Saying Goodbye to the Mac
My very first computer, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, was an Apple 2C. Eventually, I felt that my needs were better met by a PC, and I didn’t look back for over 25 years.
In 2012, it was time for me to update my trusty Toshiba notebook, and I figured I had nothing to lose by making my next computer a Mac. My decision-making process was similar to that of a number of blind people who have become more interested in Apple products as a result of the positive impact iPhone has had on their lives. I’d been impressed by the strong commitment Apple had shown to accessibility on iOS after having introduced VoiceOver to it in 2009. Having purchased an Apple TV and an iPad, it made sense to delve even further into the Apple ecosystem.
Since Macs use Intel processors, I knew that it would be possible to use both OS X as it was then called, and Windows. This meant that on one machine, I could enjoy the best of both worlds, using any products on either operating system that I felt helped me to get a given job done most efficiently. Choice is a good thing, and I also relished the intellectual challenge of coming to grips with a new operating system. Kind of like learning a new language, learning a new OS complete with a different screen reading paradigm helps to keep the brain nimble.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I believe we can’t afford the luxury of blindly (if I may use that expression) being fans of one particular brand or other. So I try to use the best mix of tools that help me do the things I need to do for productivity and effective access to information. We face too many challenges in terms of accessibility, attitudes and discrimination. The technology I use must earn my loyalty on an ongoing basis. If I feel that my own circumstances have changed, or a product has headed in a direction that doesn’t meet my needs as well as it once did, then I think I owe it to myself to re-evaluate my choices.
My Mac experiment was successful enough that last year, I went all in, and bought a maxed out 15 inch MacBook Pro, largely to address the constraints on running a virtual machine imposed by the maximum 8GB of RAM in the MacBook Air. It has a 15-inch display because that was the only way I could get the faster processor. It has 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB solid state hard drive.
It’s a lovely piece of hardware and an impressive beast of a machine, but after a lot of thought, I’ve begun the process of replacing it. I’m getting a machine of similar specs, but it’s a much thinner, lighter machine with more ports, and what for me is the incredibly useful feature of a built-in SIM slot for LTE connectivity. It is an exclusively Windows machine.
So consider this blog post my Mac exit interview. I’d like to comment on some of the highlights of my last four years using the platform, and discuss why I have made the decision to abandon it.
At a philosophical level, I believe that every computer should be accessible out of the box. Some may be surprised that I hold to that view. After all, it’s no secret that outside of Mosen Consulting, I’m involved with VFO, in particular the Freedom Scientific part of VFO which produces JAWS. I normally take great care to keep these two roles separate, but since I’m talking about screen readers, I want to be absolutely transparent about it here.
I don’t see any conflict in believing in the principle of universal access while also being a user and proponent of a third-party screen reader for which there is a cost. I believe that every blind person should be able to walk up to every computer and expect to be able to use it. That can happen while retaining a place for a premium solution that focusses on efficiency, enhancements and difficult applications. You only have to have a rudimentary knowledge of the blind job market to know that without JAWS, many people who are gainfully employed wouldn’t be keeping food on the table.
Apple has been streets ahead of any other company in the area of universal design. It’s a given that a blind person can pick up anything Apple, and get it to talk. It’s a truly remarkable thing and it’s caused Microsoft and Google to lift their game. So even if you’ve not used an Apple product in your life, you probably have a lot to thank Apple for.
With every Mac I’ve owned, getting it out of its attractive packaging, powering it on and waiting a bit has resulted in an announcement telling me that MacOS comes equipped with a screen reader called VoiceOver, then telling me how to enable it. From there, I’ve received a brief tutorial on how to perform basic navigation. It’s a friendly and welcoming experience that extends right through to fully accessible updates of the OS itself.
As people become more familiar with MacOS in general, they often appreciate the consistency of the user interface. The menu bar in almost every Mac application is laid out similarly. Accessing an app’s preferences is almost always achieved with the same keystroke. If there’s a menu function you use all the time that hasn’t been assigned a keyboard shortcut by the developer, assigning a shortcut yourself takes a few steps that aren’t too hard to learn.
The spell checker is available throughout the OS, and is used the same way everywhere.
AirPlay is integrated with iOS at the system level. It’s been brilliant to have produced some audio work I wanted to play to the family, and do so simply by setting the Apple TV as the output device in System Preferences.
So with MacOS, universality is more than about accessibility. There’s a consistency of design throughout the operating system which means that once you’ve grasped the MacOS paradigm, it’s easy to come up to speed with most applications.
The fact that VoiceOver is available on every Mac can help greatly when advocating for an app to be accessible. You know without a doubt that the developer has the same screen reader on their Mac that you do, so you can give them instructions about how to duplicate any accessibility problems you’re dealing with.
But as the old saying goes, philosophy bakes no bread. As the other old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We really do need some lower carb old sayings I think.
No choice, no good
The universal accessibility built-in to MacOS is a curse as well as a blessing. I don’t know if the APIs are in place to make a third-party screen reader possible in MacOS, but assuming minimal technical barriers, the economic case for building a third-party screen reader is flimsy. Mac hardware tends to be more expensive than Windows hardware of the same kind, a trend that has been exacerbated recently with the release of the 2016 MacBook Pro line-up. Mac users have repeatedly said that for a blind person, you recoup much of this cost in other ways. You save by not paying for a third-party screen reader, and Mac hardware is well-built and lasts a long time.
The only trouble is, VoiceOver hasn’t allowed me to use all the applications I need to use, or in some cases with the degree of efficiency that I’ve become used to using them in Windows. I readily acknowledge that everyone’s needs will vary, and this piece is simply one person’s candid reflections on four years of Mac use, but it would not have been possible for me to get all my work done on my Mac if I were not also running Windows on it.
Only this week, I read a request on Twitter from an experienced Mac user for whom I have immense respect, asking if anyone had found a good way of dealing with PDF files on the platform. Under Windows and for that matter iOS, a well-structured PDF file poses no issues at all and indeed can be a pleasure to use. You navigate it just like any other web document, complete with navigation by headings or links. PDFs can be used to some extent in MacOS with VoiceOver, but not with the same ease of navigability and interaction that’s possible even with free Windows screen reading solutions.
DAISY plays a big part in the lives of many blind people. It’s the standard many accessible format libraries use to provide material in text, audio or a combination of the two. When I first purchased a Mac back in 2012, DAISY software was available for a three-figure purchase, but I believe that the software is no longer being developed and I’m not aware of any DAISY reader for MacOS under development, let alone a free one.
Writing plays a bit part in my life, and although I’ve tried using a number of MacOS solutions, I’ve not found anything that gives me the ability to proof, organise, and navigate through a document with the same degree of ease and thoroughness that I can in Windows. I also know of another tech writer in the blind community who uses a Mac, but runs Windows specifically for word processing tasks. I’m by no means saying that I can’t write a basic, nice-looking document, or even put together a more complex one, but in my opinion, the more complex the document gets, the larger the efficiency chasm gets between Mac and Windows. I need to know exactly how a document looks, when there are extraneous spaces between words, and to be able to navigate by various elements such as headings within the document.
