Switching back to Windows

This post is no longer current. For an update on the reasons why, read this post. The below post is kept for historic reasons, since they reflect my thoughts and reasoning from that time.

Yes, you read correctly! After five years on a Mac as my private machine, I am switching back to a Windows machine in a week or so, depending on when Lenovo’s shipment arrives.

You are probably asking yourself, why I am switching back. In this post, I’ll try to give some answers to that question, explain my very personal views on the matters that prompted this switch, and give you a bit of an insight into how I work and why OS X and VoiceOver no longer really fit that bill for me.

A bit of history

When I started playing with a Mac in 2008, I immediately realised the potential this approach that Apple was taking had. Bundling a screen reader with the operating system had been done before, on the GNOME desktop, for example, but Apple’s advantage is that they control the hardware and software back to front and always know what’s inside their boxes. So a blind user is always guaranteed to get a talking Mac when they buy one.

On Windows and Linux, the problem is that the hardware used is unknown to the operating system. On pre-installed systems, this is usually being taken care of, but on custom-built machines with standard OEM versions of Windows or your Linux distro downloaded from the web, things are different. There may be this shiny new sound card that just came out, which your dealer put in the box, but which neither operating system knows about, because there are no drivers. And gone is the dream of a talking installation! So, even when Windows 8 now allows Narrator to be turned on very early in the installation process in multiple languages even, and Orca can be activated early in a GNOME installation, this all is of no use if the sound card cannot be detected and the speech synthesizer canot output its data through conected speakers.

And VoiceOver had quite some features already when I tried it in OS X 10.5 Leopard: It had web support, e-mail was working, braille displays, too, the Calendar was one of the most accessible on any desktop computer I had ever seen, including Outlook’s calendar with the various screen readers on Windows, one of which I had even worked on myself in earlier years, and some third-party apps were working, too. In fact, my very first Twitter client ran on the Mac, and it was mainstream.

There was a bit of a learning curve, though. VoiceOver’s model of interacting with things is quite different from what one might be used to on Windows at times. Especially interacting with container items such as tables, text areas, a web page and other high-level elements can be confusing at first. If you are not familiar with VoiceOver, interacting means zooming into an element. A table suddenly gets rows and columns, a table row gets multiple cells, and each cell gets details of the contained text when interacting with each of these items consecutively.

In 2009, Apple advanced things even further when they published Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6). VoiceOver now had support for the trackpads of modern MacBooks, and when the Magic TrackPad came out later, it also just worked. The Item Chooser, VoiceOver’s equivalent of a list of links or headings, included more items to list by, and there was now support for so-called web spots, both user-defined and automatic. A feature VoiceOver calls Commanders allowed the assignment of commands to various types of keystrokes, gestures, and others. If you remember: Snow Leopard cost 29 us Dollars, and aside from a ton of new features in VoiceOver, it obviously brought all the great new features that Snow Leopard had in store for everyone. A common saying was: Other screen readers needed 3 versions for this many features and would have charged several hundred dollars of update fees. And it was a correct assessment!

In 2011, OS X 10.7 Lion came out, bringing a ton of features for international users. Voices well-known from iOS were also made available in desktop formats for over 40 languages, international braille tables were added, and it was no longer required to purchase international voices separately from vendors such as AssistiveWare.. This meant that users in more countries could just try out VoiceOver on any Mac in an Apple retail store or a reseller’s place. There were more features such as support for WAI-ARIA landmarks on the web, activities, which are either application or situation-specific sets of VoiceOver settings, and better support for the Calendar, which got a redesign in this update.

First signs of trouble

But this was also the time when first signs of problems came up. Some things just felt unfinished. For example: The international braille support included grade 2 for several languages, including my mother tongue German. German grade 2 has a thing where by default, nothing is capitalized. German capitalizes many more words than English, for example, and it was agreed a long time ago that only special abbreviations and expressions should be capitalized. Only in learning material, general orthographic capitalization rules should be used. In other screen readers, capitalization can be turned on or off for German and other language grade 2 (or even grade 1). Not so in VoiceOver for both OS X and iOS. One is forced to use capitalization. This makes reading quite awkward. And yes, makes, because this remains an issue in both products to this date. I even entered a bug into Apple’s bug tracker for this, but it was shelved at some point without me being notified.

Some other problems with braille also started to surface. For some inexplicable reason, I often have to press routing buttons twice until the cursor appears at the spot I want it to when editing documents. While you can edit braille verbosity where you can define what pieces of information are being shown for a given control type, you cannot edit what gets displayed as the control type text. A “closed disclosure triangle” always gets shown as such, same as an opened one. On a 14 cell display, this takes two full-length displays, on a 40 cell one, it wastes most of the real estate and barely leaves room for other things.

Other problems also gave a feeling of unfinished business. The WAI-ARIA landmark announcement, working so well on iOS, was very cumbersome to listen to on OS X. The Vocalizer voices used for international versions had a chipmunk effect that was never corrected and, while funny at first, turned out to be very annoying in day-to-day use.

OK, the enthusiastic Mac fan boy that I was, thought, let’s report these issues and also wait for the updates to trickle in. None of the 10.7 updates really fixed the issues I was having.

