Microsoft announced on Global Accessibility Awareness Day some awesome news. The first involved a brief taste of upcoming Narrator updates that should scare VFO’s JAWS’ future. The second piece, which garnered more attention than warranted, stated users of assistive tech solutions will be able to update from Windows 10 S to Pro for free. Personally, the upcoming Narrator features grabbed my attention, while the free upgrade failed to captivate my interest. In the fall update of Windows 10, Narrator will receive some awesome updates, placing Scan Mode up front, general screen reading enhancements, and recognizing images and text through some nifty behind the scenes stuff. Microsoft’s Window 10 S systems target the budget, education, and similar markets, and individuals who receive their computers through services like the VA or VR programs will not have to worry about these changes. If we peel back the layers regarding the free upgrading from S to Pro for AT users, Microsoft simply is offering individuals of assistive tech solutions some time to gain some comfort with Windows’ integrated accessibility options, while acknowledging the third-party AT options are not in the Windows Store. Personally, end users should take the time to learn the integrated accessibility options, and third-party venters need to consider packaging their software to be distributed by the Windows Store.
I do champion the thought that JAWS, NVDA, former Window Eyes, and System Access users need to seriously need to try learning the basics of Narrator. The third-party accessibility software will remain viable for the near future, but I have to wonder about the longterm health of the industry. The blindness world seen its major players all merged together under VFO. This move reduced the platforms to just ZoomText and its variations, JAWS, and NVDA. Of these, NVDA and Narrator steadily increases its market hold, thanks to their non-existent costs and similar features to JAWS. ZoomText remains the best and really only plater in the screen magnification world, something that will only change if VFO opted to increase its cash by selling or renting out ZoomText magnification patents.
Let me write that again, Microsoft Narrator is a viable screen reading solution for visually impaired computer users. I have no problems writing this, especially if your computing needs requires accessing the world wide web, email, productivity or office solutions, streaming media, and other rather regular and mundane tasks. A user with these requirements may enjoy the experiences offered by Windows 10 S, thanks to limited options. Yes, I can back this claim up, through my experiences on a cheap Best Buy Insignia brand tablet PC that costs less than $200. The PC lacks many of the hardware specifications found in traditional laptops and desktops, and I have not found any lag, refresh issues, or other performance concerns when using Narrator with Edge, Mail, People, Calendar, Adobe Acrobat DC, Netflix, Skype, One Drive, One Note, Word, and other standard apps. Of these, Adobe Acrobat DC is the only one not located in the Windows Store, but Windows offers its own document reader, and I am holding off installing iTunes until it reaches the Windows Store.
To summarize, the Windows 10 S to Pro free conversion for those requiring accessible assistive software will not be a big deal for most blind individuals who adopt Narrator. If you want to stick with JAWS and ZoomText, you would not be purchasing a Windows 10 S system anyways, but rather a Home or Pro version. Regardless, everyone who relies on a screen reader or screen magnification third-party solution should take a honest stab at Windows’ integrated options. Those who live in the world of Voice Over an Zoom through iOS and MacOS can attest to the benefits related to stability when accessibility is not bolted onto the operating system but is apart of the operating system’s core.