The changing Landscape, review of windows 8 build 7989

Respected readers,

Once again, the time has arrived to provide more details on your ride. Which ride, you ask? I call it the ride of the future, for what I write about today could very well, and is likely to, become what you will see 2-3 years down the road from today. We all like to think of the future, right? Earlier last month, I wrote up a comprehensive review of Windows 8 build 7850. That was a long time ago, when looking at today’s standards.

A lot of people have asked me, “Why didn’t you do a write-up of 7955?” and I have a simple answer for them. “I am a lazy person and writing one up would have taken too much time!”. Actually, all joking aside, I saw my opportunity with a podcast to be greater than writing one up in text form. This is because in order for people to grasp windows 8, you have to see it in action. This, at the time, mostly applied for the new narrator interface, but no doubt in the future there will be another podcast covering some of the more significant features of this coming Operating system.

And new features there are. There is a lot that will be different with Windows 8. I would compare it to being a highly evolutionary release, but not as Windows Vista was to Windows XP. The magnitude here is greater than Windows vista to 7, however Microsoft is really trying to show the world that they have learned from their Vista mistakes. To date, they have delivered all announcements on schedule, and we can only hope that this will continue on throughout the development of Windows 8. The beta is supposed to drop on September 13, at which time it will be given to developers and hopefully the general public as well in limited quantities.

Windows 8: The name.

At the end of May, Microsoft had a d9 conference where Steven Sinofsky, who leads the Windows devision over at Microsoft, talked about Windows 8 in great detail. (I recommend you visit
for a transcript of this fascinating discussion. We found out that Windows 8 will probably not be the final name of the product. Instead, it’s a codename, much like Longhorn was a codename for Windows Vista at the time. I’m not sure when we will find out the final name of Windows 8, but my bets are on late 2011 as a Christmas gift or early 2012. In a year’s time from now, we will be tentatively waiting for the OS to be given to computer manufacturers and hardware makers.

There’s a rough year ahead, but only if you plan on installing Windows 8 on your computers and evaluating every copy that leaks to the internet. I have said that I’m walking a tight line here, but as always I feel it very necessary to let the public know of what’s ahead. This, in my opinion, applies both as equally for the sighted as it does universally to the world of assistive technology. If the public isn’t aware of how their next computers might look and function, they might be in for a shock come 2013. Either that, or everyone sticks with Windows 7, which will, by the time, be almost 4 years old. And XP, well, XP will be like Windows 2.0 was during the XP days, in terms of age. We all must acknowledge that we can’t stay stuck for too long with the “best thing”, otherwise the thing that was the best will slowly become deprecated over time. I would imagine that for 3-5 years once windows 8 is released, windows 7 will enjoy mainstream support. But by that time, we’ll be looking forward to the next Windows, and only time knows what changes that will usher into the desktop and the tablet.

I have talked about the concept which is being engineered behind Windows 8 before, for a long time. The idea of “Windows everywhere”. Basically, Microsoft is now realizing what Apple realized 3 years ago: In order to make a well-designed and streamlined product, they have to make life more universal for all the devices it runs on. Whether this strategy will be successful for them is up for debate, but it’s even said that the next version of Windows phone could possibly be a scaled down copy of Windows 8. All this is just the roomermill, though, so take that with a grain of salt.

About Build 7989

Build 7989 was compiled on April 21st, 2011, and won’t expire until March 15th, 2012. When compared to 7955, it sports many “internal” changes, which for me, so far, make it the most stable Windows 8 build I have ever run. It is an x64 release, meaning that it cannot run on my old Thinkpad t60. Oops.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has not done anything to change the poor state of x64 Windows. Your program Files folders are still split into an x86 and regular (x64) directories, and the sysWow64 folder which contains all 64-bit dlls, is still present. While I realize the need to keep legacy applications to run in Windows, no other 64-bit operating system today manages it’s 32-bit compatibility in such a poor manner. All gripes aside though, the speed of Windows 8 is not effected by it being a 64-bit build.
From my “About Windows Dialog”:

Microsoft Pre-release Windows Operating System
Version 6.2 (Build 7989.0.amd64fre.winmain.110421-1825).615974c7346f7374
Copyright � 2011 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
The Microsoft Pre-release Windows Operating System and its user interface are protected by trademark and other pending or existing intellectual property rights in the United States and other countries/regions.
Evaluation copy. Expires 3/15/2012 7:59 PM
Unauthorized use or disclosure in any manner may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment (in the case of employees), termination of an assignment or contract (in the case of contingent staff), and potential civil and criminal liability


First Impressions: A radical shift in accessibility.

