Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Almost 2 Years Later.. Reviewing My 2006 Vista And Office 07 NFB Overviews Part 2

This is part two of my look back at my 2006 NFB presentation to the Computer Sciences group in Dallas at the National Convention. If you didn’t read that post or you missed part one here are the links for both.

Old Presentation.

Part One of my look back.

We pick up with some reflections on Office 2007.

This is where things get a bit interesting. Some of the things I mentioned in my presentation were based solely on early builds of Office 07. And about a month after the convention some of my nit picks went away in another subsequent build. I'm not taking credit for these changes, however, I was on the panel with a key Microsoft person who did take some issues with what I said that day. Perhaps it was more than sheer coincidence? Nahh.. probably more due to the nature of the beta cycle more likely.

Quote: The good news about Microsoft Office 2007 is that all of the current 1,500 hotkeys/commands from 2003 have been ported over to the new Office Suite. The bad news is that they don't always do what they used to do in Office 2003. Being a power Office user actually works against you as the commands that have become instinctive will now take you places you have never been before. For example I was not sure how to jump my focus initially to the tab portion of the Ribbon interface. I tried several commands and modifier key combinations. It was only after I decided to do an Alt + H combination did I find myself sitting on the "Home" tab. of course I thought that Alt + H would take me to the "Help" tab instead. This is just one of the surprises in store for you when you first start using Office. It becomes even more readily apparent that we as Blind users are at a real disadvantage when you look at a more visual based program like power Point. The Gallery alone for the "Animations" tab is far too complex for me to even begin to describe non visually.

In early builds some common commands did not always work in the same way that you remembered in 2003. What came about over time was a move within Office to leave the key commands that utilized the Control key alone. So CTRL plus S, X, V and others all worked the same. Commands that used the ALT key were not always going to produce the same result in 2007.

Another new behavior came along with that ALT key. When using Office with the Ribbon you can jump to a desired location easily once you learn the path of keys that must be struck successively. For example, to drop in a Cover Sheet into a Word Document you can strike ALT plus N for the Insert tab then hit your V key once you have focus on the Insert tab. Instead of hitting two or three keys at once you could hit a series of keys to get two where you were going.

All things were not that simple though. A friend of mine liked to use Control plus Enter in Outlook. A box popped up to say that this was a 2003 key and it went on to ask if he wanted to continue to use that key command in 2007. He wasn't thinking and he said "No" along with the "Don't show this again" before he realized what he had done. I told him there was a long way of getting it back without installing over Office but it would take some time to get there. He decided to learn the 2007 keys instead that way he would not run into this issue again.

The good news is that you can remap a lot of stuff in Office 07 if it doesn't suit your fancy. The bad news is that these changes aren't global and you will need to do them for each part of the Suite. At least you have a choice now to customize all of this. The hard part is either discovering all of this on your own or sitting through training sessions to learn how to tame this beast.

In multiple paragraphs, both then and now, I stressed the need for training on the changes from XP to Vista and Office 03 to 07. I mentioned before that the AT companies have gone to long lengths to bridge this gap through verbosity language and the ability to read many of the tool tips on the fly. Even with all of this help at your command things can still be out of reach. Take this instance where I talk about how Microsoft has tweaked the Ribbon for mouse users.

Quote: As an experiment in terror I showed my sighted wife the new Office 2007. She took to it like a duck to water. In minutes she was creating a power Point presentation with advanced features in only minutes. She told me that the new interface was very intuitive and she liked how the program would give her visual indications as to what options were open to her at a glance. She could make changes to the format of a document without changing the document it's self by hovering her mouse over a picture of the format or scheme displayed in the Gallery up in the Ribbon interface. For me as a mid level user who can use either Screen Reader or Screen Magnifier products I found that it took me twice as long or longer to perform the same tasks my wife was doing in seconds. For once all the millions in marketing and user research have paid off for Microsoft as this new version of Office will dramatically change the way future releases will look and feel.

And it has done exactly that. Office 2009 is said to be "All Ribbon.. All the time!". Vista already uses a pseudo Ribbon. And MS was so happy with the reception of the User Interface that they allow third parties to use it under a free license. Sadly things are going to get even more visual from this point forward. The meta Media Universe has arrived to the party while some of us are still trying to figure out what to wear to this shindig.

