take for them to tell me how far the support actually reaches. Let’s have a look.
When you press the WINDOWS Key, the Start screen opens. This replaces the Start menu from prior versions of Windows. Each program is represented by a tile. Navigation of the tiles of the Start Screen is supported. As you navigate with the ARROW keys, you will hear the name of the tile gaining focus, the row and column of the tile, and expanded state of the tile. Expanded means that the tile takes up twice the space as a standard tile. This is necessary because columns may be skipped when navigating when a tile is twice the width of a standard tile. If you navigate to another group of tiles, JAWS plays a sound to indicate when you have switched groups. You can also simply begin typing the name of the application you want to quickly move to it.
The Search Charm (Search edit box) is activated as soon as you begin typing text after opening the Start Screen by pressing the WINDOWS Key. If you press TAB, you move to the Search Categories list. Pressing UP or DOWN ARROW speaks the name of each category and its position. When you press SHIFT+TAB to move to the Search Results pane, the name of the focused result is announced followed by its position. As you navigate in the Search Results pane using the ARROW keys, the name, and position are both indicated.
Seems to be just basic support. I do have to give them credit for working with the interface instead of trying to sneeze out their own JAWS interface to windows 8. This will be a good thing so computer users will have no choice but to, yet again, learn something new.
Just before I breeze on by I have to share this.
A few useful keystrokes specific to Windows 8 include:
•WINDOWS Key+Q: Places you in the edit field for searching your applications. Note that while on the Start Screen, simply beginning to type moves you into this same edit field.
•WINDOWS Key+F: Places you in the edit field for searching your Files.
•WINDOWS Key+W: Places you in the edit field for searching your Windows 8 Settings.
•WINDOWS Key+I: Places you in the Settings Charm.
•WINDOWS Key+C: Places you in the Charms.
This is only basic support though and NVDA has achieved this three versions ago. They talk about the JAWS curser changing in the windows 8 interface, and it also tells us that JAWS will no longer be able to automatically retrieve the titles of open applications or windows when you switch to them.
I would want that fixed. That literally seems like a bug. NVDA, even though not made for windows 8 at the time, worked well with windows 8 with many hiccups. I knew that NVDA would beat JAWS in this area but I didn’t know how much. Next.
View Clipboard Text
JAWS now combines the power of Results Viewer with the Clipboard. If you have copied some text to the Clipboard, pressing the layered keystroke INSERT+SPACEBAR, C will display the contents of the Clipboard in the Results Viewer. This offers you a wide range of flexibility with managing copied data, allowing you the opportunity to copy and paste it into multiple locations.
In its quest to slowly make itself the new operating system by default, it now attacks the clipboard. This exists, even in the common windows environment. It's called the clipboard manager and it can be found in all windows operating systems.
Do you guys think JAWS For Windows will be a neat operating system? I'm actually really frightened.
This next one is tailored for college students who don't check before they email.
Text Analyzer Enhancements
The Text Analyzer, a tool which can be used to notify you of inconsistencies in a document such as mismatched parentheses, unintentional format changes, extra whitespace, and stray or missing punctuation, has been improved to provide even more information about font changes. When scanning a document for errors, the Text Analyzer can now identify inconsistencies with the font name, size, color, and attributes, such as bold, italic, or underline.
This is another one of those let’s make people lazier features. This doesn't need to exist at all. If you’re using Microsoft Office Word you could turn punctuation on and actually proofread your document then ask your dog for advice on comma splices. If you have font inconsistencies just highlight the entire thing, turn bold off, select a font, and a size. If you want to know what kind of a font is used just highlight the word and see which font the dialogue lands on.
If you want to deal with commas and stuff put on your exploring shoes and dive into Microsoft Office Word options and boost the spelling and grammar check and Taylor it to your needs.
NVDA concentrates on reading spelling and grammar now by the way. Better support for misspelled words. The overall interaction of choices and options as improved in NVDA giving you more information, but no more shortcuts.
Position in HTML
You can now select text between a temporary PlaceMarker and the current position in HTML environments.
JAWS has now developed an entirely new way to copy and paste. Why would anyone use this? If you copy too much text just delete whatever. If you copy too little text then try again with a bigger selection or just fill in the rest.
What this essentially is, is the Freedom Scientific method of select, copy, and paste. I like my method better though. The Freedom Scientific method of copying and pasting, quite literally, seems to take longer.
This next feature is highly useful but is already out with Firefox. I guess now internet explorers have something to rejoice about now as well.