I am going to talk briefly about Microsoft’s intentions on accessibility, because it was the first noticeable change I found in Windows 8. I would imagine this information is not important for the sighted, but if you are a Windows developer, you may want to take note, because although the blind/disabled market is a small one, it is important to develop applications on the basis that they will work for everyone.
Windows 8 is finally getting rid of display mirroring. Last year, Microsoft announced their intentions to do this, and they really weren’t joking at the time, either. Windows 8 7989 can no longer work with mirror display drivers. For those that don’t exactly know what those are, they replicate, or mirror, the contents of the display for screen reading and other assistive technology software. In many mainstream screen readers, mirroring is one of the only ways the product gathers information on what is on the screen.

This is rather unfortunate, as with Windows 8, mirror drivers will install and appear to function normally in the system, but will not provide information to the screen reader. I can honestly say that I grew a few gray hairs trying to figure out just what was wrong after I first installed 7989. JAWS (and later, Window-eyes 7.2) installed fine, reported no errors, yet my abilities to read what is under the mouse were severely limited. This showed me two things, right off the bat. 1, That Window-eyes and JAWS, particularly the ladder, rely too much on the information they gather from this extra device driver. Other screen access solutions, such as NVDA and Serotek’s System Access, worked very well with Windows 8, until they too began experiencing problems which I will discuss later in this document.

Both GwMicro and Freedom Scientific are going to have to radically rethink and shift their stance on screen reading if they wish to survive in a post – Windows 8 world.
Entering Microsoft’s Narrator into the picture, it will be even harder for these companies to make big bucks off something as basic as screen reading. I believe in the idea that screen reading, and accessibility for that matter, is something that shouldn’t be a question, but should be naturally implemented. Therefore, I do not see much justification in $1095, especially now that we have open-source solutions like NVDA on the seen. NVDA was coded by 2 very dedicated people, and never once have they used money or expenses for justifying development. Windows 8 will be in favor of free or low-cost screen readers like System Access, because the competition will be about providing users something which is greater or is used differently than Microsoft’s own solution. For many users, Narrator’s “voiceover-like” approach to screen navigation is too much of a shift, and for these individuals alternatives like NVDA or SA will be their way of enjoying their freedom of choice. No, life will not become a monopoly once people adopt Windows 8.

Couple this with Microsoft’s increased requests for using UI automation, we have a pretty clear picture of how Windows 8 will be used. Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not publish strict development guidelines for Windows developers. It also seems as though that with Windows 8, they are increasingly starting to advocate HTML 5 and the web, which would mean that all screen readers will have the same amount of access to material, regardless of company. While our world won’t become HTML5 only, increased reliance on web applications will mean that companies will be able to make easy to use products for those with disabilities.

Narrator: What’s changed and new?

At this point, it is very hard to say if Microsoft is or isn’t committed to accessibility. In build 7955, we saw the introduction of 28 extra commands to Narrator, which totaled the exact number to a whopping 56 commands. 56! That is a very good amount for a start, but I would still like to see more extensible web navigation and cursor reading commands. As of now, navigating websites is virtually impossible and tedious to do with Narrator. Yet there still is a year ahead, so I have no concerns that if Microsoft wants to pull this together, they will have no problems perfecting Narrator as a powerful screen reader. Add in a voice which is more natural than Microsoft Anna, and we will have a winner.

Red Pill: More features to unlock!

In build 7955, a program so called a Red Pill was created to unlock new Windows 8 functionality that has been purposefully hidden by Microsoft engineers. The Red Pill, as so called, allows for the unlocking of several new features, including the ribbon view in Windows Explorer, a new logon dialog which is styled after Windows Phone 7, a new task manager, PDF reader, and even the Internet explorer which is designed for tablets.