Here again the Screen Magnifier user faces a greater challenge to using these controls. Due to the nature of enlargement, you can always make something bigger if you are willing to sacrifice the ability to see what is around your mouse pointer or text cursor. I mentioned that my wife could hover over a control and see the changes that control would make *live* on a given document. With a Screen Magnifier I have to make those changes in a more permanent fashion as I can either see the Control in focus or the document proper. Not both. Thank goodness for Control plus Z right?

But the Control Z key combo is a perfect example of why things are not so good for the Screen Mags and not so bad for the Screen Reads. Without going down the path of Low Vision people being in denial, the fact remains that some users will always do things the sighted way first. And try as you might you can't always teach a old dog new tricks. Which means that Low Vision users must either rely on memorization techniques in a dynamic environment or they may just give up on some features of a program entirely. Which then gives the sighted co-worker a leg up on being the Office Product Suite Guru.

Continuing on..

Quote: Like anything else more time with the products will increase my speed and abilities to navigate through Both Office and Vista. And again I am not doing myself any favors by learning both at the same time. It is very realistic, however, that this will be the case for a lot of Blind users who take my advice that I offered at the beginning on waiting to buy a new computer rather than upgrade piece meal. For them and others this will be the only option open when both Vista and Office come bundled with new computer systems. So there is a method to my madness for tackling both programs in this manner.

Hello! Just about any student getting a PC this graduation season falls under this one.

Quote: Due to what little time we have here today I haven't discussed that there are some features of both Windows Vista and office 2007 that are version specific. So in other words you might have a friend with Vista Home Premium and Office Student Edition who could not afford the ultimate Editions I am using in the Beta program. My options for creating and viewing files are far more vast than what your friend can do with his or her versions of Vista and Office. However, if your friend has enough money on hand they can upgrade their copies of both over the internet with On Line Distribution. Hopefully they won't alter their Assistive Technology in the process by going from what we now know as Home to Professional but that's another discussion for another time. The fact is that a person can rapidly change their Operating System's look and feel by purchasing an upgrade via the internet. Vista will even tell you that you will need to upgrade your software when you try to access an option in a lower priced version of the product. Better yet if you chose to ignore my advice and you upgraded your computer and it cannot use a particular function of Vista... it will let you buy the upgrade and then tell you that you will need to upgrade your hardware to take advantage of your new purchase.

Ah! Another one where I am 50/50. The hardware and software thing was on track. The current lawsuit about “Vista Capable”, “Vista Compatible” and “Vista Ready” is still pending and it addresses a lot of what I said above. However Microsoft has suspended the “Any Time Upgrade” via the net. There has been an “Any Time Upgrade Kit” which comes with a DVD and other materials but it wasn’t the exclusive way of upgrading until the begining of this year.

The problems with upgrading to Vista with AT ended up being awful. Time consuming or a pain in the rear because you had to use Narrator for almost everything. But it wasn’t awful enough to be beyond the realm of meer mortals As long as you keep in mind the Home versus Professional product lines of old. And if that is a headache then there is always the Ultimate Editions of both which has everything. Just remember that those Ultimate versions are considered as being Professional not Home when you update your AT Also give credit to Microsoft for not allowing you to overwrite Pro with Home or FAT32 over NTFS.

Tip: Uninstall your Assistive Technology of choice and use Narrator or System Access in XP to access the initial Vista upgrade screens. If Vista finds your sound card drivers, and that is about 90% or better now, you can use Narrator and Magnifier to get you through the first screens before you officially log on to Vista for the first time. When on the Vista Desktop use Narrator one more time to hear the Autoplay options of your Assistive Technology install disc as Vista doesn’t use an Autorun by default. You can close Narrator once you hit the install shield for your AT of choice.

This next part I strongly believe in as I just experienced it again recently. I just upgraded several Dell machines up from XP to Vista and each box reminded me of what I wrote two years ago.