Surfing the web has been a mixed bag for me. On certain cluttered sites such as newspapers and tech publications, reader mode, similar to the functionality available in iOS, is a sanity saver. But despite recent versions of VoiceOver trying to provide for document-style navigation in Safari, using quick keys is tedious, because you either have to toggle QuickNav on and off, or hold Control, Option and Command down all at once, along side the quick key. I’ve also found VoiceOver to get stuck repeatedly, Safari is often busy, and it just feels more sluggish than a virtual cursor environment that one finds in Windows.
I’ve found no broadcasting tool that comes close to the efficiency of StationPlaylist in Windows. Hartgen Consultancy have of course scripted it well and that helps, but even without scripts, it would still give me a degree of efficiency and functionality that I’ve not been able to find on the Mac. Sure, there are ways of doing broadcasting on the Mac, but not to a standard I’m happy with.
I also take pride in being able to respond to an emergency situation wherever I am in the world if Mushroom FM needs my attention. It runs on a dedicated PC. Even if there were accessible MacOS software that could do the job as well as StationPlaylist does, there’s the matter of being able to remote into that machine from anywhere, and take care of a problem as if you were sitting in front of the local machine’s keyboard. I need Windows for that.
When I bought my first Mac in 2012 running Mountain Lion, I found the mail app a joy to use once I came up to speed. Since then, Apple has introduced added verbosity in the application, so that in the standard view which I prefer overall, and when messages are grouped by conversation, you must first listen to the names of every person who has written in a thread before you can find out the thread’s subject. You can get around this by interacting with the columns of the message table and giving focus to the subject field before arrowing up and down, which is all well and good until you want to read messages in a given thread, then you must do it all again. For my needs at least, I want to hear the subject of the thread first to know if it’s of interest to me. The names of the participants in the thread are of secondary importance. This kind of efficiency hit is very important to me, and I have control of the order in which things speak in Windows.
For three and a half years, I endured the absurd inconvenience of having VoiceOver interrupt reading in Twitter clients and other apps where tables were present every time new data became available. Try to use the streaming features of a Twitter client for example, and VoiceOver would constantly interrupt the reading of tweets with the announcement “One row added”. I don’t know how many blind people are actively involved in the development of VoiceOver for MacOS, but it seems remarkable to me that such a frustrating quirk has only been addressed with a verbosity setting this year, especially if VoiceOver developers are using the product themselves every day.
Some apps that worked well when I first got my mac work less well now. When I started Mosen Consulting, I wrote all my blog posts with a fantastic app called MarsEdit, whose developer has shown an outstanding commitment to accessibility. With the release of Mavericks, VoiceOver became much more unreliable when using it with the kind of rich edit control MarsEdit uses when writing WYSIWYG posts. It’s a degradation that has also had an ongoing impact on entering texts on a range of websites. One work-around is to switch to the view that shows you the HTML code as you write, but this can be distracting when you’re at the part of the writing process where you’re focussed on the words, not the formatting.
It feels sometimes that while iOS is thriving, MacOS apps are becoming a bit of a ghost town. Apps I use frequently are updated infrequently, and some, such as the Radium app I enjoy using so much, are no longer being developed at all.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. I have loved using Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack and Airfoil apps, and they’ve done a wonderful job with VoiceOver accessibility. Audio Hijack is the one app that really gave me pause for thought about abandoning the Mac platform, it will be interesting to see how much of its functionality I might be able to recreate with Total Recorder in Windows.
I’ve also loved using the Djay Pro app for Mac. It’s full of keyboard shortcuts, and the way it integrates with Spotify offering low latency playback is phenomenal.
There are general Mac characteristics that have slowed me down. I use a Synology network attached storage drive. Despite experimenting with multiple protocols, I have found browsing large folders on it, and file transfers, a lot slower in MacOS than in Windows. Web searches have revealed that this is a common frustration for many business users in network environments.
The best of both worlds
There are two ways for a blind person to use Windows on their Mac. One is to Bootcamp it. Bootcamp is available free with all Macs. It takes advantage of the fact that newer Macs run Intel processors, and creates a separate partition so that you can choose to boot either into Windows or MacOS.
It’s simple to set up. All resources are allocated to one OS at a time, so lower spec machines handle it well, and you don’t get some of the audio latency issues you get with a virtual machine.
Disadvantages include having to make a decision about how much of your disk space to allocate to Windows and how much to MacOS. So a machine with a lot of storage is best here. You may need two copies of some software if you want to access it irrespective of OS, such as Dropbox, Skype and iTunes. With cloud apps like Dropbox, Bootcamp can be seriously costly in terms of disk space, because you’d have two copies of all the files, one in each OS. You can of course choose which OS you use for any given task, but then you’ll have to do a lot of booting in and out of the two operating systems.
When you’re running Windows under Bootcamp, you lose access to all your continuity features, such as the ability to receive iMessages and FaceTime calls, as well as the universal clipboard. Continuity is something that just works, and which I’ve very much enjoyed using. Essentially, when you’ve booted into a Bootcamped Windows, it’s like running a full Windows laptop. I must say, Windows runs beautifully under Bootcamp.
Alternatively, in addition to purchasing Windows 10, you can also purchase a copy of VMWare Fusion. This allows you to set up virtual machines, so you can run Windows from within MacOS. This means you can Command+Tab between Windows and MacOS. You can be working in Windows and still answer iMessages and FaceTime calls. You can share common folders across both operating systems. So for example you would run Dropbox for Mac, but the folders Dropbox creates can also be accessible within the virtual machine under Windows.
The clipboard is universal across both operating systems. I’ve often copied chunks of text from Mac Mail to the clipboard, and pasted them into Word for Windows. Totally nifty.
Virtual machines have saved me a lot of time and frustration over the last four years. Because a virtual machine is one very large file, mine got to about 50GB, you can back it up easily before doing anything drastic to Windows. Not sure if you’re going to like the new version of Office, or the Windows Anniversary Update? Copy the virtual machine’s file somewhere safe, perform the installation, and if you were happier with how things were before, copy the old file back. It’s fantastic.
You can also make configuration changes to your virtual machines to assess their impact, such as the number of cores, RAM allocated to the VM, and more. In recent years, JAWS has been modified to become far more tolerant of these sorts of changes, so losses of authorisations are much more rare now.
Disadvantages include the fact that you have to share your computers resources between two operating systems. You might be able to get away with it with 8GB of RAM, but I personally think 16GB is necessary for a truly smooth experience. That allows you to allocate 8GB to each OS. You also need to decide how many CPU cores to allocate to the VM.