In 7955, I only had the red pill activated briefly, because I found that a lot of features, like the new log-on window, were not accessible for blind users. I would place my computer in standby, only to find that once I returned, I could not log back in because, well, no screen reader could focus the cursor to my user name and the password box. In build 7989, I do not have this problem anymore. I have successfully used NVDA and System Access to log back into my computer. Although the buttons are not focusable by tabbing, using the Virtual Mouse and NVDA’s object navigation allowed me to see them and interact with the controls. There must have been changes here which finally allowed access for screen readers. Score 1 for Microsoft.

New System Settings dialog for Tablet Computers

In build 7955, I saw the introduction of a new system settings dialog, which was made for tablet computers. It allows for functions like turning off wi-fi, changing date and time, and even changing the behavior of the virtual keyboard. It again was a dialog which I could not access easily, but in 7989, I can now read the labels of the links. Tabbing around only results in the word “link” “link” being announced, but using object navigation actually lets me read and deduce what each link is for. In short, this dialog is your one-stop way of changing basic tablet system functionality.

A new Portable Workspaces Creator: 32 GB, Please

I discussed Portable Workspaces in detail during my review of build 7850. It’s the Windows functionality which lets you create a USB copy of Windows and use it to boot your computer, allowing you to have a fully functional copy of Windows. There has been a major redesign of this dialog. Let’s take a look.

Portable Workspace Creator
Portable Workspace is a Windows feature that allows you to run Windows from a USB storage device.
Search automatically for a pre-configured device. Button. I have a USB Drive that was configured by my organization. Windows will automatically create my Portable Workspace.

Create a new Portable Workspace. Button. I would like to evaluate or customize my Portable Workspace. Guide me through the creation of a new Portable Workspace.
What is Portable Workspace? link

As you can see, the new ability to search for a configured device is pretty interesting. It seems to allow you to load existing data from the device into your current copy of Windows 8, though I have not been able to test the function.
However, to make matters worse, Microsoft has increased the disk requirements to 32 GB from 16 GB. This makes the idea of using a portable workspace on a flash drive virtually impossible, and understandably, nobody wants students to tamper with school computers by creating their own windows 8 flash drives to boot.

More on the .APX file extension:

In windows 8, evidence of a new .APX application model is slowly mounting. There is a new command line utility, located in c:windowssystem32installAPX.exe , which allows for the deployment and installation of this new model. It is said that .APX files use Microsoft Silverlite technology to run programs. The only concern here, of course, comes for those who use a screen reader, as silverlite applications are not the most accessible out there. Also, in Group policies, system administrators can now limit the installation of .APX files. The new setting, called “Allow all Trusted Applications to Install”, allows for APX files to be limited based on their certificates.

Putting System Reset to the Test.

I was finally able to try out the new System Reset feature, which lets you restore Windows 8 to it’s default state without having to format your entire computer over. The functionality is very useful if you are experiencing issues with your computer’s stability, but don’t want to wipe all your data. Once you run the System reset wizard, you are greeted with the following:
“System Reset dialog.
Do you want to keep user accounts and personal files?
Yes, keep User accounts and Personal accounts. Radio button. Checked.
No, Remove Everything from the Drive where Windows is installed. Radio Button. Not checked.
Help me Choose. Link
System reset will remove all programs you’ve installed and restore default Windows settings. If you choose to keep user accounts and personal files, they will be available after your computer is restored.

The process from here on out is pretty simple. Your computer will restart, after which the reset process will begin. Once your system is reset, another restart should bring up the new copy of Windows, with all programs removed yet user accounts intact.
I am using the word should there for a reason. In my experiences with 7989, I was told that “this hardware is not supported.” after the second phase of my reset.

It took me an entire re-install from a DVD to get Windows 8 back, and even then, oddly enough, my username was still in c:users, which meant that I had to create a second username, log in, move my old user folder somewhere, create a username with my own name, log out, log in to the new user, delete the first user, and restore my data from the folder I moved my old user files to. A hassle? Yes, you bet. I don’t see the process as bad in the final Windows 8 release though, ideally you should be able to reset your system and come back 20 minutes later to a brand new fresh windows. Only your documents and desktop files are kept, all shortcuts are erased as they would not work do to the program files being removed.

The Brand New Metro User interface.

