About Yesterday’s Article on Competition in the Screen Reader Market

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.


— End

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

6 thoughts on “About Yesterday’s Article on Competition in the Screen Reader Market”

  1. Howdy Comrades!
    Do not underestimate the ability of Freedom Scientific to �piss away� JAWS and their advantage in the current market. The boomers will want a product that allows them to hang on to print as long as possible. Otherwise they will expect the Gold Standard to be the Star Trek computer of the 24th century. Who knows if any of the current players will meet their needs?
    Chairman Mal
    Power to the Peeps!

  2. In regards to your comments outlining the flaws and good things about system access and Jaws I agree on most points.
    I have been a JAWS/SA user for the past year and like and dislike things about each. One problem I have with SA, is that it is slow to load in the beginning and sometimes gets “stuck” and makes my computer freeze.

    I do have to say that I wish that SA had the ability to change the pronunciation of words like JAWS does, but I sometimes wish their was a (beginner) version of JAWS to make things simpler and easier to navigate. That’s why I use SA, it is easier sometimes, and it handles graphics and other things a little bit better then JAWS does.

    One cool thing serotek is doing, is called “SA to go” it’s a free public beta of their software that you can access from any XP or Vista computer that is connected to the ‘net.

    you just go to http://www.satogo.com, It’s awesome that I can go anywhere and use a screen reader. I can’t wait to go back to college so I can test it out on any computer I want!

    Thanks for the blog, it rockx!

  3. Hay Chriss, Very well written as always. I have to say that I enjoy your impartiality.

    I’m the person who wrote about JawsSucks.com last week. It’s still very much in the early stages of development and to be honest, it’s not something I’m taking particularly seriously. I am a jaws user my self and have been since the early days of Jaws for Dos. I hope the website will be more of a resource than a ground for rants but I have to admit, I do like listening to the odd rant. That’s possibly why I like your blog so much. *grin*.

    I just wanted to write to ensure that people understand that JawsSucks.com should be taken with a bit of humer but all going well, it should be a helpful resource as well.

    Hay, if your ever interested in helping with a few reviews either painting jaws in a posative or indeed negative light I’d be interested to hear from you. Just leave a comment on the form that I have to write at some stage today or tomorrow.

    Time Time Time. It’s hard to find.

  4. Speaking of JAWS, anyone know what’s happened to last month’s edition of Fascist? I quite look forward to my monthly dose of the puppet show; it amuses me. I’ve had to find an alternative source of amusement, and so I’ve been looking into how much it would cost to set up http://www.freeman scientology.com and to hire a puppet for my own version of Fascist.

  5. Hello BC. I went to the JAWS Sucks website a couple of days ago, and, while I strongly disagree with the views expressed on the site I am going to check back there often and see what people have to say. I have heard that mp3 file before, and I think it’s actually pretty funny. As I mentioned to you privately a couple of days ago, I am doing a trial run of the SA Mobile Network and I’m very impressed by it thus far. I’ve been testing my knowledge by going through A History of Rock ‘n Roll. This can be found in the Entertainment Guide, which is option 3 from the SA Mobile Network desktop. I think I will purchase the full product once my trial period expires, as I think this product has great market potential.

  6. Hi.

    Since this writing, a lot has changed in the screen reader world. Waht I am noticing on this blog is that there is an enormous windows bias. Truth is, the days in which a blind person was pretty much stuck with using windows and tied to the few screen readers out there for accessing windows are a thing of the past. They’ve actually been gone for quite some time but this has been a quiet phenomenon that has gotten little attention. I therefore think an update needs to be made to this article and must include the following pertinent facts:

    Before you choose your screen reader, choose yor operating system.
    Windows has been covered but here are the other two choices:
    Mac: It has a reputation for being inaccessible but this is no longer true. VoceOver is reputed to be quite good and comes with your machine so, you don’t have to go out and buy a screen reader anymore if you buy a Mac. The synth sounds great too, incidentally. Everything is already there for you. You just have to activate it.
    Linux: This is the most incredible of all. Linux is a free operating system. Just about everything that runs on it is also free. Very important for a segment of the population with such a high rate of unemployment and where a tight budget is the norm and not the exception. Linux has three count them three nice screen readers and all of them are absolutely free. They are:
    Speak-up: A command prompt/console mode screen reader similar to old favorites like Vocal Eyes, Virt and MasterTouch. It relies heavily on the number pad and works quite well. This is important because unlike in windows, text-based applications are still very much alive in Linux which means accessibility galore.
    Orca: Screen reader for the GUI side of Linux called x-windows. It works particuarly well with the package called Gnome. You can use a lot of software with Orca and Gnome such as Open Office (which, btw, Jaws and all other paid screen readers suck with), firefox, thunderbird and more.
    Yassr: Another commandline screen reader. I don’t know much about it but I’ve found people who love it to death.
    Emacspeak: If you ever used Keysoft on windows or dos, the concept of Emacspeak wil be easy to grasp. Emacs is like a combination text editor/spreadsheet/webauthoring tool/music player/web browser/all sorts of stuff rolled into one. What Linuxoids call a desktop. Emacspeak is a spoken interface a blind programmer wrapped around the very code to make it accessible pretty much through and through. It’s supposed to be the most productive environment for a blind person on a pc. It’s free too. It’s got a large learning curve because it’s got hotkeys galore but that’s not hard for a blind person, really.
    Linux comes in many flavors and versions called distros which is short for distributions. They are all free of charge and some can be installed without sighted assistance. The best of these, in my opinion is Vinux which can be gotten from:
    http://www.vinux.org.uk. Just burn it onto a cd and reboott with the cd in it and you are in business. To install, you go to systems, administration, install release. Everything is spoken and straight forward. And, it’s free. Doesn’t cost you a dime. You can get an old pc like for 100 bucks and have a running operating system complete with screen reader and basic software pack like word processor, spreadsheet, browser ETC for no extra charge. You can even stick it on what’s called a virtual machine within windows and run your windows stuff like Jaws and open book side by side with the Linux stuff and pretty much tripple your options for accessible software in one fell swoop. IT’s what I’m doing myself. Why more blind people don’t know about this stuff is mind boggling to me.

    Alex M

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