I’ve spent the past few weeks learning to use Macintosh Leopard Edition with its built in VoiceOver (VO) screen reader. I struggle badly from a disease I will call JAWS and Windows on the brain (also known as dane brammage). Although I’m learning the Macintosh and VO keystrokes a bit at a time when I want to accomplish something quickly, the fingers try the JAWS/Windows commands and the Macintosh simply beeps in confusion.
I have started writing a long piece about my adventures with Macintosh and VO and, after a couple of weeks of pretty heavy use, I give it very high marks. One area (relating to my dane brammage) of which I have a low opinion is the superfluous incompatibility of VO and JAWS/System Access keystrokes. To a pretty large extent, Window-Eyes and NVDA stick pretty close to this unofficial “standard” set of key bindings as well. If the Apple people want to attract converts, they should try to flatten the learning curve by giving we Windows folks a bit more welcoming look and feel.
I have other criticisms and also a ton of applause for the Macintosh laptop, the Leopard OS and VO which I will post in the longer article that I’m actually writing in “real time” on the Mac.
One thing I can say here is that, except for rebooting when Apple sent me an OS update, I have not turned the Macintosh off or done a restart in close to three weeks. I have VO (a screen reader, a class of products known to insert instability in operating environments) and, as a real novice Macintosh user, I hit lots of strange keyboard combinations that would work with JAWS or SA but not with VO and all I ever get is a little ping from the laptop telling me I have done something useless.
Next, I will say that some of the VO keystrokes, especially the four key (CTRL+OPTION+SHIFT+DOWN) to be able to read html content is just plain stupid. First, if I opened a web page, I probably did so because I wanted to read it and I should have landed in something like the virtual buffer as presented by the rest of the screen reader world – this goes beyond superfluous incompatibility into just plain weird. Second, it requires four fingers – I play a little blues piano but never have to stretch that far.
On a positive note, the “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” television commercials have a lot of truth in them. My Vista desktop with the same CPU, same amount of memory and a larger cache runs far more slowly than my Macintosh laptop. The same tasks can take up to triple the amount of time on Vista and double on XP but my XP laptop is a single core 2005 relic I keep using because it refuses to die and motivate me to replace it. Of course, with the VMWare XP on my Mac, I may not need this old work horse any longer.
The last thing I’ll say about the Macintosh here is that the battery life and temperature regulation is nothing short of amazing. Running a dual core, 64 bit processor with 4 gb of RAM, I have used the Mac without recharging for six hours (not idle time but, rather, doing a fair amount of work) and still haven’t received a warning that the battery had drained to an unsafe level. As far as heat is concerned, I can run the Macintosh for all six hours right on my lap without cooking my testicles for dinner. I don’t know how but these units remain far less hot than a similar PC running for one hour.
Lastly, I did want to point out a new blog out there written by Aaron Leventhal, a friend, colleague and one of the finest minds I’ve ever encountered in the AT biz. You can get to it at http://accessgarage.wordpress.com/. He has a very well considered article about how VO works with Firefox and some other goodies up there. Also, if you haven’t already, you should definitely subscribe to Marco Zehe’s accessibility blog as it’s one of the best access technology blogs I’ve read to date.