Pros and Cons of the Mac, From an Accessibility Perspective

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

A Brief History

I got my first iOS device, an iPod Touch (fourth generation), for Christmas in 2010. I was resistant at first, but eventually warmed up to it and grew to rely on it more than the braille notetaker I had used for over eight years. Given that positive experience with Apple, and all the comments about VoiceOver on the Mac I'd been hearing, I decided to give the Mac a shot. In 2011, I purchased the cheapest Mac I could, a low-end Mac Mini.

Having been trained on Windows for years, the first thing I did was install Windows on a Bootcamp partition. I used that OS almost exclusively for a year, for two reasons. First, I had no way to hook my monitor to the Mac, and that caused it to slow down, whereas Windows could run fine with no screen. Second, the Mac seemed a bit sluggish compared to Windows, and I was used to the instant response of NVDA, so I stuck with what I liked more, never really giving OSX a chance.

In 2012 I volunteered for five weeks at a school for the blind, helping to teach the students assistive technology. I brought my Mac with me--it is one of the most portable desktops I have ever seen, and I figured it would do just fine so long as I kept it booted into Windows (I was traveling to the school by bus, so had no way to carry an entire monitor with me). This would have worked out just fine, except that a rather nasty bug in a new speech synthesizer I was trying out at the time rendered Windows pretty much useless. Since I had no way to connect a screen to my computer, I could not even get sighted help to resolve the problem, so I was effectively unable to use Windows. My only other choice: finally give OSX a fair shot.

In the year and a half since, I have become a convert to OSX. I put more ram in my Mini, and got an adapter so I could hook up a monitor, and things are running fine. Below, I want to give the major reasons why I decided to use the Mac over Windows. I will then point out the downsides to the Mac that I have found so far. I will not spend much time on the features that are not directly related to accessibility. For example, the amount of content that automagically syncs between my Mac and iPhone is great, and is part of why I use a Mac, but it is not specific to accessibility and so will not be talked about.

Why I Love It

VoiceOver is Built Deeply into Every Mac

Once you know VoiceOver on your Mac, you know it on every Mac back to 2005 or so. You can walk up to just about any Mac computer, hit command-f5, and have a familiar screen reader pop up. You can even put your VoiceOver preferences on a thumb drive, and VoiceOver on any Mac can use them in place of its defaults. It's sort of like carrying NVDA on a thumb drive, but better. You don't need to wonder which of the five major screen readers a computer might be running, if it has one at all; you don't need to try to figure out how to launch an installed screen reader; you don't need to worry about the computer not having an authorization and stopping your screen reader after forty minutes; you don't need to figure out which keyboard layout is in use, or what changes someone else might have made to key bindings. Any Mac running a reasonably modern operating system will have basically the same screen reader you already know.

Perhaps you're thinking, "but I've never encountered a Mac in the wild, so this doesn't matter to me"? I haven't either, but consider this. Last week, a friend of mine lent me his 2010 Macbook because it wouldn't boot. I booted into a recovery disk I already had on hand (which I created independently), ran some disk repairs, wiped the hard disk, installed Mavericks, and ran through the initial setup process. Through all that, I had to ask for sighted assistance only twice, once to ask what the computer was doing when it refused to boot, and once to see why it had frozen up (that second one I solved with a hard shutdown, and really, I didn't need to ask at all). Windows and Linux users could not do that. I've also worked on other macs, at home and with visually impaired students at a nearby school, and I never needed to install or worry about anything because each one had the same VoiceOver I already knew.

Since VoiceOver is so deeply integrated into the Mac's operating system, everything but the initial boot process is fully accessible. This includes setting up your new Mac, installing operating system updates and patches, accessing recovery mode, and other areas where Windows is not able to speak.

Stability

As long as I can remember, Windows screen readers have done really odd things. Freezing up, reading random image numbers, losing focus, sometimes reading more or less information than usual, and so on. In the case of Jaws, any system modification (such as adding RAM or installing a new version of Windows) would force you to re-authorize Jaws. Two modifications, and you had to get ahold of Freedom Scientific and ask them to reset your authorization count before you could use the full version of Jaws again. Yes, screen readers like NVDA don't have authorization problems, but they can still exhibit very odd behavior.

Is Voiceover perfect? No, of course not. However, I experience far less oddities with it than I did with NVDA or Jaws. When something strange does happen, it is usually a setting I changed and not Voiceover misbehaving. Yes, some apps have trouble with VoiceOver, most notably Xcode, but in general I find VoiceOver to be more stable and predictable than anything on Windows. It helps that OSX runs more smoothly than Windows, and that when a program locks up, the entire computer is not affected. If, for example, Firefox freezes on Windows, I cannot do anything with the machine until it eventually un-freezes or lets me open Task Manager, Through all that, of course, NVDA is silent. When an app freezes on the Mac, VoiceOver tells me the app is "busy", but I can use the rest of the Mac with no problems at all. It is very, very rare for my entire computer to lock up on me--in fact, I cannot remember the last time it happened.

