This week Microsoft released its beta of windows 7. Ive been able to take a good look at some of the new features that are available for disabled users and to share some first impressions. The version I looked at was described by one Microsoft guy as vista point 1 - and it is impressive.
Some of the immediate things that jumped out at me were
1 The new On Screen Keyboard
In the beta the OSK is completely re-sizable and has word prediction integrated. Both of these are really important, for many users the old OSK was just too small to be functional, and the ability to make it fill as much of the screen as you like is great. That’s especially true when you combine it with a touchscreen device. (more of that later) The word prediction seems very functional and clear - its great that its built into the OS rather than Office as it means that it should work with all applications.
Magnifier now has a full screen mode as well as a lens allowing you to view a part of the screen at any one time. It seemed very easy to use and whilst the fonts dont smooth quite as well as I would like it still seemed quite readable at up to 200% - This is now a great way to introduce levels of magnification to users without any software to be installed.
3 Voice recognition
Lots of general improvements have taken place, but I especially noted the ability to create individual profiles for users easily. You can also introduce a hands free operation mode for those with no use of mouse or keyboard. The system I was using had no headset but immediate responses were favourable.
Windows 7 comes with drivers to support tablet, touch and multitouch interfaces. Let me say that again, native drivers for touch and multitouch. This is going to make touch devices widely available - Ive blogged before on the value of touch but this is a major step forward, watch this space for more details on this
5 Display settings
Changting display settings has always been a bot of a pain in windows but this has been improved in a big way. You can now choose between font sizes and presentation in windows as 100% 150% or 200% at one click from the display option in the control panel, very easy to use and reset.
Before you ask I didnt get a chance to test narrator - but watch this space for more details when I do
So first impressions are really positive the whole thing is faster and has a smaller footprint – users I met described it working on a 233mhz Pentium 2 or on a netbook with 1gb ram - thats got to make the uptake of some of these new technologies easier and cheaper for users.
The other area which was worth noting was the new compatibility wizard. windows now takes you through a step by step wizard to try to get software that wont run in windows 7 to work with some OS changes. It seemed very easy to use and quite effective and may well help those with older AT or legacy software. Microsoft assured me that pretty much all Vista software will run on windows 7 unless the software had been written to exploit a bug in Vista etc
You can download a copy of the beta at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/beta-download.aspx
There are also some videos of the beta at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/beta-videos.aspx
Sadly no video of the accessibility options yet !
Overall what can I say - is it a step forward to disabled users ? well first impressions seem to suggest its more of a leap really !