Then a year later, Mountain Lion, AKA OS X 10.8, came out, bringing a few more features, but compared to the versions before, much much less. Granted, it was only a year between these two releases, whereas the two cycles before had been two years each, but the features that did come in weren’t too exciting. There was a bit polish here and there with drag and drop, one could now sort the columns of a table, and press and hold buttons, and a few little things more. Safari learned a lot new HTML5 and more WAI-ARIA and was less busy, but that was about it. Oh yes and one could now access all items in the upper right corner of the screen. But again, not many of the previously reported problems were solved, except for the chipmunk effect.

There were also signs of real problems. I have a Handy Tech Evolution braille display as a desktop braille display, and that had serious problems from one Mountain Lion update to the next, making it unusable with the software. It took two or three updates, distributed over four or five months, before that was solved, basically turning the display into a useless piece of space-waster.

And so it went on

And 10.9 AKA Mavericks again only brought a bit polish, but also introduced some serious new bugs. My Handy Tech BrailleStar 40, a laptop braille display, is no longer working at all. It simply isn’t being recognized when plugged into the USB port. Handy Tech are aware of the problem, so I read, but since Apple is in control of the Mac braille display drivers, who knows when a fix will come, if at all in a 10.9 update. And again, old bugs have not been fixed. And new ones have been introduced, too.

Mail, for example, is quite cumbersome in conversation view now. While 10.7 and 10.8 very at least consistent in displaying multiple items in a table-like structure, 10.9 simply puts the whole mail in as an embedded character you have to interact with to get at the details. It also never keeps its place, always jumping to the left-most item, the newest message in the thread.

The Calendar has taken quite a turn for the worse, being much more cumbersome to use than in previous versions. The Calendar UI seems to be a subject of constant change anyway, according to comments from sighted people, and although it is technically accessible, it is no longer really usable, because there are so many layers and sometimes unpredictable focus jumps and interaction oddities.

However, having said that, an accessible calendar is one thing I am truly going to miss when I switch back to Windows. I know various screen readers take stabs at making the Outlook calendar accessible, and it gets broken very frequently, too. At least the one on OS X is accessible. I will primarily be doing calendaring from my iOS devices in the future. There, I have full control over things in a hassle-free manner.

iBooks, a new addition to the product, is a total accessibility disaster with almost all buttons unlabeled, and the interface being slow as anything. Even the update issued shortly after the initial Mavericks release didn’t solve any of those problems, and neither did the 10.9.1 update that came out a few days before Christmas 2013.

From what I hear, Activities seem to be pretty broken in this release, too. I don’t use them myself, but heard that a friend’s activities all stopped working, triggers didn’t fire, and even setting them up fresh didn’t help.

Here comes the meat

And here is the first of my reasons why I am switching back to Windows: All of the above simply added up to a point where I lost confidence in Apple still being dedicated to VoiceOver on the Mac as they were a few years ago. Old bugs aren’t being fixed, new ones introduced and, despite the beta testers, which I was one of, reporting them, were often not addressed (like the Mail and Calendar problems, or iBooks). Oh yes, Pages, after four years, finally became more accessible recently, Keynote can now run presentations with VoiceOver, but these points still don’t negate the fact that VoiceOver itself is not receiving the attention any more that it would need to as an integrated part of the operating system.

The next point is one that has already been debated quite passionately on various forums and blogs in the past: VoiceOver is much less efficient when browsing the web than screen readers on Windows are. Going from element to element is not really snappy, jumping to headings or form fields often has a delay, depending on the size and complexity of a page, and the way Apple chose to design their modes requires too much thinking on the user’s part. There is single letter quick navigation, but you have to turn on quick navigation with the cursor keys first, and enable the one letter quick navigation separately once in the VoiceOver utility. When cursor key quick navigation is on, you only navigate via left and right arrow keys sequentially, not top to bottom as web content, which is still document-based for the most part, would suggest. The last used quick navigation key also influences the item chooser menu. So if I moved to a form field last via quick navigation, but then want to choose a link from the item chooser, the item chooser opens to the form fields first. I have to left arrow to get to the links. Same with headings. For me, that is a real slow-down.

Also, VoiceOver is not good at keeping its place within a web page. As with all elements, once interaction stops, then starts again, VoiceOver starts interaction at the very first element. Conversations in Adium or Skype, and even the Messages app supplied by Apple, all suffer from this. One cannot jump into and out of the HTML area without losing one’s place. Virtual cursors on Windows in various screen readers are very good at remembering the spot they were at when focus left the area. And even Apple’s VoiceOver keystroke to jump to related elements, which is supposed to jump between the input and HTML area in such conversation windows, is a subject of constant breakage, re-fixing, and other unpredictability. It does not even work right in Apple’s own Messages app in most cases.

Over-all, there are lots of other little things when browsing the web which add up to make me feel I am much less productive when browsing the web on a Mac than I am on Windows.

Next is VoiceOver’s paradigm of having to interact with many elements. One item where this also comes into play is text. If I want to read something in detail, be it on the web, a file name, or basically anything, I have to interact with the element, or elements, before I get to the text level, read word by word or character by character, and then stop interaction as many times as I started it to get back to where I was before wanting to read in detail. Oh yes, there are commands to read and spell by character, word, and sentence, but because VoiceOver uses the Control+Option keys as its modifiers, and the letters for those actions are all located on the left-hand side of the keyboard, it means I have to take my right hand off its usual position to press these keys while the left hand holds the Control and Option keys. MacBooks as well as the Apple Wireless Keyboard don’t have Control and Option keys on both sides, and my hand cannot be bent in a fashion that I can grab these keys all with one hand. Turning on and off the VoiceOver key lock mechanism for this would add even more cumbersome to the situation.