If you use Braille as I do, you may need to repeatedly connect and disconnect your Braille display from the virtual machine, for example you may be reading a document in Word for Windows, then you want to read Mail in Mac OS. I find Braille support in Mac OS to be poor, so I have seldom used it. It is difficult, for example, to continuously read a multi-page document fluently in Braille using a word processor.
There are some audio latency issues, so I wouldn’t recommend precise audio editing under a VM unless you want to connect an external audio interface directly to the virtual machine. In those cases, sadly audio can get glitchy from time to time. I found myself choosing not to use certain applications as a result of this. TeamTalk, for instance, is doable but fiddly on a Mac, but a joy to use in Windows. So I have tended not to bother with it at all because of the audio latency issues inherent in a VM.
Battery life is also a consideration. Running two operating systems side by side will drain your battery more quickly. And if you spend the majority of your time in Windows as I do, you may begin to wonder why you’re continuing to bother to take the battery hit at all.
This is an appropriate time for me to make an important point. It’s true what they say, familiarity breeds contempt. People who use Windows exclusively often think that if they could just afford to make the switch to a Mac, all the bugs would be gone and the grass will be greener. My perception is that VoiceOver is less polished on the Mac now than it was four years ago. And specifically in the context of discussing battery life, I was shocked when I got my new MacBook Pro to find that I was only getting around four hours of battery life, not the nine I had been promised by the promotional literature. It turned out that some people experience this after using the Migration Assistant built into the Mac. This is supposed to make it effortless to get a brand new Mac and transfer all your apps and customisations over from the old one. So I took the time to erase my Mac entirely, install everything from scratch, and things improved a lot, although battery life is still impacted, quite understandably, by running Fusion.
Finally, you can have a hybrid, where you create a Bootcamp partition, then create a virtual machine from that partition. This means you can choose to boot fully into Windows when you need to, or you can run both when you want to. This is cool in theory and it’s something I would probably have tried if I weren’t getting out of Mac, but one disadvantage is that many apps that require you to authorise see the full Bootcamp installation and the VM as two separate copies of Windows, so you may need to authorise them twice. It also creates some of the dilemmas with apps like Dropbox that I covered above.
When I began working with virtual machines in 2012, I set things up right away with the help of two wonderful, free utilities called Karabiner and Seil. The upshot of setting these up the way they used to work is that the Caps Lock key became the VoiceOver key in MacOS, and the Insert key in Windows, ideal for use with a screen reader. VoiceOver now has its own setting for the Caps Lock key in MacOS, but that doesn’t take care of mapping your Caps Lock key to Insert in Windows. These tools stopped working with the recent MacOS software update, Sierra. They’ll probably come back to life at some point, but for now, I’ve had to use a less satisfactory solution to map the Tilde key as my Insert key. I have JAWS scripts that also make use of this key, so it’s not ideal.
This problem of things breaking after an OS update is not unique to these utilities. I’ve found with each MacOS update that some driver or app simply stops working. That’s a real issue when the manufacturer has chosen not to update the driver, or the app developer has moved on.
I’ve also found that since upgrading from Windows 7 to 10, my Dragon Naturally Speaking app for Windows, something that was a big part of my productivity thanks to the J-Dictate scripts for JAWS, stopped working reliably. Dragon hooks into things at a low level, and I suspect my virtual machine just isn’t the optimal environment in which to run it, since these issues aren’t being widely reported by Windows 10 users in general.
The combination of avoiding certain audio apps, the increased latency in others, the poorer battery life, the loss of the Caps Lock functionality and problems with Dragon have left me increasingly dissatisfied with the VM solution.
Mac needs an O&M instructor
I’m not alone in having formed the view that Mac seems to be struggling for a sense of direction in the face of iOS’s extraordinary success. When iPad Pro was released last year, Tim Cook made repeated statements about iPad Pro being a computer, and how most people could do everything they needed to do with it. At the time I thought it was an odd way to undercut the Mac brand, but I mean hey, he’s CEO of one of the most successful companies in the world and he knows how to position his stuff.
Many sighted bloggers have written about how, after trying the iPad Pro as their primary computing device for a couple of weeks, they were glad to get back to their laptops. Such bloggers talked about the lack of even a basic file manager in iOS hindering ease of use, about sandboxing making it harder to do basic things like attaching files than it should be. So there is clearly a niche for computers to fill, and any computer manufacturer needs to be clear about the nature of that niche.
Like many people, I’m doing more now with my iThings than ever before. For my personal use, I do Twitter almost exclusively with Twitterific. A number of new features, such as quoted tweets, are not available in the Night Owl Twitter client for the Mac, and I’ve not found a way of stopping the time stamp from being spoken between the sender of the tweet and the tweet body in the newly accessible Twitter for Mac app.
When I want to read news, I grab my iPhone or iPad and use Lire RSS reader. When I’m shopping, I’ll open up a browser on an iDevice more often than not. And I answer most casual email on an iDevice as well.
I don’t own any dedicated blindness book reading device, so I do all my reading on an iDevice from many sources.
But I come back to my laptop for serious content creation. I may do a bit of drafting of a book in Word on my iPad, but when I’m seriously reviewing it and applying formatting, I’m back on the laptop. When it’s appropriate, I record sound on my iPhone, but I edit it on my computer. I do live broadcasting and voice tracking from my computer. I like to do serious dictation from my computer.
I can reboot the Mushroom FM PC from my phone, but to work with it remotely, I use my computer.
Do you see the pattern? All the things I like to do in MacOS, I can do in iOS. But all the things I like to do on my computer, I find more efficient and accessible in Windows.
Can I see a time when I’ll do more of these tasks on an iDevice? Possibly. For me, keyboard shortcuts will play a big part in this. I still haven’t found an iOS sound editor that lets me mark chunks of audio and delete or move them with the same ease as I can in Amadeus on the Mac or Studio Recorder and any number of other tools in Windows. Ferrite is the closest I’ve found, but it’s not quite there yet in my view. I use Twitterific so much because when I’m sitting down with my keyboard on the iPad, I’m every bit as efficient dealing with the information as I am in Windows or the Mac. There’s no reason why we can’t encourage other iOS app developers to do what Twitterific have done.
The Mac has traditionally been a keyboard user’s dream. They have loved their keyboard shortcuts.
Legacy keyboard shortcuts are probably going to be fine, but I wonder how much attention will be paid to them with new software, or updates to existing apps, now that the touch bar is a thing. True, it’s only available in a couple of models at present, but unless it’s a flop, we can expect to see the touch bar rolled out to all new units in time, much as Touch ID and 3D Touch has been in iOS.
There’s no question that it’s accessible and handy. It’s cool for a sighted person to be able to glance at the little screen, and see context-sensitive icons. Also, the default behaviour on Mac has been for the function keys that the touch bar is replacing to be used for system functions. It’s therefore quite uncommon for MacOS apps to have made extensive use of function keys. If the majority of users can have those bland keys replaced by an interactive touch screen that provides the same system functions but a whole lot more, then I suspect it’s a win for most people.
