I am growing quite bored with writing about different screen readers and the Windows Vista OS. I think that, after this post, I’ll spend more time comparing and contrasting JAWS, System Access and Window-Eyes and write up an evaluation of the three in a few weeks.
After writing my article on competition in the screen reader marketplace, I received a number of phone calls and emails asking me if I had lost my mind. Virtually all of the people who contacted me regarding the article complained that it suggested that JAWS was the “best” screen reader or that I had proposed the elimination of all other screen readers or that I believed that JAWS would always be the leading product in this category.
The article I wrote yesterday states, “JAWS remains the standard that one must use to measure all screen access programs.” This sentence doesn’t say that JAWS is the best screen reader but, rather, that JAWS is the benchmark. If I wrote an article about graphical user interfaces, I would use examples from Windows as few readers know much about Macintosh or the gnome desktop. Thus, if I tried to use Macintosh as the benchmark product, few readers would understand comparisons of features as they would have no personal experience that they could use as a point of reference. As most BC readers and most blind computer users in general have some experience using JAWS, it must be the product against which the others are compared.
Nowhere in the article yesterday did I say that because it is the benchmark screen reader that JAWS is also superior to its competition. I do say quite explicitly that I think JAWS help system and, somewhat less explicitly, its configuration capabilities are, in my opinion, the best out there today.
The article also describes a number of economic and entrenchment related reasons for why it will be very difficult for any of the JAWS competitors to take over the lead position in this market. Again, none of these issues relate at all to the quality of the screen reading products but, rather, to the hegemony of JAWS in organizations, training centers and agencies.
One friend, who called me yesterday, did raise a very pertinent point. He said that while JAWS may have a 75% share of current screen reader sales, this number is artificially inflated as only 10% of blind people in the US and 1% worldwide use computers so an enormous portion of blind people have yet to choose a screen reader at all. I did neglect to mention the great potential in the population of people who haven’t started using a computer yet but I did mention, “The market for products that address blindness and low vision grows annually as the boomers age. Thus, the opportunity to make inroads with access technology products to this new group of people who have used computers their entire career and have no plans on stopping now, is better than ever.” As none of the aging boomers have any experience with any screen reader, they will become, along with those still unserved, the greatest potential market in the future.
In yesterday’s article, I mention what I believe is the greatest deficiency of Window-Eyes and of System Access. I neglected to mention problems that I find important in JAWS which might have made the piece seem a bit more balanced to those who misunderstood the points I tried to make.
So, for the sake of fair play, I will add that I believe that JAWS’ greatest deficiencies are, in no particular order, performance (Window-Eyes and System Access tend to be faster in many applications I find important), stability (I find that the VisualStudio Just In Time debugger pops up more often when I am running JAWS than System Access or Window-Eyes), its continued dependence on specific video drivers and its inconsistency (I find that JAWS will repeat some things, speak items in a different order or work properly sometimes and, for no reason I can explain, suddenly speak differently). In general, I find JAWS to contain more obvious bugs than the other two.
Some people who contacted me said that they disapproved of Freedom Scientific’s business practices and, therefore, wouldn’t use JAWS as they didn’t want to support such a company. I submit that the majority of blind computer users don’t pay any attention to the goings on in the AT industry and that few really care about such political matters. I do not mean to imply that how a company acts as a corporate citizen has no importance but, rather, that most people haven’t the time or energy to follow the AT industry as closely as us “insiders.”
One anonymous individual added a comment to the blog yesterday which contained a pointer to a web site: http://www.jawssucks.com. This site plays the old Doctor JAWS parody when you launch it in spite of the fact that Doctor JAWS retired quite a long time ago. It also contains an anonymous quote from someone identified as a blogger that repeats the ancient myth that one must learn a scripting language to use JAWS effectively. At the same time, the JAWS Sucks web site points out that FS should have included support for the Office 2007 Calendar and Vista Speech Recognition features, a point I made in this blog a week or two ago.
One person who called me mentioned that upgrading JAWS costs much more than I had previously thought. I had made an erroneous assumption that upgrades cost fairly little and I stand corrected. I do believe, though, that training costs resulting from switching screen readers are very significant and that the JAWS competitors, if they hope to get people to switch to their product, will have a greater likelihood of success if they make the transition as simple as possible. I did mention that I felt that System Access does an excellent job of making the transition from JAWS to the Serotek product very simple and comfortable.
I am sorry for any misunderstanding that arose from the article I wrote yesterday. The goal was to explain why I used JAWS as a benchmark and then went on to describe some of the hurdles I felt stood in the way of JAWS’ competitors. These days, I’m using three screen readers on both Windows XP and Vista. Each offers me some functionality that the others do not and, for a number of different reasons, I find that I prefer different screen readers in different applications.