And this paradigm of interaction is also applied to the exploration of screen content by TrackPad. You have to interact or stop interacting with items constantly to get a feel for the whole screen. And even then, I often feel I never get a complete picture. Unlike on iOS, where I always have a full view of a screen. Granted, a desktop screen displays far more information than could possibly fit on a TrackPad without being useless millimeter touch targets, but still the hassle of interaction led to me not using the TrackPad at all except for some very seldom specific use cases. We’re talking about a handful instances per year.

Next problem I am seeing quite often is the interaction braille gives me. In some cases, the output is just a dump of what speech is telling me. In other cases, it is a semi-spacial representation of the screen content. In yet another instance, it may be a label with some chopped off text to the right, or to the left, with the cursor not always in predictable positions. I already mentioned the useless grade 2 in German, and the fact that I often have to press the routing button at least twice before the cursor gets where I want it to go. The braille implementation in VoiceOver gives a very inconsistent impression, and feels unfinished, or done by someone who is not a braille reader and doesn’t really know the braille reader’s needs.

Next problem: Word processing. Oh yes, Pages can do tables in documents now, and other stuff also became more accessible, but again because of the paradigms VoiceOver uses, getting actual work done is far more cumbersome than on Windows. One has, for example, to remember to decouple the VoiceOver cursor from the actual system focus and leave that inside the document area when one wants to execute something on a tool bar. Otherwise, focus shifts, too, and a selection one may have made gets removed, rendering the whole endeavor pointless. Oh yes, and one has to turn the coupling back on later, or habits will result in unpredictable results because the system focus didn’t move where one would have expected it to. And again, VoiceOver’s horizontally centered navigation paradigm. Pages of a document in either Pages or Nisus Writer Pro appear side by side, when they are visually probably appearing below one another. Each page is its own container element. All of this leaves me with the impression that I don’t have as much control over my word processing as I have in MS Word or even the current snapshot builds of OpenOffice or LibreOffice on Windows. I also get much more information that I don’t have to look for explicitly, for example the number of the current page. NVDA, but probably others, too, have multilingual document support in Word. I  immediately hear which spell checking is being used in a particular paragraph or even sentence.

There are some more issues which were not addressed to this day. There is no PDF reader I know of on OS X that can deal with tagged (accessible) PDFs. Even when tags are present, Preview doesn’t do anything with them, giving the more or less accurate text extraction that one gets from untagged PDFs. As a result, there is no heading navigation, no table semantic output, and more that accessible PDFs support.

And the fact that there is no accessible Flash plug-in for web browsers on OS X also has caused me to switch to a Windows VM quite often just to be able to view videos embedded in blogs or articles. Oh yeah, HTML5 video is slowly coming into more sites, but the reality is that Flash is probably still going to be there for a couple of years. This is not Apple’s fault, the blame here is solely to be put on Adobe for not providing an accessible Flash plug-in, but it is one more thing that adds to me not being as productive on a Mac as I want to be on a desktop computer.


In summary: By all of the above, I do not mean to say that Apple did a bad job with VoiceOver to begin with. On the contrary: Especially with iOS, they have done an incredibly good job for accessibility in the past few years. And the fact that you can nowadays buy a Mac and install and configure it fully in your language is highly commendable, too! I will definitely miss the ability to configure my system alone, without sighted assistance, should I need to reinstall Windows. As I said above, that is still not fully possible without assistance. It is just the adding up of things that I found over the years that caused me to realize that some of the design decisions Apple has made for OS X, bugs that were not addressed or things get broken and not fixed, and the fact that apps are either accessible or they aren’t, and there’s hardly any in-between, are not compatible with my way of working with a desktop computer or laptop in the longer term. For iOS, I have a feeling Apple are still full-steam ahead with accessibility, introducing great new features with each release, and hopefully also fixing braille problems as discussed by Jonathan Mosen in this great blog post. For OS X, I am no longer as convinced their heart is in it. As I have a feeling OS X itself may become a second-class citizen behind iOS soon, but that, again, is only my personal opinion.

So there you have it. This is why I am going to be using a Lenovo notebook with NVDA as my primary screen reader for my private use from now on. I will still be using a Mac for work of course, but for my personal use, the Mac is being replaced. I want to be fast, effective, productive, and be sure my assistive technology doesn’t suddenly stop working with my braille display or be susceptible to business decisions placing less emphasis on it. Screen readers on Windows are being made by independent companies or organizations with their own business models. And there is choice. If one does no longer fit particular needs, another will most likely do the trick. I do not have that on OS X.


49 thoughts on “Switching back to Windows

    1. I looked at Linux distributions briefly again a few weeks agi, and even starting to find out which ones have an accessible install gave me headaches, so I gave up the endeavor quickly again. I remember Ubuntu being a real firehose, you never knew what you were getting with each new release every 6 months. So no qualifying data to answer that question. my last memories of playing with GNOME were that I was nowhere near as productive as I am on Windows.