NOTE: my comment about Xcode may lead some to think that VoiceOver is not well supported by Xcode. On the contrary, the two work together well. However, when VoiceOver is running, newer versions of Xcode can sometimes slow down. Such decreases in performance are not seen when Voiceover is disabled.

Braille Support

Apple's implementation of braille support isn't perfect, but it is good. The best feature is the automatic support for over forty displays right out of the box. I have never been able to get my BrailleNote Apex to work with Jaws or NVDA, yet it worked immediately on my Mac the first time I tried it. I can also easily customize the braille key assignments, getting rid of ones I never use and replacing them with commands I need. There is no need to find and fight with special drivers, restart your screen reader, find the proper com port, virtualize any ports, or anything else I've had to try in Windows over the years. Instead, the process is easy, fast, and, in my experience, reliable.

Voices

OSX has offered Realspeak voices from Nuance since OS10.7 Lion. It seems that, with each major OSX update, new or improved voices are offered; Mavericks brought us the latest "expressive" voices, including Oliver, Ava, and others. They sound great, and they are system-wide. That means that any app that can use text to speech can use them.

By contrast, Jaws comes with similar voices, but they are tied to your Jaws installation. They cannot be used by other apps, not even other screen readers. NVDA has these voices available, but you must pay $100 to get them, and they are still not SAPI5 (meaning that other applications cannot use them). Yes, the Mac lacks the familiar voices like Eloquence or Espeak, but it does have low-quality (and therefore faster) voices available, such as Fred or Ralph. Yes, you can get system-wide voices for Windows, but they start at $25 each and only go up from there.

Built-in Apps

Windows comes with a basic wordprocessor (Notepad), a web browser, a media player, and that's pretty much it. If you want a calendar, or advanced wordprocessor, or mail client, or plenty of other apps, you have to download them. (Note: Windows 8 may be different, but I am speaking about Windows 7 as I have no experience with anything newer).

When you boot up your Mac and, it is worth repeating, configure everything with no sighted help, you will have a bunch of apps ready to go. Mail, Calendar, Reminders, Text Edit (which does far more than Notepad), and more, all ready and waiting. No need to find and install Windows Live anything, or purchase an over-priced Microsoft Office package. In fact, if it is productivity you want, open up the App Store and grab a powerful wordprocessor/design tool (Pages), a spreadsheet program (Numbers), and a Powerpoint app (Keynote), all for free. (Note: these apps are free so long as you purchased your Mac new, after September of 2013). All three are fully accessible, and with Voiceover already built in, you would be hard pressed to find a platform on which it is easier to get up and running with similar software.

Additionally, the built-in apps are, generally, easier to use than their Windows counterparts. Internet Explorer, for instance, has popups that some screen readers never announce and that cannot be moved to with a hotkey. Outlook is, the last time I looked, usable, but inconsistent and not very efficient for screen reader users. Overall, I find the apps that the Mac comes with to be far more screen reader friendly than those that come with Windows, not to mention more stable.

Safari

Using Safari is very different from using Firefox or Internet Explorer, but it has its upsides. First, you can jump by heading, link, table, and a few other elements without switching modes at all, while still being able to type text in edit fields or issue keyboard commands to the webpage. Second, Quick Nav (the mode that lets you move around with only the arrow keys and use first-letter web element navigation) is customizable--you can change which keys move by which elements. You can also assign trackpad gestures, such as control-flick down to move by heading. Doing so eliminates the need to mess with Quick Nav or the rotor.

Safari also includes a function called Reader. This is a way to strip extra stuff from a page, leaving only the "meat" of it for you to read. It works best on articles or blogs, and is a great way to avoid having to figure out a page's structure so you can move to the content you want to read. While not strictly an accessibility feature, Reader has huge benefits for VoiceOver users, so I thought I would include it here.

The Apple Accessibility Team

Apple lets VoiceOver, Zoom, and other accessibility service users call or email them directly. They will answer questions, accept bug reports, and offer workarounds or suggestions for bugs they are working on fixing. This level of contact and support is wonderful, especially for new users who may not be sure where to start. Plus, while reporting a bug does not mean it will be fixed immediately, it is comforting to have the confirmation that your report was seen and passed along. Microsoft offers an accessibility department as well, but when I called them to ask some simple questions about Windows Phone screen readers, my experience was not at all pleasant or informative. By contrast, I have yet to have a bad experience while talking to anyone at Apple.

what Drives me Crazy

Using a Mac is not all roses, and the Mac is not right for everyone. To keep things balanced and provide an accurate picture of this platform, I will now tell you all the things that drive me nuts about the Mac.

VoiceOver is Not an App

VoiceOver is, as I said, very tightly integrated into the Mac's operating system. While this lets it speak during system updates, recovery mode, and other places Windows screen readers cannot, it has one major drawback. Since it is not its own app, it cannot be updated like other apps. To update VoiceOver, Apple has to update OSX as a whole. If something is missing or broken for VoiceOver users in an OSX update, the fix is not a quick trip to the App Store to grab a newer version of VoiceOver. Instead, you must wait until Apple releases another OSX update, which can often take a while and may not fix the bug at all.

