12 of my top-10 gripes with Windows

macOS & Mac Apps

The "Windows versus Mac" threads around here crop up like hackberry trees, and I think it's a good thing. Obviously, a lot rides on our computers, particularly as blind or low vision people, and things do change over time; so, the questions are worth revisiting from time to time. But, because there isn't a good Windows equivalent to AppleVis, I tend more to see complaints about Mac and advice to stick with Windows under certain conditions, dotted with contrasting ra-ra Apple enthusiasm that is less nuanced. I've been part of many of those sorts of threads. So, I thought it would be a good idea to balance that a bit with my gripes about Windows. I always maintain both systems, but I am, after all, typing this on a Mac for a reason. I've had several bouts of "the grass is greener" making me buy one platform and then returning to the other. At this point, I just have to concede that there are a lot of problems with both, and I'd better keep both around so that I can flea from one to another when something screws up badly on one platform or the other. I know that's a privilege. The really hard part is adjusting to the two typing styles (forward-oriented on Windows, passed-by on Mac: delete versus backspace). I could certainly offer up a list of gripes just as long or longer for my Mac, but that's already documented on AppleVis. I hope folks will chime in with your own pet peeves as a reality-check against our equally-real problems with our Macs.

  1. Microsoft Office. As is very well-documented here, those of us chained to MS Office by our employers invariably need to do almost all of that work in Windows. There's no substitute for third party screen readers when the requirement is to keep up with changes in both an OS and office suite from two rival companies. But I bought a Mac again as soon as those chains loosened. NVDA+Outlook had a recent period of crashing every time I cursored down over a graphic in an email message. Furthermore, NVDA was very slow in processing complex HTML messages. Also, NVDA reads an annoying amount of information when navigating the email message list, reading all the least-important tabular and group information prior to getting around to the sender and subject. Every second of that is stolen from my life by my job by way of the assistive technology, and that spiked my blood pressure pretty constantly. In MS Word, meanwhile, NVDA and Jaws have both been fatally unreliable at reading the comments pane under heavy usage, which is how I issue feedback on student papers. NVDA works very poorly with the authoring side of PowerPoint, at least on my system in recent years. So, while Windows remains the only professional-grade platform for MS Office with speech, I hate it. Jaws is better than NVDA in this particular niche, when it doesn't crash—which has always been extremely often on my systems, year after year, so that I don't even ask my employer to maintain a subscription.
  2. No accessible Markdown apps. Regardless of how much care I put into formatting in Word, there are always a few embarrassing surprises with font changes, unintentional indents, run-on italics, etc. Markdown, as a basic HTML shorthand, gives a blind person 100% reliable access to what's happening with formatting, and controls the final product through a plain-text style sheet (in most Markdown apps). I was never able to find a markdown solution in Windows, because all the apps take a WYSIWYG approach to the interface.
  3. Text-Edit on Mac is superb and under-rated. I use NoteTab++ for most of my HTML and markdown work on Windows, but I did have to do some hacking to get spell check installed, because the plugin screens are not accessible. It's still a poor substitute for a good plain text editor that's fully accessible. NotePad and the ancient Jarte application either don't work with UTF-8 or don't default to it, which is not good for Web writing.