As stated, the new log on dialog is inspired by Windows phone 7. Microsoft is intending to move Windows and Windows Phone 7 into a unified view. This means that just as Apple has done with Lion, Windows 8 will include the tile-based interface.
But unlike Apple, Microsoft is completely ditching the start menu and taskbar for a grid-style view. To go back to “classic” Windows, the user would start an application called Desktop on their start screen. Instead of taking you to the start menu, the windows key would present your start screen, where you could launch the desktop application and see your familiar Windows View.

This is no simple change. I can see many users detesting Windows for it’s new interface, and on a personal level, it brings back memories of Windows 3.1, although this is nothing like the program groups of 1994. Tiles can auto-update, for example, your Facebook tile could display live content as it happens. In windows 3.1, you had icons, and you had to switch between program groups such as accessories and entertainment. Similarly, you have a grid here which displays content.

Screen reader testing: Compatibility and Accessibility

NVDA seems to stand out as a clear winner for a third-party Windows screen reader. It is responsive and well usable within Windows 8, though there are some very odd quirks which make the latest snapshot builds impossible or very hard to use. Often times, when running a program, errors about a certain Verfault.exe come up, stating information about memory access violation. These errors, from what I am noticing, do not occur in snapshot 4121, which is one of the only other earlier snapshots I have access to. I don’t exactly know from which point this starts, but already in snapshot 4472, NVDA crashes winver.exe . In snapshot 4487, running Windos Task manager results in a Windows Shell common DLL crash, and with the sound settings dialog, a crash of rundll32.exe.System access works well, accept for a few problems. Combo Boxes or drop-down lists in Internet Explorer 9 cannot be expanded and used. After about a day of using System Access, it stopped talking all together, and uninstalling/reinstalling the product did not fix the problem of no speech. Speech only seems to exist in System Access’ own menus and dialogs.

As mentioned, JAWS and Window-eyes have come to over-use video hooks. This makes them nothing more than a nice dummy screen reader, as they can only read basic and very little information. In fact, JAWS, when restarted a second time, is known to cause a nice memory dump which lasts a total of 8 minutes and 13 seconds. During this time, my computer’s processor overheats, so I do not advise running windows 8 and JAWS much. GWMicro has a better fait, as Window-eyes runs fine and is very responsive. It can provide much more detail about screens than could JAWS, and overall I would rank it as the 3rd best screen reader, NVDA and System Access still being the first 2.


As it stands, Windows 8 will continue to be the Operating System I will use on this main laptop. I know, I am very crazy for saying this, right? I have been using 7955 for over a month, and even though I have to rely on NVDA for my daily Screen reading needs, I find myself enjoying the experience quite nicely. Windows 8 runs faster, is more responsive, and uses half the ram when compared to Windows 7. Thus, it’s safe to say that your old Pentium 4 computers don’t have to be thrown out into the trash, provided that they have at least 1 GB of memory.

I feel that for a lot of users, there are many concerns. Don’t worry, I understand. Microsoft is once again turning the world of computer users upside down, and it is one thing I am not completely happy about. Will Windows 8 be Microsoft’s next Vista? That depends on who you are. The general stability of the OS is far greater than that of Vista’s problems during launch. Application compatibility is pretty decent, and with this 7989 build, programs like skype work fine now. The only new, and perhaps bit daunting experience will be the complete redesign of the way you use Windows. For those of us in the access field, we need to warn companies like Freedom Scientific and GWMicro to plan ahead, so that prior to next June, their screen readers will work with Windows 8. I would really like to see partial if not full Windows 8 support in the mainstream screen readers by the time the second beta hits. I find it very unfair that those of us who take time and evaluate Windows for the sake of helping corporations receive silent treatment, because it results in screen reading software not working properly on the product’s launch date. GWMicro has done an amazing job at being ready weeks prior to launch, but JAWS has known to sometimes be months away from a fully functional release even after the new operating system has been released. With the creation of Microsoft’s screen reader, these corporations have to realize that unless they speed up their pace of advancement, they will be left behind in the dust. The future holds great promises for Windows 8. Staying positive yet firm in letting others know, with an open mind, of what is coming is the only solution to making the transition a smooth and bump-free ride for everyone. Your journey does not end here, of course. There are many more builds to come, and this is just the beginning.

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