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m in the market for a new computer and have been considering my first ever Mac based on my experiences with iOS devices and advice from some people I generally trust, but this certainly gives me reasons to think twice. Like I said to the person who shared this with me, perhaps the devil I know may be better than the devil I don’t. Your article, combined with the choice issue that’s always bothered me when it comes to Apple and the recent free availability of Window-Eyes might just be enough to cause me to stick with Windows.

  2. Absolutely agree with this post 100 per cent.
    I own a mac mini since late 2010, but really never switched completely to mac, and nowdays use it less and less, for the exact reasons you wrote.
    In particular the interaction model, the fact that you hare forced to interact and un-interact multiple times for trivial tasks too, in my opinion is an extremely inefficient way to use a screen reader, it is cool and familiar to programmers this way of thinking, but not to users, and most of the time it is time consuming and inefficient, even when application are quite accessible, your point with pages is correct.
    Even efficiency in browsing web with safari is due to this design decision they have made with vo.
    If mac os had consistent and complete keyboard navigation commands builtin, as windows or gnome have, this voice over specific interaction modelso convoluted, would be not necessary.

    Agree about braille bugs, braille support is lacking at best.
    And the “busy” problem, that happens in safari or in finder, makes me crazy!

  3. hi. thanks for laying this stuff out in this document. i have often been saying things like this to mac users, only to be thrown all this rubbish about how much easier it is to access a mac over windows. it seems that the real mac / apple lovers, refuse to admit that something is wrong. also, re your comment about OS X becoming a second class OS to iOS? … what do you mean becoming, … it’s already there. lol. long past. OS X just isn’t getting the atension it needs, and that’s not only with voiceover. it’s the hole system. it needs something new. and iOS is so much more accessible. that’s why, when the new iPads came out, i got myself a shiny new iPad mini with retina. it’s cool. i probably don’t use it as much as i should, or could, but i recognised that that was a better use of my money, about a thousand dollars australian, then paying a good 1200 to 1500 bucks on a mac that may or may not work right for all the things i like. and most likely, would be a lot slower then my $1000 toshiba notebook. my $1000 toshiba notebook, has a core i7 running at 2.4 ghz, 8 gb ram running at 1600 mhz, a 1 tb fusion drive, blueray drive, tv tuner card, 4 USB 3 ports, HDMI, and all that sort of stuff. all for a thousand bucks! … now i’m sorry, as good as mac’s might be, and yes, they really are built nicely, to get anything near that kind of power and speed, i’d have to pay a good 2500 bucks. or more.
    i could, i have no dout, learn to use the mac better. but if a person that has used it for years is moving away, and back to windows, then that tells me that it’s just not worth the money. windows for the PC world, and iOS for the mobile computing, IE mobile phones and tablets seem to be the way to go for me. iOS voiceover seems to be doing well. though it appears to have a few problems in iOS 7, i’m hoping they will be solved soon.
    also, another thing to remember here, is of course, apple will be focusing most of it’s work on iOS. after all, that’s what it’s selling now. OS X / the mac machines, is a side business now.
    iPads and iPhones took over from the mac a long time ago, just look at sales of mac in the last quarter. 4.8 million. the iPhone? 51 million! the iPad? 26 million! and also, add in the around 6 million iPods they sold, and figure in about 3 million of those as the iPod touch perhaps. that makes for a total of 80 million iOS devices sold, …. in 3 months!

    so as you can see, the mac is a drop in the sea now. it’s nothing. so it’s no wonder that it’s not getting apple’s focus much any more, at least not to the level it used to.

    iOS devices are often just as powerful as a mac now too.
    just look at the new iPad mini retina, or iPad air. they are amazingly fast, and powerful. even my iPhone 5 is very fast.

    anyways, thanks again for posting this, and explaining in language that people can understand, why OS X is no longer working to it’s full potential.

  4. Nice blog.
    all of your points make sense
    I agree with @Dallas O’Brien
    about windows for the PC world, and iOS for the mobile computing, IE mobile phones and tablets

    Thanks a lot
    looking forward to read more of your nice blogs

  5. I’m not convinced that accessibility is being handled as well now in iOS as it was before, but it’s still very good. As one who has a Mac and has felt forced by all the peer excitement to learn it, but who has no other motivation to do so, the information about web inefficiency in your post is the most convincing to me. I can’t imagine adopting a system where web navigation is less efficient than the one I already use.

  6. Hi, a very well thought and written post. I would like to mention Vinux as an alternative but we still have a long way to go to get the kind of polish one would expect from OSX. You clearly have the knowledge and it is sad that it does not contribute more effectivly toward OSX development. Hopefully Apple representitives come across this post and are proactive about the bugs mentioned. Good luck.

  7. Hi,
    While I do agree with this post in many ways, one thing to keep in mind, and it is a biggy in my opinion, is the fact that there is so much flexability in apples hardware.
    For example, in my early 2009 mac Mini, I have mac OSX 10.9.1, windows 7 professional in bootcamp, and I can virtualize said bootcamp partition in OSX, there by allowing me to have a relatively (especially in the last year or so) snappy experience with windows 7 and still have mac on the other side of the spectrum, just a command tab away.
    When it comes time to reinstall OSX (I always reinstall with every major version e.g 10.8 to 10.9(, it can all be done without sighted help, as can the installation of windows now and bootcamp.
    With a windows computer (especially the new windows 8.1 machines), have fun trying to get it to boot from optical drive or thumb drive by default, downgrading it (if you so choose), and changing certain things in the bios.
    I have heard of several people that have had problems with bootcamp early on when it first came out, but as for me, the two macs I have owned have had absolutely no problems in windows, and in fact have, ironically, been the most stable computers running windows that I owned.
    And, thought of another way, buying a mac and a windows license is no more expensive than buying competing windows screen readers. NVDA has truly came a long way, and for a little over a grand you can have a seriously snappy machine, excellent hardware, and similar specs to a windows ultrabook with the added flexability that you can enjoy mac and windows together.
    This of course is just in my opinion.