  4. For several years now, Windows has not allowed for a preferred audio device to be set. It always moves output to whatever the most recently plugged-in device is. Every time that happens, I have to restart NVDA. I have a lot of different audio devices for different purposes, from my main stereo DAC to bluetooth headsets to portable speakers. Some of them connect to Windows even if the amplifier section is not turned on, or there's nothing plugged into the output (like my interface for microphones), so I lose speech and don't necessarily know where it went. This doesn't happen on Mac. I have to restart NVDA to get it back to the built-in speakers essentially every time I sit down at the computer. Please don't offer trouble-shooting advice here: I am omitting certain details, but the upshot is as stated.
  5. The Windows start menu hasn't had good usability since Windows 7. The only thing I've used it for since then is search, and that's mainly because it's harder to use the start menu to find so many of the built-in administrative features using the start menu apps list.
  6. So-called "modern" Windows apps. Seriously, how many years has it been, and screen readers are still struggling to make them usable. Compare this and the previous point to the Mac system preferences and app store.
  7. Ribbons suck for blind users. Microsoft tossed 20 years of usability evidence regarding pull-down menus out the window. When the ribbon first appeared in Office, it was a return to the "command gallery" of Word 6 that I used in 1987. Then it infected Windows Explorer and just about every other Microsoft app, then Adobe. Most things good about Mac OS date to its origins in UNIX and the "big cat" era, but that's not a bad thing, so long as I get to keep my menu bar.
  8. Touch is still an afterthought. Although screen readers all try to implement touch gestures, they get unreliable very quickly. I bought a "bendy" touch-screen Windows laptop hoping to take advantage of a tablet-like interface, but the rapidly-improving Narrator (thanks, ironically, to consulting work by the NV Access Foundation) is the most reliable option for touch. In NVDA and Jaws, a lot of stuff just is either absent or doesn't work reliably enough to be useful. They're too busy putting out other fires to really concentrate on touch. And why haven't screen readers made the touchpad into a useful gesture device like on Mac? Probably because there are multiple manufacturers, but I think two of them control like 90% of the market, at a fairly uninformed guess. While I do have to keep the touchpad turned off on my MacBook, I can turn it on when reading long documents with a drink in my other hand. Or, I can use a bluetooth not-really-magic touchpad for the purpose without the accidental activation problem that exists with the built-in touchpad.
  9. Web browsers are a wild west of unpredictability on Windows. Granted, they can virtually always get the job done in the end, including situations that make me shut down my Mac and resort to Windows; but, when Safari works, it's very nice to have sound effects for events like downloads, while I particularly like javascripted combo boxes presented in a nice simple uniform pop-up menu format with a chekmark next to the selected item—the Windows equivalent is crap. Again, the Web is also a great weakness on Mac, as documented in so many threads on here; but, when it works well, it's less jangly than Windows options. I still get frustrated by the history list in Google and why the heck do I need to hit control-enter to activate certain links and buttons in FireFox using NVDA? And, I haven't been able to easily organize bookmarks since Internet Explorer. Dear Google: see above on the usability of simple pull-down menus!
  10. I don't need to pull out my phone and use SeeingAI on my Mac computer screen to know if it turned on--"bong!" How many times have I sat there trying to figure out if my Windows computer is on or not after it crashed or when I don't know about the battery status or it's updating. NVDA often even shuts up when shut-down hangs because of apps with unsaved changes.
  11. I've never had a Windows laptop whose speakers weren't horrible. I can count on a Mac, at least these days, to have excellent audio, good camera, and good microphone. None of that was true for the last thousand-dollar Windows laptop I bought. After three years, some of its totally anemic speakers are shorting out and the rubber strips on the bottom have fallen off. I also had to use an external microphone on Zoom if I wanted to actually lean back from the computer.
  12. Installing or uninstalling apps. Gotta love those Windows security dialogues that hide below everything. Enough said.



