Thursday, December 07, 2006

Review of IE7 and JAWS 8.0

I’ve recently upgraded to using JAWS 8.0 and also began using Internet Explorer 7. After briefly using both of these upgraded products, I’d like to share my initial thoughts about each.

I understand that the timeliness of this review of these two applications is behind those that other reviewers have offered, but I’ve not had access to the Beta versions of either of these products. I will also disclose that I chose not to install the JAWS 7.1 upgrade due to reported bugs in the initial launch of the free upgrade. This review is presented here to share my insights to what both of these applications can do.

Internet Explorer 7:
IE7 is an application most of us will have to live with at one time or another. Being able to adopt the new interfaced web browser at a time close to its initial launch will help users familiarize themselves with it for the long haul. The browser incorporates some features that seem like major changes but really aren’t and also employs some of the latest advances in browsing that are definite changes.

New Interface:
My comments about the new interface will be limited in scope. Being I’m totally blind really limits my assessment of this aspect. However, any blind user who has been used to performing functions in the program by way of the menu bars will notice that the menu bar does not appear to be there. (See, that change in the interface is so obvious that a blind man can see it!) However, This is the primary feature that seems to be changed, but really is not.

People, who loved to use the menu items, and especially those who rely on keystroke shortcuts to manipulate these menu items, needn’t despair. These features, such as edit and favorites are still there by pressing the alt+e and alt+a key combinations respectively. If one is used to using a mouse to access these, pressing the alt key once opens up the File menu in a drop down box. Pressing alt+f does the same thing. Users can just move over one menu at a time and work your way down just as in earlier editions of IE. And, yes, all your favorites from earlier versions of IE are still stored here.

(Note to computer users who use the keyboard to surf the internet: Using keystroke commands like Control+O to open a new web page are still the same.)

Tab Browsing:
Users of the Mozilla Firefox browser are already familiar with this nifty feature, but it is truly new for Microsoft. This feature lets you load a page by clicking on the link, but also keeps your main window of focus on the page you are viewing. It loads the page and has it ready for your reading without taking you out of your regular window until you are ready to move. Of course, you can just click on the link and open it up if you are ready to move on and leave the site you were on.

Where tab browsing proves really useful are web sites where one is reading something with several items the reader wants to explore, such as a newspaper. I usually read the Houston Chronicle and for ease of navigating the page, I’ve been opening articles in a new window when I wanted to read them. When I finished reading that article, I’d close the story and get moved back to the link on the Chronicle site where I had been before reading the article. (This was my selected option on how to read the Chronicle due to the site’s dynamic content resetting when I would use the “Back” command that would put me at the top of the page. I would then have to find my place on the page all over again after reading each article.

However, with tab browsing, the articles are all loaded in the same window I’m in. I can quickly skim through the Chronicle’s news page, press Control+Enter on each article I want to read and never leave the news page. Meanwhile, all the stories I want to read are loaded and waiting for me to read. I use the Control+Tab command to move from the news page to the first article I have loaded. When I’m finished reading the story, I press Control+F4 and that article closes and I’m placed on the next article I have loaded. This technique also saves the time spent waiting for pages to load.

Another sharp and useful feature of tab browsing is that a user can have more than one web site load when IE7 is launched. For instance, if you have your college’s web site set as your home page, but frequently refer to another page that offers a list of resources, such as the AHEAD site, you can have both these sites load at the opening of IE7. As far as I can tell, there is no set limit to how many pages one can set in this mode. Shifting from one site to the other is done by simply pressing the Control+Tab command until the desired site is in view. In my last position, this would have been useful as I used the college’s site as my home page, but also frequently went to the AHEAD site and also liked to read the news headlines in the Chronicle, so I could have had all three sites load at the launch of IE if version 7 were around then and had been accessible.

IE7 has incorporated a nifty search feature that is both functional and customizable to the individual user’s preference. The user originally setting up the browser is prompted to choose which search engine is the default and IE7 stores that information. What is even better is that to access the search engine, the user does not have to go to the web site of the search engine. Just go to the address bar and type in what you want and IE7 delivers your engine’s search returns.

Personally, I’m a Google fan and don’t like my choices mess with. So, I was very pleased when I tried this search feature and found that the results are brought up in the normal Google returns, not some model where the Google returns are just a framed portion of a larger screen.

Increased Security:
Microsoft has taken a lot of hits about the vulnerabilities in its flagship browser in the past and has sought to remedy that in its latest offering. One of the things they are offering is to indicate when a web site is suspect for phishing, sites where unwary web users are tricked into revealing personal information such as social security or, credit card, and bank account numbers. I haven’t tried to find any flaw with this and don’t visit too many suspect sites, so can’t offer an opinion on this aspect of IE7.

JAWS 8.0:
My initial thoughts about the latest version of JAWS all come back to the fact that it gives me full access to IE7. However, there are a few notable changes worth mentioning as well.

Virtual Window and Virtualized Current Command.
The concept of “virtual” is one that has been around for some time in tech circles, but not one that I’ve heard easily explained in a non-techie language. What this does is take an active control window and let you select and copy all the text from a message window into a document or email. The best application of this would be for error messages that give some string of alpha-numeric data that some geek on tech support might ask you for if calling for help. Now, with this virtual feature, users of JAWS can grab that information and put into an accessible document just as easily as sighted folks would do with a notepad and pencil.

Expanded JAWS Find.
This feature lets JAWS store the last 20 terms you have had used via the JAWS search command. It is extremely helpful in getting past superfluous headings on web sites that you frequent often and need to search for more than one term. The emphasis here is that you visit frequently, as your search will be as good as knowing what you are looking for.

New Keyboard Commands:
There are some new keystroke commands for JAWS users to learn, especially when using IE7. Adding these to the repertoire you already use regularly should come without any major problems.

All in all, JAWS 8.0 seems to be a smooth transition from the previous edition and gives full access to IE7. It feels like I haven’t changed anything and have even more access to information than I had before.

(Note: If you do not have an SMA to go to 8.0, but are running JAWS 7.0, know that Freedom Scientific made the upgrade to 7.1 a free upgrade, and the latest version of this includes a patch that allows 7.1 to access IE7.)

While this is perhaps behind the curve of the web offerings for reviews, I hope these insights are still timely and valid. They are only my initial thoughts and may grow over time. If so, I’ll share those here as well.

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