Removing Unwanted Flash and Frame Announcements
In JAWS 12, a feature was added that allowed previously inaccessible windowless flash objects to become accessible. This allowed JAWS users to be less dependent on page designers that may or may not remember to make Flash accessible. In addition, some sites contain windowless flash objects that were declared as windowless flash in order to hide objects that only affect the presentation of the page like a background picture, an icon inserted to accentuate document content, etc. All these items were invisible to users prior to JAWS 12. Now, as you navigate in the virtual buffer, you hear only "Flash start,” "Flash end,” or "Flash start,” "graphic ###", "Flash end." As you navigate, you may also hear "frame start,” "frame end" since Web pages also sometimes contain empty frames, which can be used to improve the visual layout of the page.
JAWS 14 filters out these unnecessary flash and frame objects to help make reading in the virtual buffer as smooth as possible. JAWS will no longer announce the start and end of flash and frame objects if the only object inside flash is a graphic or button, or if the flash or frame object is empty.
This feature really does seem like it could be of a useful help. However, this is only using the JAWS curser. It will still be visible on the webpage so for some, browsing will be just as slow as ever.
JAWS 14 supports all of the latest industry standard ARIA tags and elements that can be applied to Web pages.
Good. NVDA already had this quite a bit of versions ago. It's nice that JAWS is coming into the new web area.
JAWS Find Searches Convenient OCR Content
After OCR has been applied to an unrecognizable image or text, a JAWS Find (CTRL+INSERT+F), can be used to search for recognized text.
This is actually very useful. Good job. Seriously. Convenient and it's an actual program enhancement.
Move to Next or Prior Separator
Frequently, Web page authors will use the <br> HTML tag to insert a line of dashes between sections of a Web page. This is called a separator. You can now press Navigation Quick Key DASH or SHIFT+DASH to move to the next or prior separator on a Web page in Internet Explorer or Firefox. <
This is really useful in some cases. Since there's other navigational landmarks that blind people can use and have been using since the dawn of time then I don't know if many people will take advantage of this new feature.
New Settings Center option for Configuring Punctuation Level
You can now use Settings Center to configure the amount of punctuation JAWS will speak in all applications.
The main thing I have to say has to be I'm glad they enhanced the usability and functionality of JAWS. This is a very nice enhancement indeed. It's really weird that it took them until JAWS 14 to do this but I am glad that it is finally done for the JAWS users.
SAPI 5 64-bit Support
JAWS 14 now works with 64-bit SAPI 5 voices. A SAPI 5 64-bit profiles has been added to the list of default voice profiles and is available when using JAWS on a 64-bit version of Windows.
Awesome. Weird that it took until 2012 to do but awesome all the same.
New Keystrokes for Permanently Changing Speech Rate
New keystrokes have been added to allow you to permanently change the voice rate on the fly. Press CTRL+WINDOWS Key+ALT+PAGE UP to increase the rate and press CTRL+WINDOWS Key+ALT+PAGE DOWN to decrease the rate.
Good. Another actual program enhancement that NVDA has made 7 versions ago. I'm proud of Freedom Scientific!
As you can see JAWS For Windows sports an array of new features worth checking out if you want to be a part of our exclusive club. I know that I've said I was going to compare JAWS to NVDA but the straightforward way NVDA reports it's changes makes it so clear cut and understandable that I don't have to explain anything. Instead, I'm just going to paste the list of bug fixes from the new beta version alone so you all can compare for yourselves.
NOTE. The links by each change link to tickets people have posted in the forums and bug reports.
Bug FixesNote: The numbers in parentheses link to the appropriate ticket number on the NVDA website.
In Windows Vista and later, NVDA no longer incorrectly treats the Windows key as being held down when unlocking Windows after locking it by pressing Windows+l. (#1856)
In Adobe Reader, row headers are now correctly recognized as table cells; i.e. coordinates are reported and they can be accessed using table navigation commands. (#2444)
In Adobe Reader, table cells spanning more than one column and/or row are now handled correctly. (#2437, #2438, #2450)
The NVDA distribution package now checks its integrity before executing. (#2475)
Temporary download files are now removed if downloading of an NVDA update fails. (#2477)
When copying the user configuration to the system configuration (for use on Windows logon and other secure screens) NVDA will no longer freeze on XP while doing so. (#2485)
Tiles on the Windows 8 Start Screen are now presented better in speech and braille. The name is no longer repeated, unselected is no longer reported on all tiles, and live status information is presented as the description of the tile (e.g. current temperature for the Weather tile).
Passwords are no longer announced when reading password fields in Microsoft Outlook and other standard edit controls that are marked as protected. (#2021)
In Adobe Reader, changes to form fields are now correctly reflected in browse mode. (#2529)
Improvements to support for the Microsoft Word Spell Checker, including more accurate reading of the current spelling error, and the ability to support the spell checker when running an Installed copy of NVDA on Windows Vista or higher.
