Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dallas NFB: A Morning With JAWS

Here are those translated notes from last Sunday’s bad spellingese I talked about earlier in the week. If I got something wrong I’m sure someone from the FS camp will correct me in comments. For now here is what I have down in my notes.

The meeting took place early on a Sunday morning. Unlike many of the events, Freedom Scientific used the Lecture Halls rather than the general meeting rooms on the Mezzanine of the hotel. If you haven’t been to this hotel before think of the Anatole Hilton as a shopping mall that ate a hotel and conference center and then spit it back up because the mall didn’t like the taste of all those hotel rooms. What I mean by this is that the AH is great for a convention because it is all indoors, Texas is dam hot in July and you never have to leave the Hotel California, er um the Hilton, once you are there. With that said the AH is a O&M nightmare for the inexperienced traveler. If you are coming to the convention in 2010, yes Dallas again, adding a day before your events so you can learn this hotel when it is quiet would be a great suggestion for avoiding future frustration. It sure helped me and a friend that’s for sure.

Anyway, back to the Senator Lecture Hall. The hall is set up just like a University classroom with a podium, ascending rows of chairs stadium seating style and lamps mounted onto long row wide tables on each corresponding row. Its perfect for using a laptop or taking notes. And it had the best of the free wireless connections in the building.

Eric is up front at the lectern and the room has a PA so all can hear. There is a projector setup for those who have vision. The color schemes in this room are all earth colors with tans, browns and creames. With the track lighting on low the room reminds me of some of the home theaters I used to set up years ago.

I’m watching Eric double check everything but I am listening to Jonathan M. discussing the PAC Mate with another person on the same row as him. Now here is a personal reflection from me for just one second. No matter what you think of Jonathan I feel for the guy when he gets asked this question over and over again.

“So how can you say that the PAC Mate is better after saying that the Braille Notes were for so many years?”

Sure it is the guy’s job to answer this question. And as I listen to the answer, which is best said by Jonathan of course, I can hear a few phrases I’ve heard him say before on other occasions where he has been asked this question while I was in the room. As a person who used to be in sales I don’t envy having to answer the same question over and over again. However, as a person who used to be in sales it is great to have a conversation starter. So my hat is off to the man for taking a possible negative and turning that into a positive. Okay personal reflection over.

Eric is ready to begin now and he is outlining the morning. I’m gonna skip around because some of this is in the FScasts. But I’ll hit some highlights of the three or so hours. Here we go..

JAWS 10 is well on track and in private beta. Development is going faster than usual and if all goes well we could see a public beta of 10 by August of this year. That would put the official release, again if all goes well, in the 4th quarter of this calendar year. JAWS 11, yes I typed two ones together, is set for a similar schedule with a release in 4th quarter 2009.

One of the big changes in this year’s whole number release will be the use of the new Realspeak Direct Solo voices. The Direct Solo voices are the same persons [Daniel, Lee and others] that you already know and or love. The quality of the speech is better and more responsive than the previous Realspeak voices used in JFW 8 and 9. Menu navigation was especially quick with interrupts coming where they should. Before you panic, Eloquence isn’t going anywhere but future development from Nuance is highly unlikely. [Ranger’s note: I don’t know if Elle. will ever go open source but it does seem like other ATVs can go hog wild with it if they need to for their programs.]

The older Realspeak non direct voices will no longer come with new versions of JAWS starting with 10. The older version of Realspeak is still supported in 10. Furthermore, the Realspeak Direct voices will be downloadable from the web. Several languages will also be supported just as they are now with the older version of Realspeak.

In the new Startup Wizzard for 10 you can customize the voices for alternate Say All and other secondary voice options. Startup Wizzard and the ALT Say All are two of my fave new features of JAWS over the last two releases and they help me greatly when I need to customize settings for a student on the fly or demonstrate quickly that JAWS can have that fancy human sounding, if you can call it that, speech that others have by default. Also with a person who has a secondary language preference, having the ability to swap between voices and languages is a benefit on many levels..

Back on track. We go into a large discussion about troubleshooting with visual people who don’t always know where JAWS is reading from at any given time. Enter MAGic. Eric asks the group if we know what MAGic was an abbreviation for originally. The group, myself included, sat quietly until Eric gave us the answer. Here is that answer, get your AT Wikis at the ready, Magnification In Color. MAG i.c.. I know it isn’t earth shattering. It is interesting though.

The group is shown how Magic and JAWS are now very much the best of friends. And this friendship goes beyond just having Magnification with a more dedicated Screen Reader on hand. Now JFW and Magic provide a sort of *JAWS in Screen Layout* mode when loaded together. Which means that the behavior of Magic is different when JAWS is on board and loaded.