Submitted by Cowboy on Sunday, July 18, 2021

I read this when I was half asleep. I commented on number three, and my comment was in error.

I will say though that I don’t have trouble with Windows, Word documents, and comments. Using JAWS, I regularly run through 50 plus page Word documents with over 100 comments. I have found, and this is strictly in my experience running a windows computer with hardware that will rival a MBP, that Jaws has surpassed NVDA in reliability and ability again in the last couple of years. Judging by the recent Web AIM survey, others have had the same experience.

Submitted by Dennis Westphal on Sunday, July 18, 2021

If that is of interest: I would suggest using vscode as a markdown editor on windows. With ctrl+Shift+V you can activate a preview which shows you the formating and makes hunting for errors pretty easy.

After reading your post I am once again thinking of giving the Mac another try.

Submitted by zeirus-fr on Sunday, July 18, 2021

You can mark down your text and use markdown python module to markdownize the text file.
Then you can use any web browser to see at a resulting html.
I am using windows and I am writing here. And no problems.

Submitted by Jenna Pepper on Sunday, July 18, 2021

I have to agree. Both of the OSs have deal-breaking features. As an amateur musician, trying to sort out the rabble that is Windows's multiple audio subsystems is a challenge unto itself. I had to switch my interface for a mixer because NVDA kept popping because of some conflict with Focusrite drivers. On the other side of the tech pond, I can't use Macs for school because I use Office 365 with keystroke commands, and Braille support is a flaming trainwreck with Mac OS. I prefer Windows, mainly for the better Braille, NVDA, Office with proper keystrokes, better virtual desktops, and simply because I'm more used to the Windows key than the Option key. That said, if Apple were to unflummix Braille and make Voiceover not have to be restarted 5000 times a day because QuickNav broke again, I might switch back over and use Pages and Logic or something. Find myself a good accessible code editor while I'm at it. I am absolutely fed up with Reaper breaking because Windows decided Microsoft Sound Mapper was better than hardwareASIO for the millionth time and having to maintain knowledge bases for Powershell and Bash in my head. Also, Windows laptops might just be the spawn of Satan with all the inaccessible bloatware and quirky drivers they pack into a package with speakers that are mediocre at best.

One thing I have to disagree with is NVDA's instability. I run on a core i7 10875h and 16 gigs of RAM. NVDA is rock solid almost everywhere.

Submitted by Daniel Angus MacDonald on Sunday, July 18, 2021

Windows 11 works quite well, and the start menu is redesigned. You navigate it with Tab and all elements read with JAWS. Narrator has not seen new features for a while, but in Windows 11 it’s settings are more refind. Microsoft are actively fixing bugs and when it ships it is a good offering. Windows 11 is only available to Dev and Beta channels of the Windows Insider Program at this point, and those who can’t get it do to not having the system requirements, are switched to the reliefs preview channel to continue beta testing windows 10. Microsoft are even opening up Windows 11 for insiders whom don’t have the system requirements to beta test. They will get all windows 11 updates until it is publicly available, then those insiders will have to format and downgrade to windows 10. Microsoft are getting feedback, and unlike Apple, their betas have no NDA. In fact, Microsoft posts detailed reliefs notes for every beta, and anyone can find them. Windows 11 is a great improvement, we’ll see what Apple does.

Submitted by Khushi on Monday, July 19, 2021

another point from someone who has never seen/used a mac but heard about it and watched YouTube videos from a blind prospectie
on the boot menu/bios screen we always need sighted assistance. granted I still use windoes 7 because can't buy a new laptop right now and find windows 10 too complicated maybe because I'm too use to 7 but still, I can never figure out anythign when the laptop crashes and it starts doing something on its own.
smaller windows laptops means less features and as someone who is currently using a small laptop.. 13 inches with 11.6 diagonal inch display, it seems I'll have to make compromises for size whenever I buy a new one.
however macs are too costly as well here in India.
also I dislike nerrater. yes it has improved in windows 10 but still, nvda is better even with its bugs than the MS narrator.

Submitted by zeirus-fr on Monday, July 19, 2021

As i know there is a very big language auto switching lack in mac.
It is not any software limitation in mac.
The service may not have been written yet.
I may be wrong?
On iOS no ptroblem.
On windows no problem, too.

Submitted by Voracious P. Brain on Monday, July 19, 2021

@zeirus-fr: I'm not entirely certain what language auto-switching you're referring to, being a typical monoglot American. VoiceOver does properly auto-switch languages on the Web with proper <lang> markup, and of course the user selects the system language for the OS. Word processors hopefully do the same, but I am not familiar with a situation where the OS would need to auto-switch outside the Web or a particular presentation app. There would have to be markup, right?
@Khushi: Yeah, BIOS would have been my #13, omitted just because it's not a daily annoyance like most of the others. But the comment above on Windows 11 prompted me to look at the system requirements, and looks like I'll have to get sighted assistance to dive into the BIOS to turn on TPM before I can upgrade. Trying to update my hardware using either wonky Web pages or really unusable OEM-included software is so annoying that I haven't done it in over a year. Dell is better in this regard than HP, I'll tell you.
@Cowboy: Glad your system works well. There was a moment circa 2018 where mine did, too. I don't have a Jaws subscription, but the demo continues to crap out in Office, or did maybe six months back when last I tried. Resetting my system and stripping it down are on the agenda, because I've always seemed to get every bug anyone has ever had. I actually suspect my screen reader comments issue might come down to something tied to my employer's implementation of the Office install, because it's been many years now and several machines. You were on a thread the other day where someone else has the same general crashing issue with Jaws. My post here was nothing more than my personal subjective experience, for no purpose other than to say "YMMV." I myself have been party to numerous threads, and I always leave it saying what's wrong with Mac without noting that Windows ain't all gravy, either. The WebAIM survey was interesting, but it's hard to know what to make of their haphazard sample. I never saw mention of it on here, nor got any other announcement of it, despite having WebAIM staff in my LinkedIn network. But it seems reasonable that the newer Jaws pricing model and mounting issues with NVDA are sending people back the other way.
@Denis and Zeirus-Fr: Glad VSCode and Python work for you. I've never heard of anyone using a coding application for daily word processing of long-form writing projects or blogs, etc. IMO An intensive writing app needs the level of integration I've only found with Word on Windows and Ulysses on Mac, including navigation by paragraph, sentence, heading (the holy grail), identification of bold text, etc. Ulysses is nice because they've made it support the rotor for all that , much like Word on Windows. I actually added NotePad++ hotkeys to navigate by paragraph, heading, and misspelled word, but hacks are never as robust as having the real functionality built in. LibreOffice is also worth mentioning, but doesn't quite make it in the navigation or annotation department, much less spreadsheet accessibility.