Slow Updates and Unsolved Bugs

VoiceOver has bugs, like any application on any computer anywhere. However, it can take far longer to get them fixed than in other screen readers, and that can be very frustrating depending on the bug in question.

For example, the initial release of OS10.9 Mavericks included a bug where Finder would lock up in a certain view when Voiceover was in use. As you may know, that was in October of 2013. It was only in OS10.9.2 that the problem was fixed… Almost four months later. It took over a year for the commands that move between Web Spots in Safari to get flipped around--for a long time, the "next web spot" command moved you backward, and vice versa. Nuance voices on the Mac still say the word "capital" before a capital letter, no matter what VoiceOver is set to do when it encounters uppercase letters. I could go on, but you get the point; bugs, from small to not-so-small, can and do persist for a long time. Some, the critical ones, are fixed right away--I don't mean to imply that VoiceOver is a mess of bugs and broken features--but some hang around no matter what you do.

Are these problems show-stoppers? Not at all. Still, coming from a screen reader like NVDA, where the developers respond to user input personally and where several major releases come out every year, it can be a shock to encounter this seeming lack of support from Apple. It is also frustrating to put up with bugs that seem like they would be trivial to fix. Of course, in a huge company like Apple, where VoiceOver is one in a long list of apps and services to keep running, we can only guess at how things are prioritized. Apple does let users contact their Accessibility Team directly, but alerting them to a bug does not guarantee a fix, only that it is now on the list. People should also remember that accessibility is more than VoiceOver; there is Zoom, subtitles, switch control, and other features for a range of disabilities. When VoiceOver becomes one in a list of services, it is easier to see why bugs might hang on so long, though this does not help users be less frustrated.

Less Powerful Scripting

In Windows screen readers, applications that are not accessible can sometimes be made more so through scripts. In Jaws one uses the Jaws Scripting Language, in NVDA the Python language, and so on. Interface elements can be re-classified, key-presses simulated, and more. VoiceOver can be controlled through Applescript, but not to the same degree. Of course, I find far less situations on the Mac where such a capability would be useful (in fact, to date I have yet to need this feature), but the fact remains that VoiceOver is not as scriptable as Windows screen readers.

Safari

Yes, it's a pro and a con, in my view. Web browsing is a huge part of most computer activities today, so every operating system needs a solid web browser. Safari is Apple's answer, and it performs very, very well. For VoiceOver users, however, the switch to Safari can be a shock, and there are aspects that may always annoy some people, no matter how long they use the mac.

In Windows, you can use the arrow keys on webpages just as you can in regular documents. That is, you can read line by line, word by word, and so forth, while having access to keys to jump around a page based on different elements. The Mac includes similar hotkeys, two sets of them in fact, and offers the same arrow key navigation. The problem is that VoiceOver still treats each "chunk" as a separate entity. This can be seen if you review part of a paragraph with the arrow keys, then decide you want to start reading from there. You issue the "say all" command, and VoiceOver starts reading… at the beginning of the paragraph. Focus was on the whole chunk of text, so VoiceOver reads from that chunk, not from exactly where you were inside it.

Safari has other oddities that may not be apparent until you've used it for a while. It has its advantages, such as no "forms mode" to worry about and automatic auto-fill and bookmark backup to iCloud, but navigating the web using Safari and Voiceover is very, very different from Windows. It took me years to get to the point where I can honestly say that I no longer miss Firefox on Windows, and even now, the slight lag present in much of VoiceOver is something that makes itself apparent if you browse the same page on a Mac on Windows, side by side. That's not to say Safari is at all unusable or slower, it just takes a lot to use Safari's strengths and work around what it can't do as efficiently.

Bottom Line

The Mac has a great deal to offer. Aside from the mainstream features (deep iCloud integration, outstanding build quality, service, good out-of-the-box apps, and much more) it is amazingly accessible. Want to try out a mac? You can walk up to any Mac in your local computer store, hit command-f5, and go for it. Try that on Windows, and, well, it's not going to happen. VoiceOver is more than a basic screen reader, though; it has a rich set of settings, full braille support, a plethora of voices, such good OS integration that you can turn it on during a system update, scripting abilities, and more. In my experience, VoiceOver, and the Mac in general, run more smoothly and reliably than Windows, and the hardware is great. The Mac can be used for everything from productivity to entertainment, and once you know VoiceOver's commands, you can do it all. Even if you have never used a particular app before, if you know the basics of VoiceOver, you can figure it out (provided, of course, that said app is accessible). No fiddling with multiple cursor modes or virtualizing the screen, you just use the same commands you're used to.

On the down side, the Mac is a more expensive machine at the outset (to those saying they would buy a screen reader anyway, I point you to NVDA). VoiceOver is part of the operating system, which means that any problems have to wait for OS updates to get fixed. Yes, you can email or call the Apple Accessibility team directly, but such communication does not guarantee that your feedback will make it into the next, or any, update. Apple has made extraordinary progress in the accessibility field, and they continue to do so, but sometimes the "little things" seem to get overlooked, or features that seem obvious never arrive.