Quote: Vista will scale it's self up or down to more readily adapt to whatever hardware you throw at the thing. So a copy of Windows Vista ultimate on a new computer will look and act very different from a computer made two years ago. Again it will run on the system but it will remind you when it cannot do something due to hardware limitations. Every system will respond and act differently if you take the upgrade path. That’s why I say that it may be worth it to you to wait for the Vista Ready machines to roll out next year before you decide to buy.

On my home boxes I run either Vista Ultimate or XP SP 3. At work we just moved to Windows Vista Enterprise. Enterprise isn’t too far off from Ultimate. But my main box at home is 16 months older than the newer ones at work. The speed and responsiveness of Vista on newer hardware is sometimes astounding. I say sometimes because I see some cycle intensive programs take on full loads the exact same way at home and at work. That is to say they both suffer and drag in the same spots no matter what the hardware specs seem to be on either system.

Overall, however, I am amazed at how performance can be so drastically affected by hardware configurations. And laptops especially tend to either flurish or flounder running Vista. Don’t scrimp on hardware for the notebook computer as Vista loves more than less. How ironic it was for me to see a recent Microsoft ad campaign proclaiming “Do More with less”. Oh well, that’s marketing for ya..

Okay, now we get to the real meat of the matter. Here is what I suggested 23 months ago as a mini buyer’s guide for future Vista boxes. Remember that I was speaking stricly on upgrade paths at the time as the specs for fully loaded Vista systems didn’t show up until five months later for business and 7 months later for consumer oriented products.

Quote: But I believe that everyone should have the freedom to do what they feel. So if you do want to upgrade or buy a new system for Vista here's a mini buyer's guide. Please remember that this information refers to the needs of some specific Assistive Technology programs like Screen magnifiers. And I am shooting low so you don't buy a system only to find yourself having to upgrade again in 18 months.

Desktop: We’ll take these one at a time. I will use a “Then:” for the old suggestion and a “Now:” for the current generation of hardware recommendations.

Processor Then: Intel Dual Core at 2.4 GHz or higher. AMD equivalent will work just as well. A Dual Core processor with Hyperthreading technology may not be worth the money to you unless you do a lot of video editing or massive data creation.

Processor Now: If you are updating an old system then the older suggestion still applies. Just about any new system from Dell, HP or others should be fine with Vista if you are buying new. I generally don’t choose the bottom barrel on the drop down list of available processors as a rule when custom creating a system though.

Memory Then: 2 GB of memory is recommended if you are going to use this computer with Assistive Technology. You can get by on 1 GB; however, Vista directly and dramatically increases its speed with more memory on board. Vista ultimate, for example, can recognize up to 128 GB of memory.

Memory Now: 2 GB minimum. 1 GB is really a struggle. In fact 3 GB is better but 4 GB isn’t used all that well by Vista in the 32 bit flavors. In 64 bit the skies the limit. In the original vista rollouts I saw a lot of 1GB configurations. Around mid 2007 that turned to a 2 GB minimum for most OEMs. So this shouldn’t be a problem as much for someone buying a new box.

Video Card Then: A dedicated Display Card of at least 128 MB is a requirement for some versions of Vista's AERO Glass interface. Screen magnifier users however should think about 256 MB based cards if they can afford them. All Assistive Technology users are better off using 128 MB cards though as this will free up system resources and it won't get in the way of your computer's memory/processor.

Video Card Now: If you are updating then 128 MB still applies. I would check the support forums for your display adaptor before you make the leap to Vista however. Some driver support is still kind of wonky, Hi NVIDIA, and it is better to download the latest and greatest drivers/patches on to a USB drive before you upgrade. If you are buying new it will be very difficult to find a card below 128 MB. Or 256 for that matter. You really want to be careful with machines designed as big time gamming rigs though. Dual video cards and some SLI configurations are not supported by some AT programs. Some Direct X 10 high end cards can employ layering effects that can also work badly with Mirror Drivers. So… like you need more research right? Yep. The best course of action is to check with your AT company on any potential issues with a particular video card before you click “add to cart” when buying a new system.

Sound Card Then: No longer can you scrimp on going with On Board Audio chips. It's in your best interest that you look at a dedicated sound card as Direct X sinks up audio and video for every program running on your computer. Having a fast video card won't help you if it has to wait for your low end audio card to do its work in order for both to sink properly. So if you want to avoid stuttering speech or lags in Screen Magnification you want to go with a real true blue sound card.