But it isn’t a win for someone like me, who has been making extensive use of Windows while also being a Mac user. I could use an external keyboard where necessary, but that’s one more gadget to carry. And that segways me nicely into my next point.
I was delighted to see many people speaking up about the increasing number of dongles Apple are now saddling us with. Because when you make a device thin and light, and in the process deprive people of essential functionality so they have to carry a bunch of accessories around with them, thin and light is a poisoned chalice that makes a myth of the adage that Apple stuff “just works”.
I’ve already blogged extensively here about the impact the removal of the headphone jack has had on those of us who wear hearing aids, as well as people in general who want to use their phone and charge it at the same time. The night before Bonnie and I left for our recent trip to the US, I was waiting anxiously for the arrival of the Belkin accessory that allows you to connect two Lightning devices to the iPhone at once. The courier was delayed, and I had to plead my case with the courier company to make an urgent delivery. Were they not able to do so, I wouldn’t have been able to use my iPhone all the way through a 12-hour flight, since it needed to be connected to a power source at some point. And they call this progress, and brave.
With the new Macs, Apple has chosen to go all-in on USB-C, even though they don’t even include a USB-C to Lightning cable in their own iPhone and iPad box, and even though many accessories will require adapters protruding from the USB-C ports. It’s the continuation of a trend where Apple have put geekdom over practicality.
Despite once having one of the best keyboards on any laptop I’ve ever used, Apple has replaced it with a different kind of keyboard that reminds me of a cramped netbook I used years ago, all in the name of thinness. Travel is less, and keys feel less clearly defined. Some people are already reporting that they have adapted over time, a few have returned new machines, calling the new keyboard a deal breaker. There are very thin, light devices, the HP Spector for one, with what to me at least feels like much better keyboards than those now offered by Apple.
Despite protestations, Apple removed the Ethernet port from the MacBook Pro some time ago, and to me, that was the start of the MacBook Pro no longer being for pros.
Wireless Ethernet may be fine in many consumer and some business situations, but for many professionals wired Ethernet is a must-have feature. If you’ve ever been to a hotel in a built-up metropolitan area, you’ve probably seen how congested the Wi-Fi spectrum can be. Coverage can be patchy, many people may be trying to access the network, and it’s just a horrible, frustrating experience when your livelihood depends on connectivity. Often, plugging into wired Ethernet can make the world of difference.
Then there’s the type of professional who has been loyal to Mac for years, those who create multimedia content. These people understand that currently available Wi-Fi technology is half duplex. So even if you’re in a perfect 802.11AC coverage area, and your system is reporting very fast connectivity, that connectivity is not at all the same as the quality of what you experience using wired Ethernet. For people dealing with plenty of multimedia content in both directions, this stuff really matters.
Sure, you can get a dongle that plugs into the Thunderbolt/USB-C port of your Mac, but it’s one more thing to keep track of, one more thing to leave behind in a hotel room. I had several close shaves nearly losing the little adapter that allowed me to plug headphones into my iPhone, the same thing I could do this time last year without any dongle.
I’ve become increasingly frustrated with Apple’s “We know best” attitude, making us go through hoops to achieve things we can do effortlessly on other devices, and that we could until recently achieve without accessories.
At the same time, Apple is not adding functionality that would add value to my experience. On the Mac side of things, I don’t really mind the Touch bar either way. I don’t think it will improve my experience very much, but if some people benefit from it, then groovy. Had they added the touch bar without subtracting the function keys, as a blind Mac and Windows user, I’d have felt much more comfortable.
But what would have made a huge difference to me would have been the inclusion of 4G/LTE functionality, such as is available in some iPad models. Indeed, the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model comes equipped with an embedded Apple SIM. Now that’s truly game changing. I was able to land in Los Angeles, whip out my iPad Pro, and choose from a menu of local carriers. I could inspect the plans each carrier offered, choose the one that suited my needs the best, and I was online right away, avoiding roaming charges. I believe that many mobile professionals would have valued this feature far more than the Touch bar.
Where to from here?
It’s taken me a while to reach the point where I’ve realised that I don’t have too much to lose by leaving the Mac world completely. I’ve enjoyed using mail overall, but Outlook will do just fine in Windows. Amadeus Pro has been really great, but Windows is not spoiled for accessible and well-scripted audio creation options. My RSS reader has started reading things in a less efficient order since Sierra, and since you can’t customise the order in which items are read in VoiceOver, I’ve pretty much abandoned the app in favour of an iOS equivalent.
Radium is no longer being developed.
Chrome is working very well on Windows these days. VLC is in Windows too.
Siri is on the Mac now, but it speaks less automatically than it does in iOS, where I find myself using Google’s voice search because of the concise and accurate responses it gives back.
I am going to miss not being able to quickly answer a text message or call on the Mac, but it’s a cool thing rather than essential thing.
I didn’t want to abandon what I’m using until I was sure that my productivity would genuinely benefit.
After a lot of research, I’ve gone with a device that is only sold direct to businesses, the Toshiba Portege Z30-C. With 16GB of RAM and 1TB of solid state storage, plus an I7 processor, I have as much grunt as I did with the MacBook Pro, but in a much smaller, thinner, lighter magnesium package.
The cool thing is, it ticks lots of my boxes. I have three USB 3.0 ports, one more than on my MacBook Pro. There’s an SD slot, HDMI, even an older video out port for those PowerPoint presentations. I have a 1GB wired Ethernet port, so bye bye to all annoying dongles. But best of all, I have the thing I really want, built-in LTE. I can put a SIM from my carrier straight into my laptop, and have connectivity wherever I have cell coverage, and all with around 12 hours of battery life.
There’s a part in the second radio series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when a marketing executive from a shoe manufacturer is asked to explain why one of the employees is limping. The answer he offers is, “his feet are the wrong size for his shoes”. And that reminds me of some of Apple’s recent decisions. With the laptop I’ve just bought, I feel like I’ve purchased a device that thought about my needs and created a product to meet them, while I’ve abandoned a product that expected me to endure inconveniences to conform to their vision and worldview that isn’t reality yet.
Are there compromises I’ve had to live with as a result of this purchase? Oh yes. Technology choices are about weighing up the pros and cons and determining which are the most important to you personally. The speakers in this new laptop are absolutely dreadful, whereas the speakers in the 2016 MacBook Pro are mind-blowing. I’m told the screen is OK but not super, which of course I’m relaxed about.
But I’m saying goodbye to latency in Windows, hello to Dragon once again, welcome back to longer battery life, and it really feels good.
Let me conclude with a statement that hopefully is obvious to most. I’m not at all saying that the mac isn’t a viable option. If I were producing pre-recorded audio full-time and doing email and casual web surfing for instance, I may have made different choices. This is a summary of the considerations that have led to my most recent technology choice. I wrote all this down to offer one perspective to consider if you’re looking at making a technology purchasing decision. The apps you use may be different. The way you use your technology will almost certainly be different.