  8. Hello,
    your post is very interesting and it was source of debate among mac users on our italian website about Apple, ios and osx. I have not a mac pc, but I’d like to submit some ideas that people that use mac from many years have, and some suggestions.

    1. Braille: it is absolutely true. the problem is that American people are not very familiar with braille, or, they don’t give it the same importance that we give in Europe. It remains a serious problem that new Braille display as your HANDYTECH is not recognized by the mac.

    2. About mail, people say that from 10.9.2 all problem about slowness are solved. If you have time, try to confirm it.

    3. all agreee with you about Ibooks, it is better to leave it completely missed.

    4. about surfing the web, honestly it would seem that the best approach is to use the trackpad with the standard navigation system, not quicknav, and use the keystroke for jumping around the screen. with one hand on the trackpad, navigation can be really fast.

    5. and at the end, about pages, a solution for not interact always with the toolbar is learning all the keystroke of pages, or accessing functions from the menu, without moving the VO cursor.

    about pdf, all agree with you, the support is really insufficient.

  9. Last year I acquired a Macbook Air. From the outset I found the need to use two hands when interacting with objects an uncomfortable contrast with Windows. In Windows I can browse the web and interact with text with one hand, leaving the other free for important things like holding my cup of tea!

    It was interesting to note your thoughts on this, and also the inefficiency of browsing the web in general. Thanks for a thought provoking and well written perspective (as always).

  10. thanks, Marco, for this knowledgeable and well balanced article.
    As you said, it much depends on one’s own method of working, one’s own expectations and preferences.
    When I purchased my MacBook air pretty exactly one year ago, I was well aware that I would need my Windows laptop for a number of tasks – especially related with my PhD. I am the more surprised that I have been able to move most of these tasks to my Mac over time. As a researcher in phonetics and phonology, the ability to read and write symbols from the international phonetic alphabet (IPA) is very important. for years and years, as a user of Windows & JAWS, I needed sighted help to insert those symbols into a text. I am quite happy that NVDA can read those symbols now, too. However, the fact that a number of IPA symbols are actually accessible on the default Mac keyboard – and iOS, come to that – is a big plus for me. furthermore, I quite enjoy the freedom of composing and controlling Keynote presentations for my conference talks and teaching independently – either directly on the Mac or, much more flexible, via Keynote Remote on my iPhone. I did not have this comfort with Powerpoint.
    As for the object navigation and interaction: my personal feeling is that I am faster and more efficient navigating with voiceOver, quick navigation and object interaction. It just feels more efficient than tabbing my way through Windows and possibly missing out on information which is in between lists and buttons. People say that interaction requires a few fingers, including switching the quick navigation on and off; however, it also takes a few fingers to switch JAWS to the virtual cursor or JAWS cursor and back. Object navigation in NVDA also requires a finger or two.
    People, navigating a computer via keyboard involves a few fingers. It’s as simple as that.

    I am quite annoyed that Apple seem to ignore calls to bring RTF support back to Pages 5.0, that they ignored reports about the Page-2 issue in RTF-based text editors from a very early beta stage on, that my Handy Tech Easy Braille is not being recognized by Mavericks… As you, Marco said, too, the way Apple respond to accessibility reports is quite frustrating.

    MacOSX does not become a worse operating system just because a very knowledgeable and experienced user switches back to Windows. I hope the community is aware of this.
    Some things still feel more natural on Windows for me, others feel more intuitive and better on MacOSX. It’s a matter of taste, after all.

  11. While I am still steadily drinking the cool-ade of the mac world, there are definitely points I must agree with you on here. Though I do think at least 50% of the problems are being caused by, as you said, OS10 becoming a second-class citizen. I love IOS; it’s absolutely wonderful and fantastic. But it saddens me to see Apple neglecting its laptops. I love my iPhone, but it will never replace my laptop, and I’m sure there are others that feel the same, but Apple does not respect that decision, and I think that’s going to start hurting them.

    …there’s a reason I am still running snow leopard. 🙂

    On the VO specific issues, I definitely see some of what you’re talking about. I personally find safari navigation easier than other systems, but that is a personal preference. I also don’t really use a Braille display, so I haven’t been hit by that problem.
    The part where I can agree most heartily with you is the Pages issue–I cannot express to you how much I hate that program. If there was one thing that could drive me back to windows, it would be the simple ability to use word again.

    I hope the switching helps you out. I personally could never do it (except when I’m trying to use Pages); windows machines now drive me crazy, but I can certainly see the tempting aspects of the choice, and hope it works out well.

  12. Seeing troubles people without any disabilities have using Modern UI of Windows 8.1, charms and other things appearing on the screen out of nowhere I will follow this adventure with great interest. I think you will come back sooner than you think…

  13. Fantastic post, Marco. While I agree with you on most (if not close to all) of your points, a journey back to Windows is not something I’m interested in taking at the moment. Besides, my workflow is super snappy and solid in OS X at the moment—and that’s really the most important thing for me right now.

