Since the release of Windows 10, people have critiqued the operating system on numerous fronts for privacy concerns and general bugs. While our impression of the OS was certainly better than that of Windows 8, it had glaring accessibility concerns. I will state this up front, within the first paragraph of this article: This first Windows 10 update offers no new major accessibility improvements. To recap the glaring problems in accessibility still present from that first fabled launch day:
- Microsoft Edge still is half-accessible. The browser lags with NVDA when navigating around loaded pages. The screen reader has no access to the number of items within lists. You can’t use button-based navigation to move around a page. Need I say more?
- The Mail app is still not ideal to be used.
- Although the store is good, many apps still remain unusable with screen readers. I’m looking at you, Foursquare.
- Yes, the built-in PDF reader is still clunky. Sometimes you can read something, other times not so much, but even that requires fiddling around.
We’ll mention the accessibility of new apps (Messaging, phone) later on.
Now that the big red flag is out of the way, the Windows 10 update is absolutely worth it for anyone using the OS. Whether it will convince people on prior versions of Windows to update there is no way of knowing. It does very minimal things to quench the thurst for privacy many are experiencing, although it does add Cortana usage without a Microsoft account, as well as allowing enterprise customers to turn off telemetry entirely. Those concerned about app suggestions on the start screen can also disable that feature. The update mostly introduces consistency across parts of Windows, so it should be seen as more of a polish than a refinement. This is what Windows 10 needed at this stage.
A collection of grids and menus
There’s no better place to see improvements to Windows 10 than with some of the new options lodged within the settings screen. (Windows key +I.) It’s clear that the days of the Control Panel are numbered, although these settings do not migrate existing options but rather add new ones.
A great example of this is the ability to display a fourth row of tiles on the start screen. Go to the Personalization category, then click start to reveal a new “show more tiles” option. In addition, you’ll find a”Occasionally show suggestions in Start” toggle. Both are useful, and both allow you to customize your experience more.
Oh! As for the size limit, you can now store 2048 tiles in the all apps view. Initially, this was limited to 512, but since some people can have more than 512 icons installed, this was increased fourfold.
Other personalization options
Within that same category, click colors. You’ll find a new option here, “Show color on Start, Taskbar, action center, and title bar,” which will provide your OCD a bit of relief.
Skype messaging, integrated again.
Microsoft seems to have a hard time making up its mind on allowing services within its own messaging app. In Windows 8, we had the People app which allowed the connection of multiple social media accounts. Since Microsoft purchased Skype, it became integrated in Windows Phone 8.1, but not Windows 8.1. This all changes with a new Messaging, Phone, and Skype Video apps. (For what reason Phone and Skype Video have to be placed in different apps, I know not.)
I was excited about the messaging app, I truly was. It reads out incoming and sent messages that you type or receive. Truly a remarkable work of accessibility, right? You can tab around among two panes, one showing a list of threads and another messages. There are also options to call, video call, or open a menu with conversation muting and messaging selection options.
The only downfall of the messaging app was the inability to scroll among messages in a thread. Using arrows in the pane yields absolutely no result, but using NVDA’s object navigation when focused on the list does allow you to read it. I suspect that with some screen reader scripts, this will be corrected, but accessibility should be standard without this modification.
We can hopefully assume correctly that this will expand over time, because the Phone app only allows you to make Skype calls. There’s a speed dial here, but when opening settings, only a link to the Microsoft Terms is presented. It’s a simple app that allows you to pick a contact from Skype and, shocker, give them a call. No fuss, nothing to really see there.
This is the most puzzling of the apps. You can initiate video calls here as well as turn off notifications and your camera during calls within the apps’ settings. It seems more feature-fledged than the above phone, but also quite limited at this stage.
Activation issues are all fixed
The Windows 10 launch was baffling because it required users perform a direct upgrade to the operating system. If you wanted to do a clean install, you had to first update to 10 from within Windows, and then complete your clean install. This was so tedious that people had issues with not realizing that step and getting a non-genuine copy of Windows as a result.
The settings app, under the “update and recovery” section now includes an activation choice. This tells you how your current copy of Windows is. a “digital entitlement” means that you have a product key from a prior Windows version and are entitled to Windows 10. When installing Windows 10, you can now paste in your existing product key and watch as it activates, so as long as it is from 7 and above. With subsequent installs, you may opt to just skip entering this altogether, as Microsoft caches activation data about your PC online. Finally, we can have peace and put the upgrade woes behind us. Right?
Two new privacy settings
Enterprise users can turn off telemetry reporting, which is when random information about your hardware is sent to Microsoft in the “privacy > general” section. For most of us who are not enterprise though, we can be happy with two new privacy controls: call history and E-mails. You can now control whether apps get access to these points of data.
Other Miscellaneous changes
Rather than tiring you with small subsections here, let’s just lump all of the other changes that are worth a sentence or two to one place.
- Automatic timezone adjustment is now in the new settings panel, under date and time. Yay, consistency.
- You can now adjust display scaling without having to hit apply. Similarly, adding new accounts (whether calendar or e-mail) can now be done in the accounts screen within settings.
- Memory compression, which will allow Windows to compress the memory so that your drive will not have to use paging Aggressively.
- You can use handwriting recognition to write to Cortana, such as notes and reminders. How cute.
- Microsoft Edge now has a tab preview, where hovering over a tab with your mouse will show what it contains. You can also highlight text on a page and use Cortana to research it, and this includes PDF content also.
- You can cast media in Edge to any miracast or DLNA device, though not Chromecast, obviously.
- A new app called Sway is now included by default. It is very inaccessible, with cursors jumping around everywhere and floating dialog boxes, but this is what the main window has to say. “Tell your story in Sway. In 3 minutes. Tutorials, presentations, and more.”
Sounds like a notes-like app to us.
- Tablet mode allows you to snap apps inside task view, or swipe down to close them.
There are very few major groundbreaking features in the Windows 10 “fall update.” It brings some needed changes for privacy, activation, and settings – and yet, it delivers incomplete Skype apps. Now that we’re on a rolling release for Windows, we should expect constant improvements and unfortunately sometimes unfinished features. We have no doubt that these apps will improve over time, perhaps adding handoff like capability to Skype for those with a Windows phone. Still, accessibility remains a glaring problem, one that needs serious fixing. It’s unclear as to how long it will take to do this – and insiders will continue to receive updates as we enter next phase targeted for 2016.