Honestly, I got the M1 MBA mainly because I wanted to get away from Office in my personal life and write in Ulysses instead, plus I can't overstate how nice it is to have my AirPods connect to my computer as well as my phone. That's pretty much the story here. Combine that with Colibri for my music collection, the built-in mail app instead of Outlook, better microphone quality for Zoom, an automator workflow for turning PDFs into txt (not as good as Jaws Convenient OCR, but I also have Fine Reader Pro for Mac, which is), Reaper and VLC standing by, and excellent battery life, and I seem to only pop over to the PC these days for certain Web tasks or to check my work email. Mac annoyances abound, but no worse than Windows. Time for Apple to really screw something up again, I guess.

Submitted by zeirus-fr on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

I mean system widely language auto switching like on my system.
English, russian, arabic and chinese on windows.
No mark up, more exactly anywhere.
Yeah, I use python for text processing every day.
It is a very comfortable scripting language.
Coded - tested - run.
But I repeat that no software limitations on mac.
Coders could write any service to implement such a possibility system widely on mac.

Submitted by Angel on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

I received a brand new foldable/tablet computer, I did not know that my keyboard is set to multimedia mode and in order for me to use the function keys I have to hit function/escape in order for me to do that, but when I want to used to function keys after restarting my computer I have to hit that same command again.
There is a way for me to change it to standard mode but that part is not accessible with a screen reader, which I find ridiculous.

Submitted by zeirus-fr on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Is there any connection between Bios settings and comparing mac and windows?
But I will try to find that.
BIOS is not supported by screen readers.
And it doesn't depend on Operating systems.
But i read some info that a hardware solution existed.
But I don't know exactly.
It is possible screen reader bios support in principle.
I am not prof.
I I'm just coding for myself.

Submitted by SeasonKing on Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The types of computers running Windows is simply too diverse than what Apple is doing. Arm support too, Windows was 1st to implement it, though Apple did a better job of it thanks to their control over entire thing. MS will have to support god knows how many things. But guess what, with an ISO, you can run Windows technically for free, without ever getting any key, in the trial mode for ever without loosing any significant functionality.
And, Bios issue, we all know why it is so. It's simply too resource heavy to have a screen reader at that stage. Wonder if even the chip on the Motherboard will have that much of storage.
At this point, I can even get by with a Bios communicating with me through auditory Morse code. Though I'll have to learn it first if that happens some day 😂
And, as far as Screen reader bugs are concerned, both parties are doing bad job in some or the other fields. At least MS gives you ability to run 3rd party screen readers. On Apple, I am stuck with complex interactions that take days to learn. I hate interacting with frames and UI element's.
Apple does fabulous job in certain things, and MS has it's own merits. All we can do is use things that work and get our jobs done.
And, a big minus point to Apple for their device prices. They cost a fortune. Hell some cars cost as much as those computers and phones. Yah yah, I know, quality comes at price, but outside US, there are other countries you know. And the inflation rates, the purchasing power parity differs. Ask any Economics student.