    All that being said: I’m very interested to know which Lenovo system you went with?

    Thanks for all of the daunting work and thought you put into the accessibility conversation, my friend. It’s truly appreciated!

  14. Thank you for the great post on your reasons for switching back to Windows from the Mac. I was going to try the Mac but, thanks to your thorough and well-written post, I think I will stick with Windows. I’m glad iOS is great, though and I may try that. Keep up the awesome work and I am going to bookmark your blog. Beth

  15. You’ve convinced me to stick with Windows. As for my screen reader, I use JAWS. I tried Window Eyes, but I found it to clunky to use. Something that JAWS could do in a single step often took WE several to do, if it could do it at all. I know that JAWS is expensive, but I’ll take quality over lower cost nonquality product. As for NVDA, I tried it, and while a respectible screen reader, it didn’t fit my needs. Same with System Access. I wonder how Freedom Scientific will handle GW Micros’ free WE “give away?” I think that even though WE may be more popular because of this in the short term, the users will soon see the infiriority of it and switch to a different screen reader like JAWS, even if it is a bit pricy. I personally would rather spend a little more money and get what I want/need, rather than get a freebee or even a paid product turned into a freebee that doesn’t do what I want/need or if I can figure out how to make it do what I want/need, is less eficient than the competition.

  16. you can install windows by yourself using the talking nvda windows7 PE installer. a special version of windows7 that runs from a live dvd the installer talks with nvda.

  17. I love my iPhone and have toyed with switching my Windows desktop to a Mac. Thanks to your thoughtful and honest post, I hope my Windows PC will last a good long time.

  18. Excellent Post. Very well-organized and not combative. The general navigation, not just on the web, is what always made Macs inefficient for me. I’m glad to see I was not completely crazy for sticking to my Windows guns. iOS, fantastic product line. Macs? Not for me and probably not for the advanced office producers.

  19. Thank you so much for this post! I bought an iPhone 4S in September 2012 and was so excited about how accessible and “intuitive” it was that I bought a MBA a few months later and was very disappointed to discover that they’re not at all the same thing. And after spending an awful lot of time in the past year trying to learn how to use my Mac, encountering all of the issues you mention without fully understanding exactly what the problems were, I just decided last week to give up on my MBA and sell it! In the meanwhile, I bought an iPad Mini and will use that and my phone for much of what I want and need to do and like you, intend to get another Windows PC. Of course, I haven’t heard much good about Windows 8, so that’s a concern as well. Also, not having to purchase future Window Eyes updates was the final straw that moved me to make my decision. So thanks again for helping me feel better and perhaps more justified in my own decision!

  20. Very interesting post. I just got a Mac Book Air after Christmas and really like it so far. I had previously heard Voiceover being put through its paces on a few podcasts, but this is my first time with it. First off, hats off to Apple for including it in all their products, and embracing the idea of universal design and accessibility. I’m finding it to be quite a good screen reader. I am intrigued by Alex’s breathing, and I’m curious to know how Apple pulled that one off. Or did they just record an actual person and forget to edit out the breaths he took? I have pretty much stuck with email and web browsing thus far, both with Safari and Google Chrome. I briefly checked out some of the other pre-installed apps, and they seem good for the most part. I don’t own a Braille display so can’t comment on that. I hope to eventually run Windows on here via Bootcamp, but for now I think I have some more learning to do in Os10.

  21. I bought a mac mini at the end of 2011 and I totally love the experience. I can run windows if I want, as everyone else has discussed. I can’t afford a braille display so can’t comment on that problem. I find navigating with safari quite easy. I actually like the fact that you can open the item chooser and start typing in a few letters of the link you are looking for and it appears. I don’t use 2 hands to interact, I simply turn quick nav on and use the up and right arrows to interact. This has become quite natural and efficient to me. I also feel that the vocaliser voices sound better on os 10 and are not quite as laggy as they seemed to be on my windows machines, that’s just personal opinion though. I feel like I have the best of both worlds being able to have windows when I need it and to be able to use my mac primarily. I have even managed to read a book or 2 on ibooks. Sure it needs some improvement but I wouldn’t say it’s totally unusable. I hope you enjoy your new computer whatever flavour of operating system you are using.

  22. Hello, Marco: Wow. I bet you were the Marco Z*** I met a long time ago on CompuServe. Back when. I had not realized hen you are quite the computer brain. Your article is fascinating. Do you still live in Hamberg?

  23. Great article. When I first boght my Mac I was intrigue but soon found it wasn’t the computer experience I wanted to be. I still have Snow lepard on my mac. I also tried loving Pages but it just wasnt’ the same compared to Word. However, the one main thing that nobody has ever mentioned is the fact Voiceover has never been tested in a work place environment. I got so furious at times from people trashing Jaws or window eyes yet these screen readers are the ones who have enabled blind persons to enter the work force. Yesits great having a built in screen reader and being able to buy a computer off the shelf but its just not the same compared to a window based computer and third party screen reader.