With the move towards the touch bar and the increasing need for dongles, I just feel that for my own personal requirements, it’s time for Mac and me to part. I do so with no regrets, and tremendous gratitude for the learning experience. I’m also grateful that, like anyone else, we as blind people can choose the platform that works for us personally based on our own needs and preferences. We live in an exciting time, and I’ll continue to watch Mac developments closely.
I hear you on “familiarity breeds contempt” and how the grass seems greener on the other side. Most of my developer and designer friends use Macks, and believe me, there are days when I’ve really wanted to try out things like Sublime Text or Mars Edit. With Sublime Text, there are tons of snippets packages that get passed around that are custom-made for you to import into Sublime Text and get up and running with community-vetted code that you will most likely recycle for multiple projects. And then, I remember what it’s like to code WordPress, making sure that the cool new things that work in Firefox and modern versions of IE work the same way in Safari with VoiceOver, while not breaking backwards compatibility, and I am cured of my contempt.
I question the objectivity of some points of this piece. For example, Adobe Reader DC now makes tagged PDF documents accessible on the Mac. Was this used to evaluate PDF reading on the Mac prior to writing this piece to make a fair comparison? Microsoft has also made significant strides to make Office more accessible on the Mac as well; was this tested or was iWorks or some other different product on the Mac compared to Office for Windows? I do agree with your point about the role of AT vendors and specialized blindness products to keep the blind consumer efficient and productive. I think that is the only way third-party screen readers, Braille notetakers and specialized reading devices will survive as mainstream vendors continue to embrace accessibility features.
Hi Sam, yes to both of your questions.
Regarding Adobe DC, comment was made on Twitter earlier in the week by people other than me that this still didn’t provide the same kind of accessibility that is available in Windows.
I have Microsoft office 365, so have also been working with that in MacOS. It’s good to see Microsoft have finally done the right thing here, but shortcomings of VoiceOver itself mean that you still don’t have the same ability to do the kind of thorough review and efficient navigation of large files that JAWS offers. I do find it a better experience than Pages though.
Agree that it seems that iOS is the way to go whilst using Windows for productivity.
I have also made the switch back to Windows after more than 5 years.
Having structured PDF support in JAWS, using Office 2016, and web browsing efficiently are all things I enjoy on Windows.
Also there are some very nice computers being made by Windows OEM’s the Dell XPS and Surface Book just to name a view.
Keep up the good work I always enjoy reading what you have to offer!
Agree that using iOS and Windows for productivity is the way to go.
Having structured PDF support in JAWS, web browsing, and access to Office are all things I enjoy on the Windows platform.
Have also made the switch back to Windows recently after more than 5 years on the Mac platform.
Not to mention for the price of a Apple Mac one can get some very nice Windows ultrabooks like the mentioned HP Spectre.
Well balanced piece keep up the good work!
Thanks Jonathan for this documented piece. There something I miss from it, though, and this is the way braille is dealt with within the VoiceOver ecosystem. I have given up using the mac as my primary computer for about a year now, and one of the main reasons is that it’s been not even possible for me to have a reliable way to route the system cursor to the braille cell I want it to be. This is essential for a power braille user like I am, and I also question (as you do) who and how is behind the scene in the VoiceOver for OSX roadmap. I simply cannot believe that this has not been consistently reported. Personally, I’ve had two macs, I’ve installed everything from scratch several times for a bunch of reasons and cursor management simply does not work reliably when the routing buttons are used. I’ve always used the Focus series, and I say this because, to be fear, there are Baum users who have reported to me that this does not seem to be an issue for them. Maybe someone else can comment on this as well.
Hi Daniel, you’re right, Braille got only the smallest of mentions and to be honest, I have little positive to say. Braille on the Mac has never been very viable for me and I’ve spent most of the time with my display connected to the virtual machine.
Braille is certainly an additional reason why it would never have been viable for me to use Mac exclusively.
Jonathan, thank you so much for such comprehensive review of the state of accessibility of Mac today. When I got my iMac I considered learning it and have Mac OS as my primary operating system. But When I compared Voice Over with Jaws, I realized that, despite strong efforts for making it a good built-in screen reader, it will hardly give me the same efficient work experience as Windows. Occasionally, I keep coming back to Mac and test the changes that Apple introduces with each version of OS but I still can’t see myself proof reading reports without Text Analyzer. I agree that it is great to read iMessages and to be able to respond to family and friends using a keyboard but that is just about it for me. I do understand that there are many musitions and professional writers who found a great use in Mac but I guess, don’t require as much as the others in my professional and daily life.
Excellent piece; thank you. I would like to think that if VoiceOver for the Mac was developed now instead of so long ago, things might have been better. But even so, the platform itself is just not as facile.
Hi Jonathan and thanks for yet another great post. My parents bought me a MacBook Air for Xmas in 2013. I was very skeptical about switching from 3rd-party screen readers on Windows to VoiceOver on the Mac, since I had only been hearing negative things. Back in the day I used AppleIIE computers with the Echo/Cricket and liked them, so I reluctantly gave into my parents’ nagging, lol! I’m so glad I did. I’m not exactly a power user on here yet, but I love what Apple has done with VoiceOver. In addition, I am a big fan of the universal-design concept. I, too, recently started using MarsEdit and really like it. I’m slowly but surely figuring out the free version of Capti Narrator mainly for the pdf issue. That is one thing with which I’m not to impressed: the lack of a native pdf solution on here. I’ve found Preview to work okay, but the lack of arrow navigation bothers me. Someone please feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken. That said, I think this is the only major issue thus far I’ve found on here. If I ever find myself switching back to Windows for whatever reason, or another platform for that matter, I’d gladly accept the challenge. For now I’m very comfortable with my MacBook though.
Hi Jonathan! Thanks for an excellent piece — and for reassuring me that I’m not ‘weird’ in my assessment that, as much as I love using my iPhone, switching to a Mac would be a poor choice for my own professional life. The dealbreakers for me have always been, and still are, the lack of full support for Office appss, especially in the more complex aspects of document formatting, and using tracked changes and comments easily; the difficulty of reading PDF’s on the Mac; the substandard braille support; and, one that you didn’t mention in the article, the lack of a good scanning/OCR product on the mac (such as we have with Kurzweil 1000 or OpenBook under Windows). I’m wondering if you could comment on this latter point, about scanning/OCR solutions? This topic comes up often on a discussion list I run for blind academics, since many of us still require a scanner in order to access older books and bound journals (KNFBReader is awesome for everyday stuff on the iPhone, but not for the amount of scanning that I regularly need to do).