The way I see it, the debate comes down to this: do you want the myriad advantages of the Mac, at the cost of a screen reader that is updated less often than those on Windows and over whose features you have less control, or do you want a cheaper but less stable and feature-packed/easy to use package, with a screen reader that gets frequent updates and seems to respond more to user feedback? VoiceOver is mature enough that I don't feel I need all those updates to be productive and happy with my Mac. Are there bugs I wish could be eradicated, and features I wish would be added? Absolutely! Does not having these fixes and features inhibit my ability to efficiently use my Mac? No, not for me at least. Do the benefits of the Mac platform and Apple ecosystem outweigh the advantages I would get from a Windows screenreader? Yes. Is this entirely subjective? Of course, and that's why I wrote this article. I wanted to give an honest assessment of where I feel the Mac excels, and where potential users need to know it lacks.

If you found this useful, if you hated it, if I missed something, if you think I'm an idiot for choosing Mac… Leave a comment. Why do you still prefer Windows? Why did you switch to the Mac? What issues are keeping you from choosing one over the other? What questions do you have about the mac's accessibility? Don't forget, you can also tweet @VOTips with your Apple Accessibility questions or comments.

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24 Comments

#1 The Stability Issue

This is another great article. I've only had my Mac since the end of December, but I definitely agree with you about stability. Both Internet Explorer and Firefox crashed on me constantly, as did most of the Windows screen readers I used. Not once did NVDA crash on me, but then again I might not have used it long enough. I love the stability of my Mac, both in Safari and Google Chrome. Voiceover has yet to crash on me as well.

#2 Another perspective on accessibility.

Hi Medcaf. I hope I got that right, I didn't look at your name first. I really enjoyed why you now use a Mac and will try to explain my reasoning, some of you have seenit. My computer died, nothing looked like i should buy it, so I went with the Mac. I know people who do what you have, use Windows then then use the Mac once they know they can get around on it. Please don't think i'm saying your way is wrong, it's certainly not. i'm glad, though that I jumped right in with both feet. I don't know nearly everything i used to know iwth Windows, nor is the Mac the best thing since being born to come out. I was afraid i'd rely to much on a windows setup to do what i used to. Now,you can barely get me to remember what control shift escape does. I did have boot camp set up on my first mac, now wish I had it again just to be int he widnows environment. Has anyone else out there done what I di and jumped right into a Mac? I had a phone and pad before so that did help.

#3 Now that Window Eyes comes

Now that Window Eyes comes bundled with MS Office, I wonder how this debate is going to shift. Combined with JAWS, Pages is absolutely not as usable or feature rich as the Office Suite of applications, and the fact that Mac does not have a reasonable DAISY reader, or PDF handling on it keeps me from diving in headfirst, not to mention how much I would miss Eloquence.

That being said, if Adobe Reader and Office for Mac became VO accessible, and Voice Dream Reader had a Mac port, I would likely use a Mac full-time. I agree that Safari is not as easy to use, but if you get proficient with the trackpad, you can navigate nearly as fast as you can on Windows.

I think the thing that frustrates me about Apple fans is that they lose their Windows proficiency, which I feel is ultimately detrimental to employability. In an idealized situation, it’s a good idea to know how to use both, and if you can afford it, to keep your JAWS license active. A lot of the features this author complains about in Windows have long since been fixed by JAWS. Of course, not everyone can afford to do that, but that’s why I call it an idealized situation. If you can’t afford both, and cannot afford to be proficient at both, then stick with Windows. Almost all companies out there use it, and forgetting how to use Windows is going to hurt you in the long-run.

Check out this Window Eyes thing, though. It’s an interesting option.

#4 The Window Eyes program

As a Window Eyes user who is considering moving to Mac, and who is already a user of an iPhone, an iPad 2 and an Apple TV, I feel I can add to that part of this discussion. I think that the Window Eyes initiative ith Microsoft is a game changer in the PC arena and might be a consideration for someone looking at switching, but is not likely a deal changer for most in that position. The info in this great article on MS accessibility support is definitely out of date, I would not say their support is the top of the support world, but it has improved by leaps and bounds. Part of MS's side of the deal with GW Micro was a revamp of their accessibility support department and I already know of many who have had much better experiences of late in dealing with MS support on accessibility issues. But other issues mentioned still remain. Though their are now a lot of lower cost options to get MS Office, one still has to pay for it if it isn't bundled with a new PC, which will count towards the GW Micro initiative BTW, all it takes is a valid registered copy, and the free Window Eyes does not come with the full compliment of voices nor with more than basic support from GW Micro. One will have to pay for the Eloquence and Nuance voices and for the full support package. One can still get the whole package for under $300, including purchasing Office, IIRC, which makes it a massive amount of savings, but one still has to pay and weigh all of the pros and cons. I am in need of a new computer, and I go back and forth over which way to go when I've saved enough. I am using a borrowed computer and can continue to borrow it for pretty much as long as I need, so I am considering just getting a full sized keyboard for my iPad and using it for writing, which is the main activity I am not able to do because of need to share time on the borrowed computer, so I can save up for the best Mac or PC I can get.

