After writing yesterday’s “First Look” article on my old Toshiba laptop, I went into my home office and fired up my new Vista based HP desktop. My goals for the day included installing MS Office 2007, the 60 day trial version that came with my new computer and seeing how well the voice recognition components of Vista worked out-of-the-box with the various screen readers I have installed. Due to my RSI problems, I can only spend a half day using a keyboard at a time or the pain will flare up and I’ll need to skip doing any keyboarding for the next day or two. Thus, voice recognition provides me with a tool that I can use to spend more hours per day working on all sorts of tasks. Unfortunately, getting Office 2007 set up took my entire morning and I had to stop for the day before I could get to trying out the recognition facility.
I started the Office installation by hitting enter on the Microsoft Office 2007 60 Day Trial icon on my desktop. I had Window-Eyes 6.1 running when I first started the process. Launching the software from the icon that came pre-installed on my computer brought up a window titled something like, “Office 2007 Authorization Assistant” or something similar.
Using Window-Eyes, I could move around as if the screen reader thought it was in what GW calls “Browse mode” (a set of functionality that equates to the JAWS virtual buffer). I moved around using the cursor keys reading what I could and found a link labeled “click here to get an authorization code from the Internet.” I clicked on the link and, after a few seconds, an edit control just below the link was populated with a long series of letters and numbers which I assumed (correctly) was the authorization code. A bit further down the page, I learned that I needed to get a Microsoft Live account so I clicked on the link to do so and IE started up.
To begin with, Microsoft should make a better attempt at making a process like this conform to accessibility guidelines and standards. The “MS Live” sign up page had lots of unlabeled junk that made using it annoying but still possible with Window-Eyes and JAWS (I didn’t try SA or any other screen reader as my goal was getting the software installed and not doing a comparison of AT products as I didn’t think the installation routine would take me a lot of time nor did I think it would behave so differently in Window-Eyes and JAWS). The primary reason I switched between the two screen readers was because I know the JAWS Kinesis layout as second nature and I’m still learning my modified version of the Window-Eyes JAWS layout.
The last step in the MS Live online registration process required getting beyond one of those captia things. MS did provide an audio option but, on my HP with a pretty rocking audio card playing through a very expensive pair of Bose headphones, I could not pick out the numbers from the background sounds included to mess up voice recognition bots. My hearing has been tested with excellent results so I wonder if who can hear the numbers from within the mixture of sounds.
“Sue!” I yelled and my lovely wife came to the rescue to serve as a human with vision to get passed the Turing test so I could continue with my installation. Within a couple of minutes, I completed the registration (using WE) and returned to the Office authorization assistant thing.
For no reason obvious to me, Window-Eyes didn’t go into its browse mode when I returned to the authorization program. Even worse, when I hit the keystroke to go into browse mode, Window-Eyes reported that browse mode wasn’t available to me in the program I was running. “You already used browse mode in this program,” I said to WE. Window-Eyes did not respond to my statement which probably has something to do with the fact that I had no microphone attached and no recognition software running.
So, to continue, I thought it might be easier if I were to close WE and start up JAWS.
At this point, my thoughts pointed to Window-Eyes relatively poor performance in this registration program. JAWS started up with its traditional “JAWS for Windows…” announcement. I used ALT+TAB to go back to the authorization assistant. JAWS behaved as it would have in an IE window back in version 3.30 – absolutely no virtual buffer support whatsoever. I hit the “refresh screen” keystroke and nothing changed. I quit the instance of the authorization program I was running and started it again. Once more, JAWS acted like the window should read from the OSM but was able to identify links and I could TAB from one to another. Unfortunately, I could not get into the edit control at all so couldn’t read or copy the authorization code generated for me.
Frustrated, I quit the authorization, closed JAWS and started Window-Eyes again. Clicking on the link to generate a code from the Internet worked nicely and did not take me out of browse mode. So, I moved down the page using cursor keys until I got to the link that said something like, “Start your local version of Office 2007 to continue with the installation.” Window-Eyes told me that MS Word had started and read the authorization dialogue which told me to enter my authorization code. I used ALT+TAB to return to the authorization program, Window-Eyes told me that I couldn’t go into browse mode and, for no reason apparent to me, I couldn’t get myself to the edit box with my code in it.