Add-ons which include files containing non-English characters can now be installed correctly in most cases. (#2505)
In Adobe Reader, the language of text is no longer lost when it is updated or scrolled to. (#2544)
When installing an add-on, the confirmation dialog now correctly shows the localized name of the add-on if available. (#2422)
In applications using UI Automation (such as .net and Silverlight applications), the calculation of numeric values for controls such as sliders has been corrected. (#2417)
The configuration for reporting of progress bars is now honored for the indeterminate progress bars displayed by NVDA when installing, creating a portable copy, etc. (#2574)
NVDA commands can no longer be executed from a braille display while a secure Windows screen (such as the Lock screen) is active. (#2449)
In browse mode, braille is now updated if the text being displayed changes. (#2074)
When on a secure Windows screen such as the Lock screen, messages from applications speaking or displaying braille directly via NVDA are now ignored.
In Browse mode, it is no longer possible to fall off the bottom of the document with the right arrow key when on the final character, or by jumping to the end of a container when that container is the last item in the document. (#2463)
Extraneous content is no longer incorrectly included when reporting the text of dialogs in web applications (specifically, ARIA dialogs with no aria-described by attribute). (#2390)
NVDA no longer incorrectly reports or locates certain edit fields in MSHTML documents (e.g. Internet Explorer), specifically where an explicit ARIA role has been used by the web page author. (#2435)
The backspace key is now handled correctly when speaking typed words in Windows command consoles. (#2586)
Cell coordinates in Microsoft Excel are now shown again in Braille.
In Microsoft Word, NVDA no longer leaves you stuck on a paragraph with list formatting when trying to navigate out over a bullet or number with left arrow or control + left arrow. (#2402)
In browse mode in Mozilla applications, the items in certain list boxes (specifically, ARIA list boxes) are no longer incorrectly rendered.
In web browsers, NVDA now hides content which is marked as hidden from screen readers (specifically, using the aria-hidden attribute). (#2117)
Negative currency amounts (e.g. -$123) are now correctly spoken as negative, regardless of symbol level. (#2625)
During say all, NVDA will no longer incorrectly revert to the default language where a line does not end a sentence. (#2630)
Font information is now correctly detected in Adobe Reader 10.1 and later. (#2175)
In Adobe Reader, if alternate text is provided, only that text will be rendered. Previously, extraneous text was sometimes included. (#2174)
Where a document contains an application, the content of the application is no longer included in browse mode. This prevents unexpectedly moving inside the application when navigating. You can interact with the application in the same way as for embedded objects. (#990)
In Mozilla applications, the value of spin buttons is now correctly reported when it changes. (#2653)
Updated support for Adobe Digital Editions so that it works in version 2.0. (#2688)
Pressing NVDA+upArrow while on a combo box in Internet Explorer and other MSHTML documents will no longer incorrectly read all items. Rather, just the active item will be read. (#2337)
Speech dictionaries will now properly save when using a number (#) sign within the pattern or replacement fields. (#961)
Browse mode for MSHTML documents (e.g. Internet Explorer) now correctly displays visible content contained within hidden content (specifically, elements with a style of visibility: visible inside an element with style visibility: hidden). (#2097)
Links in Windows XP's Security Center no longer report random junk after their names. (#1331)
UI Automation text controls (e.g. the search field in the Windows 7 Start Menu) are now correctly announced when moving the mouse over them rather than staying silent.
Keyboard layout changes are no longer reported during say all, which was particularly problematic for multilingual documents including Arabic text. (#1676)
NVDA clearly takes a lot of performance aspects into account and then some. JAWS For Windows is kind of like that one person at the party everyone knows and he has everyone's raptured attention because he's covered with so much jewelry it would make Edward Cullen jealous and NVDA is like the hard working farm worker who doesn't get all the credit because he has a skin condition. While JAWS For Windows has definitely brought out new features NVDA expounds on performance. The real question is “do people use things that work or things that look pretty more frequently?” I believe in this informational age performance counts. If you can improve on performance with no current price tag why go with the flashy showy competition with all these hidden contracts, such as only three activations per computer and you have to pay to upgrade. The cost to upgrade JAWS For Windows, at the time of this writing, is $590.
You know what many people say, and it's something I believe Freedom Scientific will never understand even if they had it spoken to them in dollars. Quality over quantity.
**Robert Kingett can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Note: Opinions written in this piece are those of the author, Robert Kingett, and do not necessarily represent those of the American Printing House for the Blind.