One resource I wish I could find, as I still find myself not knowing more than basic gestures in VoiceOver is a tutorial for full use of VoiceOver, particularly one aimed at helping either Window Eyes users specifically or at least users of major PC screen readers in general transition. I've looked for something similar in the past that might help me try out NVDA on the PC, but haven't found such a thing and haven't found anything similar for VoiceOver either. I think it would help users to be able to learn things from the perspective of "this is what you are used to now, and this is how you will do the same thing on Apple devices." The basic gestures for getting around on any device are a snap, and some things I figured out by trial and error,, but I haven't been able to teach myself how to move to intermediate and advanced user land.
Great article.

Regards,

Chris

#5 This is one of the things

This is one of the things that makes the transition hard for folks coming from windows.

Most part of folks using MAC OS are doing it for long time and so they can provide help extremelly useful for people starting from scratch, but for the rest of us who are coming from windows and that are screen readers power users we still miss a powerful enough tutorial demonstrating how to make your time as productive and efective as you can in the shortest possible time when starting to use the Mac OS.
Some guides have been written, but I miss a podcast specifically showing the main parts of windows and MAC OS operation side by side stablishing equivalences.
Most part of folks here seen to think that one has to forget about windows and start to learn the way Mac OS does things. I respectfully disagree and tend to think that the most efective way of learning it is stablishing equivalences between these systems.
For example, I think about the DOC as if it were a mix of my windows desktop and task bar, cinse the doc concentrate the most commonly used apps, what my windowsdesktop does, and the openned apps, what my windows task bar does.
The Mac OS also has one or more desktops, but these are different and used to something else.
So explaining that the doc is like a mix of desktop plus task bar and that, say, the hotspot search wuld be pretty much the same as the start menu on vista and newer windows where one can basically search the full machine would help.
Marlon

#6 Talking about scriptability,

Talking about scriptability, an obvious situation where we would need it is in xcode it self.
Basically, if Apple gives us only two features, we can extend the usability of the OS almost to the infinit.
We need:
1- A way of manipulating the VO cursor.
2- A way of monitoring and reacting to content changes on some windows.

So we could make complex navegations easier and could make any software like im very usable.

#7 Marlon and Chris, I

Marlon and Chris, I completely agree with you. I'm a power user, myself, and I just manhandled VO to figure stuff out, and broke Mac OS to the point where I had to reinstall it before I figured out how to use it. This is a method I would recommend if you are just switching and you don't really have anything important on your HD yet.

Scripting really isn't as extensive, when you start digging deeper in the OS, but superficially, you have a lot more flexibility than you do with JAWS or WE, and things that are complicated on JAWS are simple on VO, such as button labeling.

There are a lot of good books on bookshare about switching from Windows to the Mac, but they are sighted specific. All the same, I found them extremely useful. David Pogue is a concise, engaging, and detailed author. I would highly recommend starting there if you do make the switch.

For blind power users, there is definitely a hole there. I don't have the time, but if someone does, that's a gap in the market that would be a welcome fill.

#8 I would do it in the form of

I would do it in the form of podcasts but I am currently facing myself a hardtime trying to record them with audacity.
Perhaps I will try Amadeus but not before someone confirms that sound flower can be used with it.

#9 My Thoughts

I switched to the Mac during a very odd time. Last summer I was transitioning from high school to college, and that's when I switched, primarily for the capability of running any Intel-based OS on my Mac. I know there are a lot of people here who installed Windows via Bootcamp and essentially ignored the Mac. I id the opposite. I jumped in with both feet, immersed myself in Os X, and maintain a Windows virtual machine for the soul purpose of Windows-based audio games.

Regarding the Window-Eyes and Microsoft Office partnership, it is certainly a good thing. It will, however, never amount to the convenience of having a screen reader on every single Mac, right in front of your face, since most Windows-based computers will not have Window-Eyes installed by default. This is an awesome option and GW Micro certainly should be commended for their effort, but it does not solve the universal accessibility problem. For that, Microsoft needs to stop dragging its feet. Microsoft needs to buckle down, hire some accessibility experts, and write something comparable to VoiceOver. Until then, there are amazing Windows screen readers – but absolutely none of them will provide universal access. I cannot walk up to a Windows-based computer, press a command, and zip around the operating system. It's a step in the right direction, but it's nowhere near where it needs to be. This problem is not solved on the Windows side.

#10 It is nice being able to walk

It is nice being able to walk up to a Mac and just try it. What you see is what you get. With windows, when they came out with 8, I remember being curious how JAWS would work with it, and eventually, I just had to buckle down and upgrade and see how it went. I immediately wanted to downgrade, but so it goes.