Once again, I quit Window-Eyes and started JAWS. No dice in the authorization page. I quit the authorization assistant, quit JAWS, started WE and started the authorization program again (sidebar note: JAWS can be started while a program is running already and it will load the appropriate scripts and work as one would expect in the application; Window-Eyes requires that it is running when an application starts to function properly which tends to annoy when one is hopping between screen readers to hopefully one that will work well in a given situation).
Now that I have launched this program a bunch of times, I had a good idea how to tackle the problem. The authorization dialogue that popped up with Word was still available so I, once again, clicked on the link to get myself a code from the Internet, waited for the edit box to fill up, cursored into the edit box, hit ENTER to take me out of the Window-Eyes browse mode, selected and copied the entire code, use ALT+TAB back to the dialogue that asked for my code pasted it in, hit ENTER and Office, after this massively over-complicated sequence of events ended, told me that I had successfully authorized my 60 day demonstration version.
For this task, I would have to say that Window-Eyes performed poorly. Unfortunately, JAWS made the task impossible so I must also say that, although its performance was poor, Window-Eyes provided me with a profoundly better experience than did the leading screen reader.
After finally getting Office installed, I played around with Vista a bit more. I typed a short note in Word and it worked pretty well with both JAWS and Window-Eyes but I didn’t try anything in Word 2007 but typing so I can’t comment on anything more complicated than typing and reading back a few paragraphs. I didn’t start SA as my time to play around was running out but I will give Office 2007 a real ride with all three of the screen access programs I have installed and report back with my results soon.
A general observation I made about JAWS and Window-Eyes involves the versions of Eloquence they ship or, quite possibly, how I have things configured. Using the audio configuration I describe above and wearing the Bose headphones, the Eloquence that ships with Window-Eyes sounds much cleaner and less compressed than the JAWS version. I don’t know what the difference is between the two Eloquence distributions but the one with WE simply sounds nicer.
I noticed that, while moving around the desktop, Window-Eyes, System Access and Narrator all read the tool tip associated with an icon after they read its name. JAWS seems only to read the icon name but this may have to do with the verbosity setting I use for control help in which I only want to hear custom messages. I’ll try putting JAWS back to the default and check out how it behaves that way.
Thus far, JAWS leads the pack in one area: VisualStudio .Net 2005 with the scripts written by the hackers on the blind programming list. Window-Eyes and SA have a definite lead in all other Vista features I’ve tried so far.
Microsoft should do a compliance assessment and remediation project on its web based tools that people must use in order to perform specific tasks like getting a Microsoft Live account as, right now, it is pretty ugly with screen readers. As I said above, I did succeed in performing all of the online tasks (excepting the Turing test) independently but the entire process would be considerably more comfortable if MS would only stick to the WAI guidelines. As for the incredibly garbled audio captia, I’d like to hear from others who have tried it to see if they also struggled or if I should get my hearing checked again.
The UAC dialogues continue to annoy me. They are most annoying when one first gets the dialogue asking if they really want to run a program they have downloaded and, having said “yes,” another query, this time from UAC asks if the user really, really wants to run the program, couldn’t they ask just once? I suppose this is what we get when the legal department starts acting like product managers and insisting on making absolutely sure that the onus falls upon the user if some sort of virus, spyware, malware, etc. attacks the system.
My final annoyance from yesterday’s session with Vista is in the terms one must accept to get a Microsoft Live account which is necessary to install the Office 60 day demo and, likely, required for other tasks as well. Namely, when the MS web site forces the user to retype the email address associated with the account as a “signature” to accept their terms which include receiving email promotions. Historically, web sites include a check box to opt out of email promotions, a kinder and gentler way of saying spam.
Readers should note that, as I wrote yesterday, I have still not read any Vista specific help information nor have I made any configuration changes in Vista (except for switching to the classic Windows Explorer look and feel) so, I intentionally have not done anything to make Vista easier for a screen reader. I want to get the raw feel of the out-of-the-box experience before I tweak the OS to make life easier for the AT companies.