Sound Card Now: This area I screwed up on in a few ways. Part of the mistakes came about when Microsoft started changing internally the way that sound is handled under Vista. Another thing I didn’t see coming was the rise and fall and rise again of DRM with High Def video and audio. And then last but not least I was betrayed by Creative Labs with their dog awful response and subsequent lack of support for Vista. The best course of action for audiophiles is to buy, gulp, a new card that has far better support and features under Vista than your current card does. New computer buyers should again research the sound card option carefully because not all sound cards are created equal under Vista. And some are far better at music, others at gamming and others boast better audio/video experiences. My thoughts on this is the sound card game is one big craps shoot. I’ve seen and heard some great performance out of some cards with music only to then find that they stink with video files. And vise versa. Oh and don’t even get me started on sound with SAPI 4 and SAPI 5 with Vista. That is a rant best suited for when I have more time to write and you have a day and a half to read the thing.

Hard Drive Then: 80 GB or higher. Windows Vista and Office 2007 took up 17 GB on my laptop's 60 GB hard drive and that's before I loaded anything else. Remember that files are getting bigger all the time and you can't get away with a smaller drive unless you plan on backing up your data... a lot.

Hard Drive Now: Updating with 80 GB? Sure thing. Just plan on going out to purchase a gross of DVDs and an external USB hard drive later on in the day. With drive prices falling and storage being so cheap, when compaired to a few years ago,250 to 320 GB is the new low point I would suggest for HDD.

DVD ROM Then and Now: All future software releases from Microsoft will be in DVD format. The size of Vista alone is 3.4 GB.

Monitor Then: A widescreen monitor will give everyone, including Screen Reader users, a better experience with their Assistive Technology of choice. Using a more traditional square monitor means that a program will have to resize or reformat a page that is designed for wider displays or monitors running at a higher resolution. Think of it like a 40 cell braille display versus an 80 cell model. Speech products have a tendency to read better in some cases because they don’t have to pause between more lines of text. A wider display shows whole sentences which makes some products act differently. Weird I know but not all Assistive Technology products access and read text the same way so your mileage on this may vary.

Monitor Now: This one I kind of changed my mind on slightly. While a Widescreen display is still my first recommendation for both old and new, I concede that some eye conditions do not work well with a wider field of view. Those people with diminishing field restrictions or those who have nothing but their Central Fields may struggle with wider and larger monitors. The trend is going the way of the rectangle however. Therefore people who like the smaller 15 to 17 inch old fashion displays may have to turn to bargain store close outs or Ebay for a monitor replacement. As HDTV comes online in 2009 you will be hard pressed to find that square style in any stores or with Online Retailers.

Moving now to the laptop or notebook systems..


Processor Then: The lowest I even suggest is an Intel Dual Core Mobile at 1.66 GHz. If you can go higher than do so. The obvious difference in performance is based upon the number of application running at the same time. In other words running more than four apps in open windows is not a good idea on laptops with lower speeds.

Processor Now: My advice is don’t upgrade a Laptop to Vista period. It is more time consuming than it is worth to troubleshoot if something goes wrong and it is an arm and a leg to pay for what you need if you do need more hardware. Now if you are buying new higher can be better but it isn’t that simple. You want to look at power versus heat. A lower end processor might not replace a Super Computer, however, if all you are doing is spreadsheets and some light surfing with your AT of choice then stay in the middle range of processors with AMD or Intel. Heavy duty web apps? Go higher!

Memory Then: The same 2 GB is highly recommended. Although Windows Vista can be set to use a flash drive as virtual memory. A 4 GB USB Flash Drive could give you a 10% boost on some programs if you allow Vista to use the entire drive for its needs.

Memory Now: 3 GB if you can afford that level of memory. Readyboost is a lot better now than it was two years ago but it is still no match for on board memory.

Video Card Then: 128 MB cards are a must. Higher is better but 128 MB dedicated non memory sharing video cards will make your life a whole lot easier.