Anyway, in some ways, the reason why scripting is more advanced on a Windows system, why several things are smoother, such as web browsing, and why it is possible to use a complex office product like MS Office is due to the fact that screen readers on the Windows side of things are third party. I seriously believe that eventually, Mac will have third-party screen readers as well, and I expect them to outstrip VO within a couple years of being released. A big, and legit criticism non-Apple fans have is that when you internalize all your creativity, it will eventually go stale, and with the recent moves by Apple, I can already see that starting to happen. MS, by engaging the market, taps into creativity from all aspects of a system, which ultimately makes their business model strong.

That being said, Windows phone accessibility is an embarrassment, and if MS is going to farm out all their tasks, they need to support creators better. I hear in recent years, they have gotten better at communication and coordination, but I still see a lot of conflict in the market. It’ll be interesting to see how things will go with this new CEO.

Two major flaws in the Apple construct are the one listed in this article, that VO cannot be upgraded regularly, and that Apple isn’t a majority presence in the corporate world. Those, to me, would be deal breakers, but I have the pleasure of being able to afford having Windows and a Mac, and the impetus and need to know how to use both very well.

#11 GW and Ms Partnership

I read about the collaboration between Microsoft and GW Micro to provide Window-Eyes for free, and I think this is definitely a step in the right direction for Windows users. I have used demo copies of Window-Eyes and think it is a great product. I also used Vocal-Eyes at a Jesuit college and liked it. For those unfamiliar with Vocal-Eyes, it was GW Micro's DOS-based screen reader and I don't believe it is being sold anymore. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong on that. Regarding being able to just walk up to a Mac and turn on accessibility right out of the box, I think this is a huge advantage. Given the high cost of Macs and other Apple products, I definitely think Apple did the right thing by making these accessibility features a core part of their operating system. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does with Narrator. I've read numerous accounts that say it has already been improved, but I have no firsthand knowledge of this. It will also be interesting to see what the future holds for VoiceOver. Hopefully I can eventually run Windows on my MBA.

#12 another side

while i most likely will never get a mac, most notably for the fact that i love windows and don't usually have to much trouble with it unlike some people seem to have. i would also like to point out another side of this descussion that people haven't touched on yet.
first and foremost the fact of NVDA. like was mentioned before with voiceover, you can put a portable coppy on a thumb drive and have the same settings your are used to on any computer you wish. furthermore, NVDA is free, has always been free, and will be free for the foreseeable future. not even mentioning scripting with python or the fact it has a very low resource footprint.
secondly, the fact of narator. now, i know i'm probably gonna get a few scoffers with this comment, but please hear me out. in windows 8 and above all you have to do is press windows enter and narrator starts up and you can be off on your way. sounds a lot like command f5? its not perfect, but i know several people who use narrator as a primary screnereader on windows 8 and they love it. if i had windows 8, i probably would use it as a backup, with NVDA as my primary, but to each his own. so hope this added another dimension to this discussion.

#13 good thoughts here

I'm glad to see mac and windows users having a good discussion and not going at each other's throats about which one is better. I'm very happy with Windows, I see no reason to switch to a mac. I figure why switch just because? Also, something that few people think about is the cost of a Mac. Lets face it folks, outside of a Mac Minnie, these things ain't exactly cheap. For a Mac with all the really powerful features you're looking at dropping about $1500 if not a little more depending on specs. You can get a really super powerful windows pc for about half the cost, but again, it all depends on what you want to do. I do certainly like the idea of being able to walk up to any mac and start using it right away. I might not be a big fan of Apple for some reasons but they did get the whole universa access thing absolutely right. As far as Window-eyes goes, it's my current default screenreader and I think it's amazing. I don't have nearly the focus issues I had with earlier versions of JAWS, and the GW Micro staff are nice guys who will answer your question in an easy-to-understand way. FS tech support? Well...I'll just leave that one alone. Remember these are just my experiences I'm certain others have had much better and different ones and that's a good thing. I figure, if you like it, use it and have fun.

#14 I think that most part of us

I think that most part of us switched when the costs of a professional screen reader were taken in account and then a Mac would be sheaper.
Although I like NVDA, I personally do not consider it still a professional screen reader.
Window-eyes, in the other hand, is already a professional screen reader and now that it's almost free windows is getting more atractive and sheap again.
The one diference for me is that window-eyes is highly scriptable. One can make addons for NVDA but they would have to learn python and manipulate a low level API, while both NVDA and JAWS provide high level solutions, with a great abstraction for the acessibility API's and such things, window eyes being the most powerfull in this arena cinse it uses or is able to use any com plus compatible marketing language.In this mather, voiceover is half-professional, because once apps are not that usable you're really in trouble and, specially in a job place, switching apps is not that easy.
JAWS scripts have saved my skin more than one time when dealing with somewhat agressive apps and when switching just was not an option.
Once Apple does make voiceover more scriptable that same level of confidense will probably come and then the comunity will take care of providing solutions to the most demanding softwares.
Marlon

#15 Just be aware that things

Just be aware that things always come down to personal choice and preference, with the key to choice being informed choice. This article is biased to a rather large degree. Things are understated, and knowledge of modern Windows accessibility is out of date, and language is used to make Apple sound better than it actually is.

