Today, computers have become more accessible due to the use of screen reading software. There is JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific, Window-Eyes from GW-Micro, and HAL from Dolphin systems. Of these three, JAWS and Window-Eyes are the two most popular products.
The debate about which of these screen reading software -- JAWS or Window-Eyes -- is better has never been resolved. Both have excellent features that make them easy to use for not-so-tech-savvy persons and powerful enough to provide flexibility to suit the needs of even computer programmers, etc. It is often said that 80 per cent of the time, 80 per cent of the people use only 20 per cent of the features of the software. This 80:20 ratio might go up to 90:10 when talking about screen reading software.
There are other solutions, for instance Lookout, which have a huge cost advantage over these software. However, it has lesser features and is less versatile. Let us have a look at the features that make JAWS and Window-Eyes such powerful tools:
Support for many general purpose applications: Both support applications for word processing, spreadsheets, Internet, e-mail, database software, etc. This lets persons with blindness or low vision work on the same applications on which their co-students or co-workers are working in an education or work environment.
Customisation of screen reading software: Both have the concepts of customisation of screen reading software for any application. The purpose is that if the software is not working well with any software or application, then the screen reading software itself provides tools to make it work well. The tools provided in both software for this purpose are:
- Frames of JAWS are custom windows of Window-Eyes: These are user defined areas of the screen. The screen reader can be directed to act or not act on the basis of the activities going on within this frame.
- JAWS uses scripting language which is like its own programming language whereas Window-Eyes tries to achieve all customisation through its set files associated with different applications.
- The JAWS Dictionary Manager is similar to the Custom Pronunciation Dictionary of Window-Eyes. This feature is used to correct the pronunciation of words which are not pronounced correctly, such as Indian names.
- Both JAWS and Window-Eyes have facilities to assign labels to graphics.
The scripting language of JAWS is an extremely powerful tool but a lot of expertise is required to be able to use it, and very few people in India probably know enough about this to make any meaningful use of it. Moreover, using the Window-Eyes' custom windows and set files you can achieve almost all of what you can with scripting. At least in the majority of the cases.
Window-Eyes has support for providing speech to the mouse pointer when it is being moved using the mouse itself. JAWS doesn't support this but very few people use this feature since persons with vision impairment use the keyboard to move the mouse pointer. Moving the mouse pointer with keyboard is supported both by JAWS and Window-Eyes. The latter has also introduced support of remote desktop and running Window-Eyes from a server. This is a feature of importance in specific job environments.
Both these software come with various licensing policies for single user and for enterprises. The cost of the software is also quite different for operating systems for home use (such as Windows XP Home) and for the professional environment (such as the Windows XP Pro). Both come with different types of copy protection schemes. Window-Eyes is sold without any copy protection within the U.S.A.
Sometimes some features are introduced by one company first and some others by another. However, each tries to catch up with the other to hold on to their markets. For example, the use of virtual view for Internet Explorer was introduced by Window-Eyes first. This provided a great advantage over the previous way of reading web pages. JAWS soon followed suit. This is a perfect example of the good things that come with competition.
Regarding cost, Window-Eyes has an advantage over JAWS. However, in India, where cost is a major factor for making purchase decisions, JAWS is preferred. This could be attributed to the large market presence of the company and, in many cases, lack of knowledge about the availability of equally good alternatives at lower cost. In any case, the cost of both software is way beyond the reach of common person with blindness or low vision in India.
Both JAWS and Window-Eyes do not have support for any Indian language. Thus both will reach only a select few persons in the country. The revolutionary power of the screen reading software can reach the grassroots population only when a cost-effective solution that works in Indian languages is introduced in the country. The environment of software development in the country does suggest that sooner or later this type of solution may come from developments happening in the country itself. Till then choose any one of these two software and you will be able to use the power of computers in education and employment. With the limitations, of course, of working only in the English medium and with a lot of burden on your pocket.