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Freedom Scientific Needs to Focus on Innovation and JAWS Stability Rather Than Litigation!

May 27, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
I am sitting here doing some day job work on this Memorial Day weekend.  I agreed to do this in exchange for yesterday and two days off later in the week.  Despite this arrangement, I am now quite angry!  The anger is, of course, not at all related to my agreement to work today, but, rather, it is being provoked by some rather unstable behavior on the part of JAWS, the screen reader upon which I still rely most of the time while performing the duties of my job.
About half an hour ago now, JAWS suddenly stopped talking for no apparent reason while opening a work related web site!  It just went totally silent!  From time to time, this also happens to Karen in various applications, and I hear about similar JAWS instability from many others in the blind community.  Nowadays, when this happens, I run another screen reader like Nonvisual Desktop Access, System Access or Window-Eyes.  This time, NVDA informed me that there was an “application error” with JAWS.  Pressing enter on the OK button resulted in an error with FSBraille.  Hmm, interesting, as at this time I do not have a Braille display connected or selected for use in JAWS at all.  Even worse, I am unable to restart JAWS.  The same error appears every single time!  I would need to reboot my system in order to get JAWS back!  Since I am currently recording Kim’s show on ACB Radio Interactive so that Karen may listen to it later, rebooting is currently unacceptable.  Instead, it is Window-Eyes to the rescue!  Fortunately, I don’t need to spend a great deal of time in the knowledge base application today, so this will work fine.  I just thank God I have four different screen readers on my computer!
There is a point to all of this…  While JAWS remains the overall leader in screen reading for the blind, other technologies are quickly catching up with Freedom Scientific and several are now surpassing JAWS in stability.  Though Nonvisual Desktop Access, Serotek System Access and Window-Eyes still lack scripting and much of the flexibility offered by JAWS, they do all have one significant advantage; they virtually never stop talking! 
I hope Freedom Scientific’s competitors are reading this post and the sentiments of many others in the blind community.  Give us expanded configurability and scripting support!  If I can configure System Access or Window-Eyes to do all the things JAWS currently allows, then I can use them on the job to replace JAWS, and, at least for me, JAWS will no longer stand for Job Access With Speech!  It is my opinion as an advanced assistive technology and computer user that JAWS is a defective product in need of significant overhaul to improve its stability!  There you have it, my friends.  I wonder how much trouble I’m going to find for myself by making this post.  As always, please, feel free to comment to your heart’s content.
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12 opinions on “Freedom Scientific Needs to Focus on Innovation and JAWS Stability Rather Than Litigation!

  1. Quote: “I just thank God I have four different screen readers on my computer!” Unquote.

    Hardly surprising that you have problems really!

  2. I’m just not quite sure how to take the previous comment. In the past, use of multiple screen readers did create instability with respect to video chaining techniques and the practice was discouraged. In the past, I would tend to agree that instability most certainly could be caused by having “four screen readers” installed on the same system. But, for the past couple of years, DCM (Display Chaining Manager) technology has been in use by both JAWS and Window-Eyes. This interoperability is supposed to remove video chaining issues from the mix of potentil problems with the installation of multiple screen readers or the use of magnification software in conjunction with a screen reader on the same system. NVDA does not have an off-screen model at all, so it isn’t impacted b video issues at all, and System Access uses API hooking rather than video chaining, so I also wouldn’t expect it to be involved in any video related conflicts.

    If someone can substantiate the assertion that having JAWS 8.00.2107, Window-Eyes 6.1, NVDA R425 and System Access 2.3 on the same system might be leading to certain stability issues with JAWS then, please, by all means, give me details on exactly how I am going wrong. Thanks.

  3. Darrell, a couple things. I don’t know if having several screenreaders onboard will cause any problems or not. I’m not altogether entirely convinced that video display chaining always works as it ought (as a friend of mine is wont to say, a program w/no bugs just hasn’t been tested properly). What I can say is that I have definitely seen no improvements in stability from jaws 5 to jaws 8 nor have I seen any significant improvements in functionality. The only improvement I’ve seen is to FS’s pocketbook & a definitive decrease in functionality of mine! Like u, I think WindowEyes needs to develop scripting capabilities, though I am wondering if something like AutoHotKey might be of assistance until they wake up & smell the coffee.