Video Cards Now: This one all depends on what you want to do with your new notebook. If you like rich dynamic content and video there within or playing movies on said new system then a high end card may suit your fancy. If you are a Screen Reader user who doesn’t have to give rich dynamic content presentations as a part of your job or playing DVD movies just isn’t your bag then the world of video cards is your oyster. Mind you if you DO like all that video Web 2.0 Blu Ray stuff I would suggest you buy an extra battery because you will be eating power like it was a $2.99 Las Vegas hotel buffet.

Sound Card Then: The rule here is to go with a card that will not share system memory. You may have a laptop with 512 MB of RAM; however, the On Board Video and Audio cards take 64 MB or more away from that 512 MB. One of the laptops I tested that had just such a configuration only shows that Vista has 384 MB out of 512 MB available. Trust me and shoot for a non integrated card.

Sound Cards Now: Um.. most of them suck. No really. I’m usually most depressed with this aspect more than anything else on laptop configurations under Vista. And I am not alone. Just look at the rise in popularity of USB external sound cards and sound chips in USB headphones. I recommend that a lot of Screen Readers, or Screen Magnifiers with assisted Speech, consider USB headphones with the sound chip option. It tends to be a far better solution then fighting with drivers and the sound mixer at times with Vista. To each his own though.

Hard Drive, DVD and the rest is the same as the desktop recommendations for both “Then” and “Now”.

We’re getting to the end but my gaffs in logic, and my underestimating hardware support, continue. Here are some aspects of vista that I, ha!, predict are worth looking out for in the next two years.

Quote: Windows Sideshow: This part of Windows allows you to view files wirelessly from a Tablet PC, picture frame or from a LCD monitor on the lid of your laptop. This secondary screen on the lid of the laptop can even let you view email or see your photos without you having to manipulate controls in Windows.

One Note/Meeting Space: Imagine being in this room a year from now and me saying that I have a file folder open on my laptop and you can download this presentation on your Vista based system. Its Peer to Peer file sharing on a whole new level and it will do wonders for the class room.

Windows Media Player 11 and Internet Explorer 7+: While both programs will be available for Windows XP both have specific features that only come with Windows Vista. For instance IE7 has a "safe mode" that lets it run in a protected memory file so you can avoid programs that hijack or redirect your browser.

Windows Sideshow Is just now starting to find some love from hardware manufactures. Around Christmas I saw a few wireless LCD picture frames that supported this feature. Last summer I saw maybe three high end laptops that supported the LCD on the lid. However as we move forward, and away from XP support, the hardware will eventually catch up to this software feature.

Microsoft can only encourage others to develop for a Windows platform. They can not easily jump into the hardware game with Desktops and Laptops without someone crying foul. But they have dipped their little toe in the water with a re-labeling of some monitor’s back at Vista’s launch. MS also does well with mice, keyboards and other accessories too. I guess never say “never”.

One Note/Meeting Space… I am starting to see this in colleges. Higher technically inclined Professors are either using wireless connections in class to pass along content via the internet or they are using Meeting Space if the University has adopted Vista for their student bodies. Sadly this technology is only as good as Vista’s adoption rate. In this respect Vista shares some traits with the Zune’s Social Sharing of music. While it sounds good on paper, finding someone with a Zune to share with is the problem. Same with Meeting Space. It works well. Now find someone to play with and you are all set.

The one I got right, and honestly it was pretty hard not to get it right, was WMP 11 and IE7 for Vista. Internet Explorer 7+, the original name for IE in Vista, was a label dropped almost three months later after I talked about it in Dallas. For the most part both have been stable and better versions of their respective products. Although Windows Media Player integration can prove to be a bear to troubleshoot. In a recent situation I learned that you can’t really uninstall or reinstall WMP 11 all that easily in Vista. There are work arounds for this kind of thing and they don’t involve reinstalling Vista thank goodness. But it did take me by surprise that one of the oldest and best tricks in my arsenal wasn’t available to me right off the bat.

Let’s skip down to the wrap up paragraph..