  24. An interesting article. There are some points that I have to agree with and a few which for me aren’t an issue or I have come up with workarounds that do the job. I went from carrying two computers around, a PC and a Mac Book, to just one, my Mac Book Pro. Yes, I have loaded it with VMware and sometimes find myself moving to that environment to accomplish some tasks. As a rule it all works pretty well. Is is without issue , no, but it certainly saves my back when carrying it around. LOL

    As a major braille user I have found myself troubled by some of the problems. I, like you, have a Handy Tech display, an EBR. There is currently a known issue with the USB driver and the Handy Tech displays. In my case, somewhat unsatisfactory, a solution was to use the Bluetooth option which worked. I assume this is being fixed and look forward to a solution with 10.9.2.

    I’m a programmer so one of the biggies for me is the ability to now use Xcode and when necessary bring up VMware Fusion with VM20xx. Is it always a perfect solution? No, it isn’t. Yes, the hardware and be expensive but my PC laptop was also quite expensive. Most of that is due to the fact that I require fairly high-end items and you know the rule, “Choose any two, good, fast, or cheap.” LOL

    An interesting article nonetheless. I believe we may have met at CSUN a number of year ago? Aren’t you a programmer as well?

  25. Marco, thank you for sharing your perspective. It is thorough, balanced, and well-reasoned.

    I have the luxury of both a Mac Mini and a Toshiba Ultrabook in addition to my iPhone. Like many who use both operating systems, I find it easy to trumpet the advantages of each. And,how relaxed and efficient the work is really does depend on the task at hand.

    A bit of an efficiency nut, I work hard to find the easiest way to do things. And, on the whole, I have to say that if you look at a broad range of tasks from personal to professional, from communications and entertainment to programming, it is easier to be efficient on a Windows system. However, there are some tasks where, at the moment, VO on OSX has the upper hand. My experience is those are relatively rare. In nearly all cases, I find you have to memorize and use fewer keystrokes to reach most ends on Windows.

    As you point out, the need for more key presses in OSX is driven primarily by the need to start and stop interaction with UI elements, even individual elements of static text on a web page!! But, an equal, and maybe even greater contributing factor is that OSX is still primarily a point and click OS. It relies on VO implementation and emulation of the point and click paradigm to close the keyboard gap. On the other hand, Windows keyboard accessibility exists independent of any screen reader. This is a radical difference. This is actually an advantage in IOS but a huge detractor in OSX. Unfortunately, touchpads don’t fix it.

  26. Hi Marko. Very good post. I’ve tryed many systems. As a translator I can say that so-called multilingual environment simply doesn’t exist in Mac Os. No accessible tools for translators, no way to do the spelcheck in more then one language in a document. And last but not least, there is no good affordable daisy player for the mac. Not to mention my hamradio needs.

  27. I switched back when my SSD was beginning to fail in my 2012 MBA. Basically I had to use internet recovery, which does not let you use voice over, until you connect to a wifi network, and let it download the recovery stuff. Totally negates the benefit of the Apple hardware, not only because I was living in windows! Very happy with my linovo thinkpad s1.

  28. Hi Marco, great post.

    I agree with most of what you say, but one area where I haven’t found a good solution in Windows is a mail client.

    Which mail client will you be using?

    1. Hi André, I am using Mozilla Thunderbird. Works great with NVDA, and also good with JAWS. Don’t know how well WE works with it, or other screen readers.

      1. Thunderbird is my Windows mail client of choice as well. It does work quite well with NVDA and it’s not bad with JAWS. There were and perhaps still are JFW scripts for it, but I found that basically everything I would need to do could be accomplished without them. It has it’s quirks that can sometimes be a little annoying, but it’s certainly doable.

        I’m not sure if this would factor into your decision, but it also has a built-in RSS reader. For me, that was the clincher. Having mail and RSS easily accessible from the same interface is fantastic and makes things much more efficient if you use feeds regularly as I do.

  29. Yes Thinkpads are the best… in Microsoft world at least.
    I think that the level of importance being given to iOS is because of its increased educational use.

  30. Thanks for posting! I am in the process of getting a macbook pro! In my new Job I will need it and always wanted it. What you wrote really concerns me. So I will not put my windows away but for Musik and Deeyaying a mac is really the way to go. I will have to use Pro tools and may be even Logic! I am not so much of a braille fan anyway but understand the problem here.

  31. I’m about to make a similar switch (Linux to Windows) on a trial basis to see how I like it. Mind sharing what apps you use for development (editor, shell if applicable, etc.?) I’m sure I can find some given time, but my plan is to give it a month, so any nudges in the right direction toward spinning up a Windows-based development environment are greatly appreciated.