Hi Robert, while it’s not important to some people, I’ve always enjoyed the ability to read a book while I’m scanning it, a feature found in both OpenBook and Kurzweil 1000. For this reason and given that I’ve been using a virtual machine, I haven’t investigated any options for OCR on the Mac. I understand that DocuScan Plus from Serotek works well, but I’ve had no personal experience with that product at all.
My colleagues at work all use Macs exclusively. For that reason, and to help verify that our software works equally well on the OSX and Windows platforms, I picked up a Macbook Pro earlier this year. I feel that what Apple have done with VoiceOver is still a better out-of-box experience compared to Narrator (though there is certainly less of a gap with the latest Windows 10 builds). Even so, VoiceOver lacks some of the most rudimentary features expected of a professional screen reading solution (e.g. no ability to hear changes in line indentation or spacing when writing source code, and what feels like an incomplete accessibility navigation framework in Webkit). Even free Windows screen readers provide a much superior experience in these areas, and it’s because of this that I have split my work across two machines; a Windows laptop on which I write my code and compile it in a Linux VM, and the Mac for cases when I want to run the same code for testing with VoiceOver.
I was hoping to have enough confidence in VoiceOver to do most of my work on the Mac, as it overall is a better development environment, but Apple’s inability, or unwillingness, to patch these little holes is a deal-breaker for me. My short-term solution is to install Fusion and associate a Windows editor for my code, despite the hit I know I will take on battery life.
Your post does bring up a few valid accessibility concerns about VoiceOver. While I usually don’t mess with PDF documents or do advanced text formatting, I agree that VO should have more advanced text attribute reporting and better PDF support. Preview seems to do a half decent job at reading accessible PDF documents. However, you must use the VO cursor to navigate and elements like headings can’t be moved to. I am curious how many people have actually reported these issues to Apple? It always makes me a little angry when people constantly bash the platform because it lacks some features. I find myself wondering if these people are just complaining or if they actually take the time to send constructive feedback to Apple.
What’s wrong with braille in Mac VoiceOver? Braille displays automatically connect when connected via USB. There is no fiddling around to configure the screeen reader to connect. I believe Jaws can automatically connect, but I refuse to use Jaws unless I have a very specific reason to do so. NVDA solves all my current WIndows needs very nicely. It is true that VoiceOver displays things a little differently in braille compared with Windows screen readers. If it’s an issue of automatically scrolling when reading content, I agree. Apple should add an autoscroll feature to iOS and Mac with an adjustable scroll rate so that you could read long passages of text without constantly pressing the pan button. You can also disable automatic braille translation so that VoiceOver stops assuming you want partial words translated when you pause typing. If there is something I’m missing, please feel free to correct me.
I’m wondering if this neglect of the Mac operating system is due to iOS. Mac OS and VoiceOver seem to be taking a backseat to iOS at this point. It’s rather sad since I cannot currently consider iOS to be a seriously productive OS. If Apple fixed these issues on the Mac, it could be even better than it already is.
If I required more advanced text processing and formatting, it might be a different story. FOr now, I am happy with my Mac. I’ve gained more independence with the talking recovery. I really don’t understand why Microsoft refuses to do this. There is no reason a copy of Narrator couldn’t be implemented. I don’t care if it only works with USB audio devices or a braille display. I know we have a few of those talking PE disks with NVDA floating around, but those don’t work on all systems and it’s not an excuse for Microsoft to not develop a solution. I’m not using an operating system I can’t independently troubleshoot.
Good article Jonathan. Just to speak to the scanning solutions on the Mac, I use two programs, Vuescan to scan and Read Iris to do the OCR. I set it up so that when Vuescan scans a page it automatically opens the .tif image in Read Iris. From there I press Command + S, and Read Iris OCRs the file and opens it in TextEdit. It sounds cumbersome, but it’s actually really fast. You cannot read text while you are scanning though.
I’ve had my iMac now for 7 years, and love it, but it certainly does have some things that need improving. Navigating a Word, Pages, or PDF document by headings is one of the major ones, and, yes, I have written Apple Accessibility several times over the years pleading for them to implement this feature. I do like the fact that I can imdependently wipe out my hard drive and do a clean install of the operating system and have VoiceOver working through most of the task. I’ve found lately that FS, or, VFO now, seem to add a lot of new features to Jaws that I mostly will never use while failing to fix issues I’ve complained about for years. So, both platforms, the Mac and Windows, have their good points and their bad. I’m grateful that I am able to use both!
I moved into the i world in 2013 when I bought an iPhone 5 and later upgraded to an iPhone 6. In January I purchased an iPad and have loved these devices for the limited amount of internet surfing and social media work I do. I can also access the learning management platform I teach from, even though it is a little cumbersome on the iPad. I have been discouraged all along from moving to the iMac and os 10 operating system because of the lack of certain programs I use, like bible study programs that really work well for what I need in Windows. A friend who went to and returned from OS world told me he found the voiceover command structure difficult to process
As for writing on the iPad I have been underwhelmed. While I don’t use Office or Word very often, I use Jarte instead for Windows, I’m just more confident in composing in the Windows environment than even in the IOS environment.
I think your article confirmed I made the right decision for not moving away from Windows and yet utilizing the best of what Apple is doing in the iPad and iPhone
One more point, I enjoy my iPad for listening to sports, music, seminars, lectures, etc. i use it for reading as well and enjoy reading with the Kindle app much more than I do in Windows. But as you pointed, out, we are so fortunate to have the choices we have that, just a few years ago we didn’t have. Thank you for your perspective on this subject, well written and well thought through from where you are coming from.
Now this is what makes me very very frustrated about Apple platform and ultimately what assures me that Mac accessibility will never be even closer to Windows.
Apple is not an AT company. Not being such company, its focus is not on providing accessibility on their products. They for sure try and have succeeded on iOs but only because iOS is such a controlled environment with pretty standardized use cases and with devs being restricted to go until a given limit well defined by Apple.
Now Macs are serious computers. Such kinds of equipments are so powerful and so abstract that one can do literally everything he wants. Apps and use cases are practically endless and people’s needs are not easily classified in cathegories.
What makes me have a profound respect for Freedom Scientific is that they somewhat understood this simple concept, that it would be impossible to classify and act upon every single person’s needs when providing accessibility.
And, because of that, they have abstracted almost all the complexity of screen reading technology which includes gattering and parsing information from several frameworks, locations and such and provided an easy and simple scripting language with a powerful set of api’s that mad scripting for the vast majority of cenarius a simple and great experience.
At the end of the day, either in a concient or a not so concient way, Freedom Scientific aknowledged that they simply could not provide full support to every single different needs of their customers and then they kind of decided to share their screen reading extensions with the comunity.
And in fact we did a great job, extending and becoming JAWS each time more complete and making it able to provide better accessibility to a enourmous number of apps and use cases.
But Apple did not understand this concept. They do not provide (and they could not even if they really wanted) a good support for a big number of apps and use cases their visualli impaired Mac customers had amd they did not allow those guys to go ahead and solve their own problems.
