Although we aim to keep our readers informed, we are also not strictly a news blog. Since the news concerning the impending JAWS 9.0 public beta, and its release yesterday, were broadcast all over the online connected blind community, we elected to hold off for the chance to report some real world first impressions of this new version.

Freedom Scientific released JAWS 9.0 Public Beta 1 yesterday, October 1. The enhancements and new features of this version were demonstrated last week in episode 10 of the company’s FSCast podcast. The release notes were posted last Friday and the JAWS for Windows 9.0 Public Beta was made available on Monday.

As an advanced blind computer user who depends on reliable screen access in order to perform my day job, among other tasks, I believe it essential to take every opportunity to test new public beta versions and releases of all the assistive technology in my toolbox. This includes, of course, this JAWS 9.0 public beta. In this regard, the ability to install and run new versions of JAWS while retaining previous versions remains a significant advantage. In the event of a crash, instability or a new feature with which I simply can’t live at the moment, I am able to quickly return to a previous version and get on with the business at hand.

Though I’ve spent less than a day with the JAWS 9 public beta, my first impressions are quite positive. The most significant improvement I have experienced thus far is increased overall responsiveness across the board. Though I have not yet taken the opportunity to experience the new features of this public beta, the following seem to be the most significant:

  • Improved support of Microsoft Office 2007 and Windows Vista.
  • The ability to copy and paste content from the virtual buffer (such as virtual PC cursor mode in Internet Explorer) into a Microsoft Word document or HTML e-mail while retaining live links and visual formatting. Though I do not necessarily consider this a “break through” feature, it is, nevertheless, a potentially useful tool for working more effectively with sighted colleagues.
  • Initial support for the standard Gmail web user interface, possibly without the need to use the basic HTML view. I haven’t yet had a chance to test this functionality, but would certainly consider this significant, especially if it really makes that view accessible now. Are we finally starting to see JAWS seriously tackling an AJAX enabled web site?

Other JAWS users, including Rick Harmon are reporting Windows Vista enhancements not currently listed in the release notes, along with some new issues. I also note that the improvements made to the blank virtual buffer issue and FSBraille crashes in the limited release build 2178 were not listed in the JAWS 9.0 What’s New write up. All the same, I have yet to experience either issue so far. It is absolutely critical that we use the Beta Report Form to provide thorough feedback regarding any issues encountered while using this public beta. The programmers at Freedom Scientific can fix problems only when they are made aware of their existence.

Though JAWS 9.0 will add some new functionality to our overall computing experience, I do not feel it warrants a 9.0 version designation that results in a reduction of our SMA count or an additional financial cost for those who are not part of Freedom Scientific’s SMA program. Instead, it seems a version number such as 8.5 may have been more in line with the feature set being offered. As always, comments are quite welcome.