  32. i AM sorry that Apple is slacking off for what ever reason(s) re Braille and other VO features and most importantly bug-fixes. For a variety of reasons I am not an Apple fan, and macs are not at all popular where I live anyway, so I’d be about where I am as a deaktop Linux user re any face to face support opertunities if I ever did move to a macbook, mac mini or whatever.
    As far as the state of Linux accessability goes it is both an exciting time, and a frustrating time. While I do not see why finding out which distros offered accessible installers was an issue, but then again I’ve used Linux as my primary OS for going on four years now and thus am more or less in the loop. Ubuntu consistently has had accessible installers for quite a few years, but forget the six month upgrade cycle for now. Since the 12.04 lts release Ubuntu Accessability has been pretty clear in stating that they just do not curently have the resources to do much towards making midterm releases fully accessible, and while many blind linux-heads continue to test and in some cases use these releases as production systems, most folks who really want to get things done efficiently use the once every two year lts releases, or a blind-user optimized spin of Ubuntu-lts, most notably Vinux who’s 4.0 release based on Ubuntu precise, 12.04, is a very viable option for the typical desktop user with a mostly accessible skype interface, very good support of the unity operating system, and generally good support for most of the more popular programs. Firefox and orca have not played well together since fx25, but I think things are back to fairly usable with 28 which I’ve not personally tested. For those who want the most recent Orca and accessability stack, or something close there’s Arch-linux, which has had a talking-arch image available for years. This installation is not for the total Linux newbie as one must chroot and do several more configuration steps more or less manually as conpared with Ubuntu or Debian, which also can be installed with no sighted help. Ubuntu gnome lets one use newer orca than on the LTS releases, and current gnome accessability is quite good. Fedora also has a talking installer, and seems to have become much more user-friendly from all reports as of more than a year ago compared with the often torturous experience I heard about say 3 years ago. The last time I tried the accessible version of Knopix it was not really a very viable option for most folks in my opinion with a only partially accessible lxde desktop for the on-demand gui that crashed most of the time when I tried even limited multitasking. For rescue and sys-admin work grml continues to offer easy to start speech and I believe braille as well. For the experienced and or adventurous at least some Gentoo versions offer cli-speech after typing one or two commands. There are some other distros that are being used by blind persons, but for an out of the box experience that should be similar to that of the sighted-user for installation it’s Arch, Debian Fedora and Ubuntu I’d say. For those interested in Ubuntu, go for Vinux as you lose nothing and gain some good underthe hood work and a great supportive community. And for why I said exciting: finally there are GUI alternatives to gnome. Besides Ubuntu’s unity, both lxde and xfce are mostly accessible but with one major issue, panel(s)/sys-trays can not be focused so that one can easily get the kind of feedback one expects in a modern GUI nor use old-school launcher icons and such. Gnome and Unity have very good panel accessability. And the new accessability star is the mate desktop, a good choice for refugies from windows-xp and those who miss the old gnome2 interface, i.e. menu-driven instead of search driven

  33. Oh, for those who care, I’m currently using Arch-Linux with xfce as my start on demand desktop. I often spend a good part of a computing session using commandline aps exclusively to save system resources since my primary computer is a wimpy netbook these days. It took a bit of editing .ini and .conf files to get some programs to display in an accessible manner that would have just worked out of the box on a Vinux or Ubuntu system. I also use Vinux4.0, and like Debian or Ubuntu for server distros right now. With arch I can use either the latest stable Orca or pull the master development branch from git with out having to do any manual package building. The thing about Linux accessability is that one can not just download the latest version of the orca screen-reader and have it work no matter what distro-release you are running. The infrastructure for accessible Linux has changed enough over the last few years that on my vinux installation I can’t update the screenreader from the close to two year old version that came on it. Other Ubuntu and Debian based release have similar issues with limited or non-existent update posibilities. Arch is however a rolling release and while some things may complicate or break, I have not had this problem with the accessability components. The soon to be released Ubuntu 14.04 lts will be the base of the next Vinux major release, and that Vinux will likely give the best out of the box accessible experience for a year or two once released.
    There are a couple projects working on a preconfigured accessible arch so that a novice user can just install and go with out much configuration, but time will tell how well this is done and the hot and cold nature of small FOS projects is always one of the biggest concerns for us blind Linux-users.

  34. Hello, Marco: I remember you from CompuServe back in the mids1990s. My friend Martin introduced us. I wanted to inquire how you make NVDA work with your braille display. I have NVDA as a Jaws backup, the speech is not so good, and my old Baum/Brailliant 32-cell braille display won’t react at all. Thank you

  35. Hello David, sorry, no idea really. The only entry I see is Baum/Humanware/APH braille displays. If yours doesn’t work with that driver, you may want to contact your dealer and see if there’s an update available like a new firmware that works with the driver, or alternatively file a ticket at the http://community.nvda-project.org web site. I don’t own that display, so don’t know more. my Freedom Scientific Focus Blue and the Handy Tech work just fine on my two computers with NVDA.

  36. If you do run into issue with Outlook’s calendar when you’re back on Windows, I wonder if the Windows 8 built-in Calendar app will work better for you? It’s an HTML/JS app (like the Mail and People apps) and that team *should* have thought about and tested accessibility when building it.

  37. Guess what! I switched from iPhone 5 to Lumia 735 and I love it! In times of Cloud Computing and Multi Platform Apps it doesn’t matter any more which OS you are working on. I disagree that OSX is lacking behind. Yes, since about two years Apple has been doing more copying than bringing innovation (El Capitan Notes – OneNote and Evernote set the design). The true Apple problem is not hardware or the OS X. The true problem is its iCloud. iTunes Match is not reliable (Google Music Player does it better and is for free). Now they charge for the Photo Cloud and can’t compete with Google Photos or flickr. iCloud imap is slow (compared to my other imap accounts). Apple turns more into a lifestyle product line (Apple Watch which is totally overpriced if you ask me). I’m even thinking about buying a Chromebook one day :-). Actually OS X ist still an argument pro apple and I hope that they are not messing this up too by mimicking their software even more.

  38. I actually just recently switched back to Windows for work because that is what the majority of our customers are using as well. One of the only things that made it ok, because I was using Sparrow before, is managing email & communication from Mailbird. Also I’m very excited about W10 launching end of the month!

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