Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Windows 10: How did we get here, accessibility progress report and editions and upgrade paths

Hi,

As someone who is excited about trying new things and experienced with life cycle of a software product (from conception to development to release), I sometimes get nervous when waiting for release of a much anticipated product that I rely on. This is more evident if it is something I consider essential, such as iOS, screen readers, Windows and so on. In particular, as the supposed "most comprehensive version of Windows" is just three weeks away, I'm even more nervous about Windows 10, particularly dealing with accessibility. At the same time, I'm happy to report that Microsoft did one thing right: listen to feedback from over five million souls who have joined this nine-month cruise, particularly considering current level of accessibility and cooperation between Microsoft and screen reader developers.

As I continue to research ways of supporting Windows 10 features in NVDA and prepare to upgrade to JAWS 17, I'd like to present status of Windows 10 accessibility as of build 10162. Along the way, I'd like to present comparison between earlier and current builds, as well as to talk about some new features you may expect from Windows 10, particularly in newer builds. Lastly, I'll conclude with WinTen editions and upgrade paths. My thoughts on when to upgrade and a status report on screen readers and predictions will be documented in the next article. So sit back and enjoy a brief tour of Windows 10's life cycle and accessibility so far.

Windows 10: Building on successes and failures of past eight years

Before we talk about Windows 10, it is important to talk about how we got here in the first place, and what a good place to start than a day that Microsoft released a version of Windows that brought widespread disappointment:

Let's turn our clock back eight years to January 30, 2007. For the past six years, Microsoft has been working on a revolutionary operating system that claims will win over hearts of billions of people. This operating system, codenamed "Longhorn", opened up new possibilities, including ability to search for anything from start Menu, tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer and reorganized Control Panel and more. For a select few, Microsoft said, "we'll provide exclusive features such as themes, games and more".

Two years later, Microsoft found itself asking, "what have we done?" The reason: Windows Vista was virtually a flop, and Microsoft was scrambling to come up with a new version of Windows in hopes of restoring its reputation, and also allow consumers to adopt to newer technologies and paradigms. Learning from their mistakes, Microsoft did come up with a version of Windows that not only improved its reputation somewhat, but now powers six out of ten computers worldwide (according to recent sources). We call this Windows 7.

Fast forward three years. With the East Coast of the United States scrambling to recover from effects of Hurricane Sandy, a company from the West Coast proclaimed a new era of computing has begun. Combining the touchscreen interface and PC hardware, this company claimed that their new software will revolutionize how we think about computing for years to come. But the product they have shipped that day proved to be too ambitious at that time, and it took them a year to correct their mistakes and come up with a product that was accepted by consumers. And this is the product we see now on PC's, tablets, hybrids and so on: Windows 8.1.

Fast forward to September 2014. Many online articles claimed that Microsoft will talk about so-called Windows 9 on September 30th. They were partially correct then: Microsoft did announce a new version of Windows, but it was named Windows 10. At the same time, Microsoft invited early adopters to serve as beta testers, and recent statistics published by Microsoft indicate more than five million souls have responded to call from Microsoft to "arm for Windows 10". With millions of Insiders on their side, Microsoft boldly claimed that Windows 10 will be the last major version of Windows (this doesn't mean there won't be new minor versions), the most comprehensive Windows (partially really) and let apps run on any device (partially true). And now with three weeks to go before Windows 10 makes it appearance on PC's, tablets, smartphones and other devices, Microsoft is stepping up to ask consumers to upgrade for free for a while (until July 29, 2016).

Windows 10: A progress report

I'm sure some readers might ask, "what's the progress report on Windows 10, particularly with accessibility?" I'm happy to report that, compared to initial builds, the latest builds are more stable and accessible. Back in October 2014, build 9841 was considered a reworked Windows 8.1, hence users used to Windows 8.1 had no difficulty using that build. Subsequent builds added new features and broke some, particularly when navigating Start menu/screen hybrid, difficulty with moving apps from one desktop to another and continued problems with Microsoft Edge (Internet Explorer will still be there). Because I have covered major features new to Windows 10 in earlier blog posts, I'll talk about what's changed since I posted the older posts.

Moving apps to virtual desktops

One of the most complained aspects of Windows 10 was inability for blind users to move apps to different desktops via Taskview. Previously, the list of desktops shown from context menu wasn't accessible at all. This has been corrected in build 10158 and later. To move apps between desktops, open Taskview (Windows+TAB), select the app, open context menu, select Move to and choose the desktop you want the app to move to.

Narrator updates

One new thing in Windows 10 Narrator is command reassignments. Apart from this, Narrator uses Microsoft David.

Cortana command

In older Windows 10 builds, you had several options for launching Cortana: Start menu, universal search box, Search key (Windows+Q), and in later builds, speech recognition (Windows+C). In build 10158 and later, Windows+C officially becomes the keyboard command to launch Cortana in voice dictation mode.

Microsoft Edge

As I'll mention in part 2, this new browser isn't fully accessible. Currently screen reader vendors are working on Edge support.

Universal apps

Some of them, such as Calendar and Windows Feedback are accessible, while others may need improvement (universal apps use UIA or User Interface Automation).

Windows 10 editions and upgrade paths

Windows 10 targets three device categories: PC's, mobile devices, and appliances and gadgets. They share the same basic technologies, differentiated via user interface, runtime and audience.

The version that comes closest to the kernel, or heart of Windows 10 isn't Windows 10 Home. It is actually Windows 10 IoT (Internet of Things) Core. This version is Windows 10 kernel and specialized technologies to be used on appliances such as home automation systems, Internet of Things such as chips in fridges and toasters and so on.

Next up is Windows 10 Home and Mobile. Although they are powered by two different architectures (some Mobile devices will be powered by X86 chips), they have similar interfaces and features (Home comes with desktop interface, whereas devices running Mobile must be connected to an external display for desktop interface to appear). Although they do have similar interfaces, the underlying philosophy and certain technologies are different.

Building on top of Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Pro adds business-oriented features, which includes ability to delay Windows Updates for a while, joining domains and so on. Windows 10 Pro is also required in order to run Hyper-V based virtual machines and to secure one's PC with BitLocker.

On top of the pyramids for PC's and mobile devices are Windows 10 Enterprise/Education and Mobile Enterprise, respectively. These versions are suited for large organizations, and in case of Windows 10 Enterprise, allows one to create a bootable USB drive version of Windows 10. Apart from targeting students and faculty and inability to opt into long term servicing (LTS) updates, Windows 10 Education is same as Windows 10 Enterprise.

The upgrade paths are as follows:
* For users using Windows XP and Vista: Upgrade to Windows 7 or 8.1 first before upgrading, or perform clean install.
* Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Windows 8.1: Windows 10 Home.
* Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, Windows 8.1 Pro: Windows 10 Pro.
* Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise: Windows 10 Enterprise.
* For some Windows Phone 8.1 devices: Windows 10 Mobile.

In the next article, I'll talk about status of screen reader support and when would be the good time to upgrade along with screen reader requirements.

//JL

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