    I, too, think that nvda & other free open source projects might just be what the blind community needs. Tell u what–it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if organizations for the blind got behind these kinds of projects because if your needs don’t fit into the general majority types of apps like internet, email, etc. (e.g., in my case, music & computer forensics, etc.) you’re just screwed.

    Btw, nice to communicate w/a a fellow Arizonan (I live in Sun City). Have a blessed weekend.

  4. I agree. It’s almost as if the people at FS never have JAWS issues! I have to reboot at least once a day because of JAwS crashing and not starting up or starting up but not speaking anything or displaying it. And instead of using our money to fix the bugs or hire better programmers, they’re attempting to put another company out of business because they committed the hanus crime of competing with them.

  5. When I switched to Window Eyes in December, I was amazed to see that I didn’t have to restart my computer 4 or 5 times a day. I was amazed by a lot of things, actually.

    I have to say, also, that I don’t think having four screen readers should be grounds for dismissal of the problems you described. I have two internet browsers which can both play pretty nicely, three email clients, multiple messenger clients etc… I know that screen readers involve more complexities, so don’t want to compare apples and oranges. But it’s 2007, and people who are blind shouldn’t be locked into one screen reader if they want more than one, or require it to do their jobs or live their lives.

    Just my thoughts, of course.

  6. When I had to reformat my laptop and reinstall my copy of JFW a few years ago, I found my authorization disk had bitten the digital dust. I gave FS a call to obtain a replacement, but they refused to do business with me since my version then was 5.1, and even though the key on my disk said I was entitled to run 6.2, they claimed I was only allowed to run 4.5. I was informed, rather rudely, by one of the sales staff that if I really wanted help, I needed to pay $400 to upgrade to 6.2 Pro. I have had JFW instability issues in the past, and once I realized FS was more interested in my money than my own needs as a customer, I switched over to Window-Eyes. Yes, it was a greater investment at the time, but I needed a working screen reader immediately for my Fall classes which had already begun. I was shocked that I could leave my computer up for weeks at a time with no need to restart either the machine or the screen reader. Last year, I also interned in Washington, D.C. for two months and had to use Jaws 7.1 at work. The internet support had really declined, Word couldn’t differentiate between even the simplest types of bulleted lists, and Outlook’s virtual buffer would not cooperate at all. Needless to say I was relieved when I returned to my flat for the night and could use Window-Eyes on my laptop, and also access my desktop for the entire two and a half months I was gone with no need to restart it remotely. Despite the well-thought arguments posed by Jonathan Mosen, I still contend that Freedom Scientific’s suit against Serotek just proves they aren’t interested in individual customers’ needs but rather their corporate image. I think the general rule of thumb is that to file a claim in court for trademark infringement, the defendant has a two-year window from the time of plaintiff’s infringement in which to pursue legal action. The timing of this suit immediately after FS’s acquisition along with other points made here speak for themselves. As for stability, Jaws 3.5, imho, is the last version of the software which was ever truly stable, and with each new release, such a crucial usability factor disappears from the program. Other AT products like Window-Eyes, NVDA, System Access, and even Hal these days are finally giving consumers better options. Regarding scripting, Doug mentioned that after Window-Eyes 6.1 was released, GW Micro would be working on a solution which should please everyone. This was back in November, and I can’t count this as an official statement that there will be scripting in the next major WE release, but the guys at GW Micro are very much aware of the need for greater configurability with the product. I forsee something akin to Python or Lua since they can be easily integrated into a program. Any wagers?

    – Steve from

  7. JAWS seems very unstable with large or complicated web pages. I haven’t used Window Eyes but JAWS will cause the CPU usage to rise to near 99%. I don’t understand why JAWS needs to use 60-75% of the processor. It generally causes the system to slow down when it’s running.