In fact, even with some very very limited scripting support, VoiceOver hardly can be customized to make anything different than Apple programmed it to do. This caused, only to talk about a simple example a huje negative impact for XCode users that are dependant on Apple to make some accessibility improvements, including improvements that have not yet been done, on this tool that could be very easily solved had a robust scripting support been integrated into voiceover years ago!!
Again, if Apple allowed VO to be scripted, its accessibility state would be in a very better level than it is now.
Apple did not understand that Mac OS and iOS are completely different things in terms of AT implementation. They are trying to treat both as the same thing and this is not true and it is not likely to be in the long future!
P.S. Jonathan, you speak a lot about studio recorder for Windows. Where can I get more information about this software? This is a very generic name and making a google search was not very helpful cinse I saw a lot of things and I am nopot sure what is the right one that you are refering to.
Hi marlon, just to add to your comments, I think it’s great that JAWS actually provides the source code for all the scripts. It gives someone who has an inclination to tinker a lot of flexibility.
Studio Recorder can be found at http://www.aph.org
More tthan that, Jonathan.
Jaws scripting language is such a simple thing that scripting solutions become something very easy to do and this is very important.
There are two kinds of JAWS scripts and people tend to consider only one:
– Make very inaccessible apps useable with JAWS.
– Make very usable flows more productive.
While people tend to look at the first of these kinds, thhe seconde is way more powerful. We as blind people are slow. If you disagree, take a time to look and observe how sighted people use the computer. In the very same time you take navigating somehwere someone sighted just click click click scrol click and boom there it goes.
In hard working environments where speed has to be taken in acount, being slow (even if you are fast if you are in general 2 seconds slower in an operation you perform 100 times a day you are one minut and forty secs slower per day, about six minuts per week and about half an hour per month can be the difference between being eficient and being considered someone people just need to live with for whatever motivations.
Unfortunately, we are way more than two seconds slower in tasks we perform in every day work flows, specially if you deal a lot with custom or on demand software made specifically for your department or corporation, which will be generally accessible but with an horrible design in terms of keyboard use.
I know that this is going out of the post theme, but the truth is that if you loose 10 minuts a day you have lost almost one hour of work at the end of the day and half working day per month.
This is 6 working days a year and there are sighted folks who will spend a good number of years without the privilege of stopping one week a year being paid specially in US.
Now, coming back to jaws scripts, what is cool about the language is that:
Do you need to activate JAWS Cursor?
Do you need to press ctrl + home?
This makes things incredibly easy to folks who are not technical or programmers and just need to speed up their workflow, which for me is the biggest advantage of JAWS scripting.
This is not true about any other scriptable screen readers around. They are scriptable but script writters need to be technical and thus will write only scripts belonging to the first cathegory, tthus solving the few big problems but avoiding that folks write solutions for the second cathegory, solving a majority of small problems that compose the greater wins.
Sure having the source code of scripts make things easier. I myself have modifications in the default and browser scripts that only make sense for my flow … but if it did make sense for other people I could redistribute it. For example, way back in JAWS 9 I coded something like the libraries freedom scientific made available for web scripting for ie based on getting the dom object and manipulating it to script flows in some web apps I have to use.
Now if I would deppend on Apple …… well I would probablyy be extremely slow on my work flows.
P.S. I thought in recording a quick tutorial to that section on FSCast where people speak quickly about underlooked JAWS resources explaining briefly how to make basic scripts to automate common flows, in the hope folks would get interested in exploring possibilities scripting might give them to be more productive. May be I’ll do it some day. Actually recording anything in english makes me nervouse and my english get kind of worse when recording, although it will keep at the same level if I am chating with someone … go figure out why I wish I could :p
it’s studio recorder from APH. http://www.aph.org.
One small point… for anyone that is looking for how to remap keys on Windows, I recommend a program called Sharpkeys. Otherwise, great article!
Hi Nimar, Shar Keys is in fact what I had to resort to after the previous solution became unavailable in Sierra. Since Sharp keys doesn’t allow the use of the Caps Lock key, it’s a far less adequate solution.
Your comment of everything you like doing on macos you can also do in iOS is dead on. That’s exactly how I feel. Ever since I got my iPhone SE, I’m noticing that I only use my MBP when I need to do a lot of typing, or when my phone is charging. A quick glance at Launchpad only shows me a couple of apps that I really need the Mac for. Thanks to Braille screen input, I can do almost everything I use my Mac for faster on my iPhone. There are only two things I haven’t figured out how to do: play things that I’ve recorded that I don’t want in my music app, and I haven’t done a lot with even basic document creation.
From your post and most of the other comments here, it does seem like the iOS/Win 10 combo seems to be the best way to go. It’s making me consider asking for a Windows tablet of some kind for Christmas since I don’t need a lot of power — I don’t do anything with audio editing or anything like that. As someone who got a degree in writing, your comments about being more efficient using Word in Windows intrigues me though. I only have one reservation about going back to Windows, and that’s the thing that made me jump to macos in the first place — knowing that I could reinstall the OS on my own if I needed to. I haven’t had to do that, but it’s nice to know I could do it if I had to. My last desktop randomly wouldn’t boot one morning, and since the place I got it from wasn’t convenient to get to, I took it somewhere else. They had it for almost a week, and I found out that all they did was stick the Windows CD in there, click restore, and it fixed it, and they charged me 60 bucks. That did it.
So that brings up a couple questions: : how have you dealt with reinstalling Windows since there’s no way to make that talk? A lot of tech sites say it’s a good idea to reinstall once a year or every couple years, but it’s kind of hard when you don’t have any eyes around, or at least not any techy ones. You also sometimes hear horror stories about someone having issues with drivers in Windows getting messed up, and then they go running back to their Mac.
Also, what’s the most optimal way to comparison shop online, because sometimes it’s not always easy to get to somewhere that’ll have all the laptops/tablets you will want to look at? Like many people I’m sure, my favorite thing about my MBP is the quality of the hardware. Ideally, I’d want a tablet or a laptop that would be comparable to that. The only one I’ve really played with is a Surface, and those are definitely cool. How did you decide on the laptop you’re getting? These things are like an investment, and you want to be sure what you get is going to meet your needs.
Hi Brian, being able to upgrade and reinstall MacOS yourself is wonderful. However, in this day and age with narrator being available throughout the process, I’m not sure the two are very far apart now. I know of a number of blind people who perform regular Windows installs now without sighted assistance, although thanks to my virtual machine, it’s not something I’ve needed to investigate in a while.
My computer gear is such an important part of my work that I’d never buy one without spending time with it first. I have a company here in Wellington that understands my requirements, and they don’t mind if I come into the store with JAWS on a thumb drive and spend an hour or so on each machine I’m interested in. That’s how I auditioned my contenders and chose the one I did.