That being said, this article has its place. My personal method for informing myself is to read as many unbiased articles as I can, then I move on to biased articles, and then I try the product, myself, and take advantage of 30 day money back guarantees. Please note, that even wit that method, I ultimately chose to buy a Mac, and I enjoy it. If you aren't a student, and if you don't use your computer professionally, a Mac works just fine, and is fun to use for many reasons. But also please be aware that Apple has taken several steps back in terms of accessibility in the past year, while Windows and Android have taken several steps forward. I feel uneasy about Apple's future. Time will tell.

Good luck!

#16 Please Explain

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Can you explain where the bias comes in? I used Windows for many years, and Mac for just over two, so have a working knowledge of both. I did my best to be accurate in regards to each platform's strengths and weaknesses, but if you see inaccuracies, please tell me so I can fix them.

#17 My Two Cents

As a Mac user since 2008, I have witnessed some major changes within Voice Over, the OS, and iWorks. Currently, I have two 2012 Macbook Pro's, modified 2011 Mini, and my first 2007 Macbook. The one thing I can definitely attest to , is that the Mac experience offers users something different than Windows. It is this different experience that I will never revert to Windows for home computing tasks.

When someone asks me about switching, the first thing I ask is the reason and their goals. For those professionals who sit in front of a Windows system all day, but would like a system for home to just do some emails, net surfing, and basics, I would try to steer them towards a basic Mac if not an iPad. For those looking to use the Mac to conduct business, there are some hurdles. These includes some concerns with PDF's, learning Numbers, and a few other items in Pages and Keynote. These are not game stoppers for those interested in switching, but the individual must be willing to take the time to learn.

Luckily we do have VM Fusion, which I do use, to aid in the transition process, or to obtain some functionality only available in Windows. Heck, I even met a person who purchased a Macbook Air for the sole purpose of running Windows via bootcamp and never touching OS X. Either way, I am not concerned that one day Apple will suddenly stop supporting its Accessibility features, much like JAWS will never suddenly disappear. As for window Eyes Office initiative, I only see that bringing in a few more hobbyist (like myself) interested in learning another screen reader and opening the doors to developers to try another accessibility solutions.

#18 Apple taking steps back in accessibility

To the poster who shared the comment regarding Apple's falling back in accessibility, please share some reasons why you believe this is true. Apple has now brought accessibility to it's productivity software on the mac which is one of the last hurtles for me to recommend one to people. The iThing Phone, Pad and pod are quite accessible and only getting better. Yes, sometimes updates break things but they do get fixed eventually. I look forward to your comments thanks!

#19 Steps back in terms of

Steps back in terms of acessibility ...
Before this, let me say that I am a mac user, I do use mac for everyday tasks, I am a mac and IOS developper, I use mac to do audio editing and I like my mac, what does not by no means prevent me to think that, indeed, Apple seen to be taking steps back in terms of acessibility.
Although I am not the original poster, I did raise this veery same concept and for me its true. I am not happy with it, but it still for me is really happening.
Two basic examples are:
The voice lag in voiceover for mac. Note that this very same lag has been reported for ever by ac users and that it does not happen on idevices, even these being less powerful in terms of hardware and resources.
The ridiculous implementation of new voices in ios 7.1, which made the system nearly unusable by brazilian portuguese voice users, but we were not the only people facing these issues.
See, we are not guilty ... Apple has trained us to expect the very best. And in the last year, with IOS 7, 7.1 and with os 9 things became very hard to those of us who were somehow depending upon IOS devices to be productive.
Not being able to hear a good voice, to use bt keyboards in a basic way (ios 7 and 7.1), to navigate the internet and other stuff, etc etc shows that Apple seen to be putting less efort in their accessibility staff.
See, the voices were not even a mather of developping, coding, etc etc ... it was a mather of testing the voice and checking that it was not working, something that would take five minuts to hear and evaluate ... and they were not able to acomplish even this.
If there are serious questions deeply integrated into the OS that are not fixed, we can understand. But when it comes down to spend five minuts hearing a voice and asking the supliers to do a better job and even this is not being done, we can conclude with a good chanse of being right that acessibility is being less considered in the big picture.
Again, I am not talking about hard hard issues to debug and fix ... programming the control key to stop voice and not disturbing the whole OS is no hard, it has been made on linux and windows for ages and so it was in IOS .. seeing their onw implementation of the speech server in IOS that works as expected and porting it to mac should not be that hard also, once they know how to do it and own a working implementation.
I am a proud Apple user and supporter and will keep doing it untill a better option is available, but these are inoquivoc signals that something is going terribly wrong in accessibility.

#20 Accessibility comments of my own, I may be wrong.

Hello. split, have you considered the location of apple stores in the proximity to accessibility? The united states has quite a number of stores, so does Europe, Asia, Australia I think. So not only do they have people buying their products online, but also walking in, hey my insert device, doesn't work correctly. well how are they going to understand the need for a better voice in your chosen language without having a footprint there? sure they support Portuguise, or Spanish, bu with say a 1% usage of that, it's probably not on their radar to support a ton of languages and get them up to say the American English or UK English voices' accessibility. My comments may be wrong, I don't claim to know every apple retail location but i hope I've shed a bit of light on why accessibility for certain areas is not covered as profoundly as the larger market.