Quote: Before I conclude today I want to stress that all of this is very specific to today's technology. Windows Vista will use Direct X 10 for all of its video. But no one can test how well that works yet as no Direct X 10 cards are on the market as I stand here today. The information I have spoken about today is based on the Beta releases of Vista and Office with older hardware. It's a whole new ball game come this Xmas season when the new generation of hardware that is made with Vista in mind hits the streets. I urge you to do your research before you do absolutely anything. Seek out your local Assistive Technology Venders and try before you buy. Just don't base your needs off a demonstration on the Exhibit Hall floor. There is no way for you to get a real feel for all of these changes in a few minutes of a sales demonstration. My real fear is that many of you will have serious Buyer's Remorse if you don't spend some time kicking the tires of all this new fangled technology. So read, listen and talk to as many people as you can before you enter into anything.

Some AT companies did have trouble with Vista. Some did have trouble with Direct X 10. However most have either worked out the kinks or are useable enough in Vista to make it something not to fear. Vista for all it’s public misconceptions is a good operating system. It is faster on newer hardware, it is far more secure than XP and in two more years it may just be your best friend as we approach what ever the next version of Windows, now code named Windows 7, is called.

Don’t get me wrong. XP was a great operating system. But it is seven years old and MS will have to stop supporting it with updates at some point. If you decide on your next system to downgrade to XP you have two major problems to face. One is that around 2010 security updates will not be as frequent or timely because MS will be looking at Windows Vista, Windows Server and Windows 7. XP will slide downwards in importance no matter how many people are still using the OS. Don’t believe me? Just go ask a Windows 2000 user how fun life has been since the release of Vista. A big fish like Microsoft does move forward and when they do you can bet that the turbulence in their wake can be a very rough ride indeed. And that isn’t to say that their won’t be support for XP. 2014 is probably the very last year for XP support… for major corporations and volume license holders. Support for individuals gets harder and more costly around 2011.

My feelings are this..

The road from Windows 98 to XP for AT users was less than spectacular. The road from XP to Vista was three years too long and people got complacent with what they had. Hardware makers had a ton of old hardware to unload because MS took too much time shipping Vista. The supply outweighed the demand because the traditional Moore’s law hardware cycle was broken as XP just couldn’t do any better with the current or future generations of hardware. With no real reasons to upgrade due to lack of hardware support, Microsoft was forced to sell something that could only speak to future potential. Not to mention that they had to lower the bar for entry level products as hardware makers had that ton of old crap to sell. MS lived up to their side of things by lowering that bar but the hardware community then stuck it right back to Microsoft by creating the worst kind of drivers, if they did it at all, for Vista. Not to mention people tried loading their older than dirt drivers, applications and hardware on the thing only to cry crocodile tears when their printer from one generation past the dot matrix era didn’t work with Vista. You throw in the not so factual “Get a Mac” ads and you find that the public perception moved to a wierd level of trust that XP was the greatest while Vista was a buggy thing that should be avoided at all costs.

The reality is that XP was the exact same way at this point in it’s life cycle. Add to the reality that Vista has sold more than XP at the same point in it’s life, driver support for Vista pre SP1 was better than any version of Windows previously and then consider that we had AT products ready and rearrin’ to go on launch day… Plus that’s just for starters. Kick in the security features, the IP6 functionality, the level of search, the ability to uber customize the UI, built in voice recognition, better USB support and lots more that I could go on and on about.

I’ll close with some questions that I must answer almost daiily at work.

Does Vista have drawbacks? Sure. All software does. Should you fear Vista in 2008? No. Should you consider Vista on your next computer? Yes. Should you downgrade to XP on a new computer? No. Should you stay with your current system running XP? Yes, for as long as you feel you need to do so. Just be ready for Windows 7 when you do buy in the next 18 months.

Whew! We reached the end. Now it is your turn to sound off. Feel free to agree, disagree or generally run a muck in the comments section. Maybe your experiences range farther apart from mine. Maybe you see what I’m saying. Or perhaps you just have turned to Linux or something. In the end I wasn’t trying to have this be a praise of MS. I did, however, want to be one of the few lone wolves who stood by Vista because in all honesty it has been the easiest version of Windows for me to work with and troubleshoot.

I hope this look back was helpful or at least an interesting read. Thanks for going back in time with me. We will see how I do next time when I write about the betas for Office 2009 and Windows 7.

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