The question that some are pondering while they read this is “Okay.. why?”. And indeed that sentiment rolled around the room. But there is a really good reason for why you dedicated JAWS users should download the demo of Magic. And Eric went on to show us how Magic tracked where JAWS was reading from in documents and web pages. This came more into play when we looked at text on the web with a link in the middle of the paragraph. Explaining how JAWS will sit on the link while still reading from the buffer is a bit of a confusing point for visuals. And now there is a way to show others the ways and methods used to read materials. Which again is helpful for people, like me, who have to demonstrate Assistive Technology to others who have never seen it before.

Support for Office 2007 has been improved. Upcoming support for IE8 is also coming in 10, however, 9.0 has some initial code baked into that version. We have seen the last patch for 9.0 as work is devoted to 10’s release.

Another new feature that may please others is that you can now copy text from the web, or Outlook, without losing the integrity [formatting ] of the text being copied. Some time was given to this as we heard text being copied and placed into Word without the formatting being stripped away. This doesn’t work in “Append Clipboard” [Windows + C if you don’t use that like I do] but this isn’t a big deal. Having the ability to keep the formatting is a big deal though and this will help a lot of people who work with the web a lot on their jobs.

One recent change mentioned was not so much of a crowd pleaser. Insert V’s 9.0 behavior of being a tree view rather than a list box was debated. The tree view gives you many more new options for reading and detection. However people are fickle. And so some time was given to why this change was good. This one I won’t elaborate on as the official FS version is far better than the one I remember in my fevered brain. But make sure you play with this feature in the beta as additions may come.

Questions about JAWs for the Mac came up. I agree with Eric’s answer completely on this subject. And that answer is that the cost of development would never see the sales numbers to make such an end ever a profitable one. Right now the Apple market share is still too low to make a version commercially viable.

I’ll go one better, at the risk of honking off the Mac community again, splitting development time slows the growth of your Core product line. Which then equates to JFW not keeping up with the needs and demands of the User Base. These guys and gals are human. Humans need food, rest and money. If the demand ever grows to the point where this support is a needed thing I’m sure FS would be all over the Mac and more. For now, I say again, I agree with FS’s stance on this.

The x64 question was asked. Eric stated that x64 support was on the roadmap but a lot of technical stuff had to be worked out first. This then led to a discussion about a version of JAWS running without the Video Interceptor. Such a version was possible and some discussion was given to what it would entail. Good stuff on that front. Sure your Screen Reader works better with this intercept running, however, changes in the way video is displayed are coming. And it is nice to see FS thinking about future issues.

Freedom Scientific Update will now recognize the versions of your help files and update them as new content becomes available. You don’t have to update this info if you do not want to but I thought this a neat feature as help and support may have to change with updates in say Internet Explorer 8 or something else.

There were a few “How Do I” questions amongst the other bits I am skipping over. Some talk on scripting and J-Say/J-Tunes was discussed. And then this led us into an expanded look at the new 3.0 version of TypeAbility. I’ve seen Eric demo this before at CSUN and it is always a treat to see people’s reactions to hearing the great work done on this program for their first time. TypeAbility is the typing teacher that works exclusively for JAWS and it has been constructed to be entertaining as well as informative. 3.0 refines the program into a version for younger audiences as well as adults who appreciate silly humor. You can turn it all off if neither applies. The real cool thing I like about this version is that it goes beyond the typing lesions and now the program will teach you JAWS commands. Perfect for the person who either needs a good typing lesson or the person who can’t remember their keystrokes for anything beyond the Links List and the Down Arrow. To learn more or get a demo of this product go to the link below..

And here comes the wrap up with demo discs and T Shirts. Aw, and they have Large, XL and my personal size “Goodyear”. How ever did they get that light board off of that thing for me to wear.

Okay just kidding. I’m more of a weather balloon than a blimp. The way I ate at this convention though.. they will be sizing my shirts up for aircraft to use at outdoor football games soon. Denny’s is cheap and within walking distance. Sigh..

1 comment:

jm33 said...

When you say "discussion about a version of JAWS running without the Video Interceptor. Such a version was possible and some discussion was given to what it would entail.
Good stuff on that front. Sure your Screen Reader works better with this intercept running, however, changes in the way video is displayed are coming.
And it is nice to see FS thinking about future issues." is this implying that it is soon going to be not possible to be running an interceptor with expected changes in Vista's future or is that just still at the level of speculation and concern? I hope I am incorrect here, but I would tend to think that not being able to run the interceptor would set us back a lot in our qwest for accessibility. I am aware that there are some products out there currently running without the use of an interceptor, but that it is a trade off for the portability that it allows at this point.