#21 Na ..... I suspect your

Na .....

I suspect your argument is good, but the thing is that the voice was once acceptable ... and when it was acceptable it only was so because someone native tested it.
Samething applies to some english voices. Even with all of this, the brazilian portuguese voice was not the only voice to present problems, see some entries in Applevis. Apple has a strong presence in Brazil, but again ... lets assume it doesm't ... so why in IOS 6 the voice was acceptable? The only explanation is: they didnt even bother to test. They could let the voices intact, they were already working and they are not part of the OS ...
And there are those other questions not voice related.

#22 An overlooked aspect

First off, I want to say that as a lifelong Windows user, since I made the switch to Mac a few months ago, I've had almost no reason to regret the change. I have VM Ware and honestly only use it for an audio game I'm helping develop that is currently only on Windows. I especially want to second the comments about Mac-native apps being easier to use than their Windows counterparts. I find myself sorely missing my Mac when checking email on my Windows computer at work, and have already found several applications where Pages is far more streamlined than the latest version of Word.

All of that said, I want to mention another plus that may have been overlooked: the interaction with the rest of your Apple ecosystem. I imagine far more people on this site have iPhones than Macs, and I've been thrilled with the way my Mac and my iPhone interact. Probably my favorite thing is the Messages app - when I'm at home, I almost never text with my phone because it's just that much quicker and more efficient to use Messages on my Mac. I also appreciate that when I'm browsing a page on my Mac, I can pick up where I left off on my phone. Anyway, the fact that a lot of the functionality of my phone is now available from my Mac really streamlines my workflow and just makes me a lot more productive at home, so I thought I'd mention that.

#23 Safari and Web Productivity

It was a pleasure to read Alex "Meghcap" Hall's thoughtful article about the accessibility features of the Mac's VoiceOver screen reader as compared to those of the leading Windows screen readers. As I embark on my journey of beginning to learn the Mac, one sentence in particular compels me to ask a question. The last sentence of the section on Safari reads: "This is not to say Safari is at all unusable or slower, it just takes a lot to use Safari's strengths and work around what it can't do as efficiently." The lag in reading some web pages is what is being alluded to here, but I'm wondering if overall, taking all accessibility factors into account, users find Safari as efficient to use as Internet Explorer or Firefox. For example, does Safari render more pages accessible than its Windows counterparts? What about performing multi-step processes, such as purchasing an airline ticket or a product from an online store? What I'm driving at, I guess, is soliciting users' opinions on whetehr Safari can more or less hold its own against Windows screen readers. I hope that both Safari's strengths and weaknesses can be objectively discussed so that new users like me can benefit from the learning resulting from this discussion.

Craig

#24 I personally think that it

I personally think that it sometimes is better and sometimes not.

The web experience that NVDA and Firefox give is something very very good.

Apple comunity can be sometimes a little bite ....... against or resistant to what other screen readers implement in terms of easy of access features. I recall listenning several times folks talking against the virtual buffers for example, because they give the user a "false" experience, because they distort what thhe web is, because bla bla bla bla .... and gives the visually empired user a different notion than the sighted user has ..... and latter on look at this folks ..... Apple implemented on Safari the very same thing and strangely enough all the criticism has sudenly fully and completely disappeared.

What irritates me in Safari is its slowness in some operations.
for example, coollecting a list of elements is sometimes slower than JAWS 3.7 was, when computer hardware was so so soooo limited compared to what it is now.
Other stuff I think windows is still better is stuff related to onMouseOver. Press ctrl ins enter and the virtual buffer will update itself in a nice and easy way letting you know that itself has changed. In mac you have first to figure out the element has a mouseOver functionality, as far as I know it won't proactively let you know. Soon after you have to move the mouse pointer over the element. But,, because the cursors are usually following onn each other, you will have to stop them from tracking because if you move the VO cursor to access the changes the mouse cursor will move and exit the element on what it was just placed, making the changes to disappear and once you stop tracking you then need to figure out what and where things changed.
In terms of productivity a ctrl ins enter and being able to quickly figure out what is going on still is better.
In the other hand, safari groups elements in a webpage, something that is wounderful once you get the grasp of it and can make your navigation very fast and structured, something that windows screen readers can not make at the current moment.
Sites will render better in IE + JAWS, firefox + JAWS, NVDA + firefox, voiceover + iPhone, voiceOver + Mac, and this is not a top down order but ratter all possibilities having the same chance of being the best for a site in my opinion ..... there is not a rule. Sometimes I am faster on iPhone because the structure of the screen is so much pleasant to navigate by exploring the screen, sometinmes Mac will render it better, sometimes windows plus all its easy of access implemented by multiple SR's will do better and this is why, differently from the majority people here, I will recomend that you have all these platforms in your hands and use whatever is more eficient to acumplish tasks. The good solution is the one that best solves your current problem and knowing one solution doesn't prevent you from using others when it's needed .... this is how I think.