  8. I too have noted for years that JAWS is neither a stable product nor do they ever make it much of an intent at all to fix bugs in the product. If GWMicro, a much smaller company, can focus on quality and improvements, FS certainly could if they wanted to. With FS their business practices prove they are exclusively interested in their pockets regardless of anything else. I believe the reason they wish to eliminate the competition is because they realize people don’t like being ripped off and they are afraid of any competition that offers consumers the choice not to be ripped off. I believe that more than sufficient proof has been given by many, many user reported experiences that the focus is absolutely not on the product at all and the way in which they charge for the product clearly is intended to grab as much money as they can get their hands on. As we have seen for many years all that money does not in the least result in product development well invested in. Yes it is true that we need as many screen readers on our systems as we are able to have because different ones tend to work better or worse with different things and even so we are at a disadvantage. However it can be seen that GW and the other guys are focusing on their product development where as JAWS has tended to break more things than they fix and the only thing FS is improving is their cash flow. Honestly I feel that they either need to play fair or don’t play at all. The way they are currently playig does absolutely nothing but harm to the industry. Yes it is definitely good to have JAWS in our tool box for what it can do, but when you weigh the good with the negative, FS is bringing this industry down by far more than they are contributing any quality to it. At some point if they don’t invest in the product instead of their pockets they will be selling “narator” for $1200 per user! Obviously people won’t choose that if they have a choice and that is why such a company feels the need to eliminate their competition by unfair practices.

  9. JAWS is one of the only screen readers on the market that modifies more than DCM when you install it on your system. JAWS must dive deep into the internal workings of Windows in order for it to be as responsive as it is, was?, now. To do that it has to go in areas that say McAfee or Norton tred. And We all know how well those programs work under a heavy stress load. But any program that intwines it’s self that deep in the system folders and the Windows Shell will have problems no matter what.

    The comment about DCM being somewhat universal and open and friendly for assistive technology products to all run on one system? That fantasy went out the door completly after JAWS 4.

    When you think that you are the bigest fish in the pond and you can eat whatever you want whenever you want then who will be upset if you cause other products no to run well when you alter DCM to work with your product and not so well with others?

    And scripting is not really the holy grail that others are making it out to be. Why do you want another product with extensive scripts that must be updated constantly at the speed of light in order to maintain your current access level? Does anyone realize the sheer number of products on the market today that have updated themselves a number of times since their first scripts were released? Do you want to give up your ability to be shackeled to one company only to be locked into a limited system resource eating off screen model with another company? Me not so much. Besides Vista changes everything. All these companies have to rewrite code in order to go farther in the 64 bit multi core world. And that’s why you have public betas out the wazoo with FS and vista now.

    Inovate don’t litigate indeed.

  10. Try FireVox, does just about everything JAWS wishes it could do for the one low price of $0.00 (before tax)

    Even does live regions and best of all, it doesn’t kill your PC ;)

  11. It is important for everyone to understand clearly that Firevox is not a complete screen reader. It is an accessibility plug-in for the Firefox open source web browser. It does not really seem to make sense to compare a screen reader with Firevox.

  12. I left Freedom Scientific almost 5 years ago. It was apparent to me that management was hopelessly flawed! The only thing that has really surprised me about FS is how long they’ve maintained a strong place in the market in spite of their poor performance and management. I believe that there is one blind VP who is still there and for whom I have a world of respect; (these comments have nothing to do with him) but it takes more then one outstanding technical mind to run such a company.

    There has been one other very pleasant surprise; and that’s Window-Eyes! If you haven’t tried switching you really will be blessed by changing! I understand the point about scripting; it’s a good one too, but for most common applications it’s really not as important as some would have you believe. Braille works so much better in Window-Eyes and the mouse functions and the clip feature are terrific once you get use to them. The other thing is GW may not do things fast, but they do things right. Window-Eyes is solid as a rock and my computing experience has been so much more satisfying now that I’ve completely switch over. I don’t often need tech support, but I can also tell you that the GW support staff is extraordinary and you don’t have to hear a bunch of commercials, wait for ever for help, be told that the problem is user error or be given a bogus answer about when a known issue will be fixed. The GW folks are incredibly efficient and competent. I’d put my computing future in Doug Geoffray’s hands over the hands of Freedom Scientifics’ current CEO any day of the week.

    PS. I’m not going to put my name on this post because this isn’t about me or Jonathan, or any one of the many other people who have invested blood sweat and teers in this field, it’s about something much bigger than any of us! It’s about the technology that really gives us (dare I use the word?) FREEDOM!

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