Warning: outpouring of emotive and disconnected thought processes follows. May be incoherent, cause strong bouts of nausea, be contradictory, or otherwise fail to exalt the mind. Please take precautions. 🙂
This outcome was inevitable given your generally no-nonsense approach to technology, and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to write this down, so it can be cited as a credible opinion. I generally agree with you, although I also think it’s fair to point out that the grass is not necessarily greener on your own side of the fence, either. I see it more in the way, as we often see our political representatives nowadays, as the “least worst” option. While you’re correct that we can’t always afford the luxury of choice, preferences can, as you say, inevitably come into the decision on some level. Being objective is hard, but I think we can agree that neglecting your needs isn’t an option. You should always use what meets your needs, and increasingly Mac isn’t cutting it for a technical audience of demanding users. I am among those users who used the Mac most of the time, only booting Windows out of necessity. My primary reason for switching has been the bugs in VoiceOver and Apple’s questionable commitment to the Mac and accessibility on the Mac. However, I am an advanced user, capable of working around many issues from the command line or by employing Open-Source code and writing scripts, so I freely acknowledge that my tolerances are quite different from those of many others’. I think it’s fair to say that my switch back to Windows will not, in the fullness of time, prove to be regret-free. I just think it’s inevitable at this stage. Windows is always on standby in a VM on my iMac and is the only OS on my MacBook Pro, and is already doing things that my Mac should be, like browsing the web. macOS’s ease of use and generally beatific nature is something that is still abundantly absent from Windows and I’m still getting used to the idea that that’s what my future computing will be like. It’s hard not to be nostalgic for a better time, and also not to be a little bit sad.
I have not yet given Sierra a fair try. I promised myself that I would, before I left, bound full-time for Windows. It will kill me to, for many of the reasons outlined here, but also because I dislike intensely the direction MS are going in with their service model and disregard for user privacy and that’s one area where Apple are clearly motivated to do better. But maybe, needs must, and I will have to figure out how to fight the telemetry in Windows. I already know what I want: 8.1 with Classic Shell. Windows 10 offers very little for me, apart from maybe the bash shell for which I already use a virtual machine. I also intend to continue using my current Mac hardware (I’m not interested in Apple’s dongle future or Touch Bar, but would be interested in a new desktop), to legitimise any use of macOS I might still have in future and because I think it’s a great way to experience Windows and Linux. I will dearly miss text message forwarding and system-wide dictionary and spell-check, but I can probably manage. I already do a lot of my work in Unix at the command-line from a Linux virtual machine, because Terminal’s accessibility continues to degrade. And of course VMWare Workstation is the superior product, for actual professionals. Using Windows makes you acutely aware of all the little advantages you get from a broad market, which aren’t readily apparent when you’re not using it as your daily workhorse.
I started using the Mac in 2008. Then, with Leopard, I was sure that the Apple approach was the future of accessibility, and that the Mac would be an exciting and happy place to be, and I was enchanted. There were compromises, of course, but I bore them, and reported issues, and they were fixed in record time. And there were future directions that Apple had to work on, and we all knew that, and hoped that they would. And the accessibility team was an email address away and it wasn’t a ticket system, but a person. Vista was awful, so switching wasn’t hard to justify and it was easy to advocate; in fact, my skill with Unix made the process even more enjoyable than the vacuous technical void that was once Windows would have allowed at the time. Philosophy may not bake bread, but it sure as hell compelled, then. Times and business priorities change though, and now I’m running Yosemite because subsequent releases are bug-ridden to the point that I just can’t be productive in them. Even now, on Yosemite, I’m composing this blog comment in TextEdit because of the Safari editing issues. Snow Leopard was the best. Mountain Lion was all right, but it was also the early days of what is clearly the ongoing trend of “iOSification” of a platform which up until that time had served very different needs. I don’t pretend I wasn’t sucked in by Apple’s hype machine when they announced Lion, the immediate predecessor to Mountain Lion and the first release to begin the process of “iOSification”, but if I had a choice, I’d still be running an OS with the engineering quality of something like Snow Leopard, if I could. Everything since then has been gradual, half-hearted refinements, with much less attention to detail given and much more tolerance of bugs, supported in the public’s mind by the hope that it will somehow get better, someday, and an awful lot of PR spin about Apple’s commitment to accessibility and the Mac as a whole. But it’s fairly clear that the Mac’s only goal now is to last, until such time as iOS can take it over. iOS will improve and so will its accessibility, and even now I’m sure some people will be served by it, but just now, I—like you—need a general-purpose computer. If not the Mac, and it can’t be Linux yet, then it must be Windows. Personally, I am always amazed by how much more efficient I am using a computer after using an iOS device; perhaps, if Apple were to add keyboard shortcuts to iOS on iPhone, this would change for me, and the need for a high-quality accessible desktop experience would be less pressing. The other surprise has been Google’s ChromeOS. I don’t know what happens when the Android runtime gets involved, but just now, ChromeOS (with ChromeVox as the screen reader) is leaping and bounding forward, and giving us access to Google’s web applications. I’d not be a suitable candidate for a ChromeOS device, but this is another way in which opportunities are opening up for a post-PC, accessible experience.
I read RSS by email. I no longer use Skype. That’s how I solve those problems on the Mac. It probably won’t change when I’m on Windows. What’s the in thing for Twitter access? Is anyone exclusively using the web app? I will be looking into it again when I have the time.
Funny you mention PDF access on the Mac, which is one of the many things we’ve always hoped for but which never happened, much like advanced text editing and formatting: I just learned how to use Automator to convert PDF files to plain text. No, it of course doesn’t make up for proper PDF access, but it was a relief to find it. One advantage of using Windows is that now iTunes is responsible for iBooks management. That’s good because iBooks on the Mac has always been horrid, and iTunes can open PDF files in Acrobat Reader. On the flip side, Windows doesn’t have a decent ePub reader, that I know about.
Samba supports the Apple extensions you need to browse folders efficiently with a Mac, in a VFS extension called vfs_fruit. If you can’t use those extensions on your NAS, you’ll have to use AFP, if you aren’t already. AFP is clearly deprecated now; SMB is the future and any NAS only needs support for that protocol to support all operating systems.
I will need iTunes in Windows. I am deeply invested in it. Apple’s punishment. I will miss Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes; before I bring my library across, I will get all my metadata sorted out. I don’t see my need for iTunes going away though. Maybe I’ll use other players more for convenient playback though, like VLC or MPC, since I don’t see iTunes ever being as convenient to use on Windows as it is on macOS.
Finally, remember Mozilla accessibility Marco’s own switching experience? It’ll be interesting to see how it works out for you. Details of that are here.
I can only wish you good luck with Windows. I took the plunge and left windows 5 years ago but it has taken time to do so anyway. The most frustrating thing about the mac is the lack of good braille support so we will see how long i carry on with my mac. But i still do love my mac.