Back to the Future

newer and more powerful is not always better in the technology world.


Like many other Blind people I am fascinated at what the latest technology can provide to increase my independence. There is no doubt that the experience and opportunities for Blind and Partially Sighted users of computers, smart phones and the latest range of voice activated gadgets are immense compared to what was available 20 years ago.

However progress is not linear in all areas. This weekend my main Windows 10 Desktop broke down and is off with an engineer.

This means that I am typing this on my old Windows 7 laptop. this machine normally see comparatively little use, mainly taken out for holidays etc.

Although the laptop is not as powerful as my desktop, going back to it has been a pleasure. Much has been made of the advance of Windows 10 and I had sort of gone along with that.

However this weekend using my Jaws Screenreader at least, I have found that there is so much better that works on Windows 7 compared to the version 10 I was using only last Week.

For those unfamiliar with a Screenreader, this is speech technology which enables blind and partially sighted people to use computers without sight. Whilst I normally have a monitor attached to my Desktop machine, I never turned it on, instead using a keyboard and headphones to drive my PC.

I still have an old copy of Jaws 16 on this laptop but, although I invest £100 a year in upgrading to each latest and greatest version, I am not taking this copy up to 18.

This is because I have found this older version is working so nicely.

For example , an older version of iTunes is working absolutely fine. The interface is snappy. Jaws can cursor up and down the hundreds of the list of Artist column with no problems. In contrast On Windows 10 with Jaws 18 I can only review up to 5 artist names before Jaws starts simply saying “list” repeatedly. This is not very helpful.

As another example I sometimes use the Thunderbird email program . In the time warp of my old laptop I am able to read emails with no difficulty in normal view. Under Windows 10 I can only read emails in the much more inconvenient tabbed view. In this same time warp Thunderbird is again enabling Jaws to identify spelling mistakes as I type, a feature I cannot get to work under windows 10 for love nor money.

A couple of further examples complete the point.

I use the Amazon Audible service for some Talking Books. On this laptop audible works smoothly , recognising my Talking Book Playing devices. Under Windows 10 the experience is very different. Devices are not recognised and I receive repeated annoying requests to re-activate both the main Audible software and my Talking Book devices. this re-activation window is impossible to complete with a screenreader running, even if you have sight, so is effectively inaccessible unless you turn off your access software. Time to call a long suffering sighted relative for even more help.

Finally Although there are not so many features in Windows 7 as in Windows 10 the older Operating System has worked well with Jaws, consistently announcing important notification messages

In Windows 10 I hear not messages but anonymous unexplained notification sound. this forces me to investigate the clunky Notification Centre which is poorly interpreted by Jaws 18. On Windows 7 Jaws 16 reads important announcements clearly , rather than my hearing unhelpful tones. This seems so much slicker and helpful.

This whole experience has reminded me that even in the world of technology, not all that is newer is necessarily better. If I am to read print books I need to scan them. Even now, despite trying newer technology, The best and most accurate scanning technology I possess consists of an ancient XP Acer Netbook which most people would laugh at today, allied to a 10 year old document Scanner I purchased before taking a Masters Course in 2006. People are even more surprised to find that I use the free scanning tools available in the even older Office 2003. I still find this setup outperforms more expensive solutions costing over £2,000. For example my EyePal Camera scanner cost £1,600 and the specialist Kurzweil Scanning software came in at £665. I dread the day my old XP setup will die as it will be impossible to replicate.

So all that is shiny is not necessarily more. The search for new features can reduce basic functionality. Technology companies like Freedom Scientific (who produce Jaws), should be striving to keep good basic functionality, enabling a smooth every day experience. Unfortunately this is not their strategy, rather they are focussed on adding enticing new features every year to retain and extend their customer base. They clearly feel it is difficult to justify the steep upgrade hike of £100 to £150 a year if all they offer is continued good functionality. After this weekend I think I would trade some of the bells and whistles for good continued functionality.

Like many Blind People I will still be on the look out for possible technological opportunities which whilst not necessarily life transforming, will offer perhaps a marginal edge in coping better with sight impairment.

However this laptop at least will remain an upgrade free area.

David Griffith
18:17 06/11/2016



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