Accessibility and Microsoft’s future: A Great Unknown

I’m a huge believer in accessibility and user experience.  The world’s filled with brands, devices, platforms and employees at companies big and tiny that are either half wits, moderately intelligent or, like Apple and its new version of iOS (version 5) with Siri, geniuses in the user experience game.  Microsoft’s been in mid-League and seems to be only making fits and starts toward where they need to be and must be for people to take Windows 8 seriously as a competitor to the Mac super star.  If Microsoft takes the steps I outline in the text below, it’ll be on its way to (if not already) surpassing Apple.  Taking some of the steps would probably take them to a plateau beneath Apple depending on which steps they take and whether Apple conter-acts/hasn’t already countered their moves.  Let’s see where the great (or not so great) software beast goes from here.

From what I’ve seen so far, Microsoft’s only updated one piece of its Accessibility puzzle, Magnifier.  It’ll have to do better than that if it wants to catch up to and defeat Apple’s drive for device and content accessibility.  In the following paragraphs, I will discuss Windows 8, Office, Ease of Access, Cloud Computing, Touch and Speech and more.

Windows 8

What I’ve seen in Windows 8 is a feature in Magnifier where you can make the magnified view fill the screen, but that’s the basic of basic features on every commercially available screen magnification system today.  Here are my top 20 things I’d love to see made available to the disabled in Windows 8.

  1. Screen access technology with off-the-shelf text-to-speech (TTS) engines and voices.
  2. Universal Access (save, use and change settings across devices and they go anywhere through Windows Live services)
  3. One click or touch access to universal access features including speech recognition and screen navigation tools put in an instantly identifiable location (putting to shame Apple’s multiple touches to these features)
  4. From boot access to the “Live Tiles” of the start screen
  5. Universal Access Multi-user Device Mode (allowing users to turn on or off the features based on their preferences and at or before login so they can access the login screen the way they like)
  6. One touch toggle to classic “Desktop” view for those who don’t want the “Live Tiles” approach
  7. Pop-up Search (one touch or click pop-up search bar)
  8. One simplified access point instead of “My Computer, “My Documents, “My Network Places” and so on called a “One Stop” with access to the control panel, network access indicated in a sidebar or toolbar, VHD or VM mounting and so much more in one window
  9. Universal Sync (allows users to sync documents, songs, playlists, settings and so on across all devices without having a spaghetti bowl of cables strung around the computer
  10. Free/low price consumer, job seeker and small business no questions asked access to the cloud built right in
  11. A Free blog for all users with a walk-through video for people new to the blog space
  12. Free/Low cost Power user tools for remote training, remote server access and so on
  13. A commitment to making all Windows 8 apps accessible
  14. Free inclusion of media apps and the essentials to access their content in ALL tablets
  15. An easier way to connect and collaborate across  a home or office
  16. Socialized games for Windows
  17. Access to game content from XBOX & XBOX Live
  18. Faster device recognition and “Home Group” access for new device a user purchases, existing devices in the home/office and foreign devices (on home networks only for foreign devices)
  19. A platform where interested users can test, develop and surface apps faster with more security
  20. An app store optimized for accessibility and that mandates accessibile features to get in
  21. Automatic awareness of system problems before there’s a need for error reporting (in fact, eliminating it)
  22. Automatic data compression to save disk space and make “Disk Cleanup” a fading past necessity (if not completely obsolete)

Office

The only innovation I’ve seen since when I first started using Office in the 90’s is the Ribbon which was austencibly to make features more easily locatable.  That’s worked (somewhat), but here are 10 features I believe would make Office more likable, user friendly and more powerful, of course.

  • Office Search (search for files, templates, help and in the community by context or across Office)
  • More intuitive file menu and ribbon navigation
  • Quick Styles and Quick Document Parts/Pages (like Table of Contents or Bibliography or Form fields with settings
  • Readability Stats after Spell & Grammar Check
  • Automatic updates of new dictionary terms
  • Automatic name, language, context, common sense spelling error and other recognition features built in
  • A consumer-driven and only collaboration product in application form built into the consumer suites
  • Office Social (access to Linked In, Facebook and other tools to find friends and collaborators)
  • Email Quick Parts
  • Intuitive, less ugly method of removing Outlook accounts and inboxes and maintaining contacts, calendars, etc.

Cloud Computing

I’m not a big believer in this, but since it seems to be a huge part of Microsoft (and the planet’s) future, I thought I’d share an ideal from a consumer perspective not employed by anyone (especially by anyone interested in or pursuing cloud computing).

First, I’d like to say that the consumer should get the chance to work within a cloud environment like small businesses (and especially large enterprises) get to.  That doesn’t mean I want all consumers (or any consumer for that matter) to be charged the big (or small) business price to play in the cloud.  It simply means that I want the consumer to be able to collaborate with tools like Office 365, work with Windows and (if possible) SQL Azure and so on.

Second, I’d like to see the cloud be more open and come to a point where a version of Microsoft Windows, MacOS or whatever running as a “Cloud OS” and devices can be purchased that are completely cloud savvy and never leave the cloud.  The cloud would drive the system (a time where all devices would be like the Chromebook except with different versions for different classes of users).

Touch and Speech

Touch is fantastic, which I found out when I bought myself a new iPad 32GB last March.  It trumps keyboard and mouse every day (except typing).  I’m not much of a fan of the on screen keyboard, but I wouldn’t have to be if we had a better, smarter, more savvy and more learned speech recognition system around and on every device we owned.  The iPhone 4S makes great strides toward this with its Siri speech recignition engine.  That’s the kind of power I’d love to see in the hands, in front of or in the pocket of every user on the planet.  What an unlocking, socializing and empowering world that would be.  You, Microsoft, made a small stride toward that with Kinect’s speech recognition, but Siri and iPhone 4S made it so you could pull your iPhone out of your pocket and ask it for nearby locksmiths or restaurants or what color things were or whatever.  That’s the power of a fabulous speech recognition system and that’s what should be on every Microsoft Windows device from the largest Supercomputer down to the Windows Phone 7 Series with Mango running on it.

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