In a move that is unsurprising to most, VFO/Freedom Scientific, makers of the JAWS for Windows screen reader, has discontinued sales and support for former competitor Window-Eyes, previously made by GW Micro and then AI Squared. Current Window-Eyes users are entitled to a copy of JAWS 18 free of charge.
Window-Eyes was the brainchild of Dan Weirich and Doug Geoffray, who created the screen reader based off of the success of Vocal-Eyes, one of the most popular screen readers for DOS computers in the early 90s.
Over time, Window-Eyes was the first to introduce many modern features including support for reading PDF documents and flash controls. In version 7, an innovative scripting model using mainstream programming languages expanded the power of Window-Eyes.
GW Micro formed a partnership with Microsoft to offer a free copy of the software for users of Microsoft Office. This version still remains available though it too will no longer be updated.
Window-Eyes was often hampered by a lack of resources and market share versus its competitors, namely JAWS which was and still is widely used in many corporate and government arenas. Freedom Scientific unsuccessfully sued GW Micro for patent infringement regarding the use of place markers on websites.
In 2014, GW Micro was acquired by AI Squared, the makers of the ZoomText magnification software. This match seemed to create some synergies which resulted in a new product, ZoomText Fusion, which combined the screen reading features of Window-Eyes with the magnification power of ZoomText. Now, Fusion is running using ZoomText and JAWS.
In 2016, AI Squared was itself acquired by VFO, leading to today's news. This left VFO with two screen readers and two magnification programs, making it unlikely that both would survive. Window-Eyes updates continued for several months though they were mainly bug fix releases.
Window-Eyes users can get a copy of JAWS 18 by filling out a form which we've linked to below. Users can choose the home or professional versions of JAWS, though the latter will require more money to upgrade in the future and the home version is intended for noncommercial users. In essence, business customers will see the price of the SMA counts double.
We'll have more analysis of this news on our next podcast as well as on Blind Bargains.
Here's the complete announcement.
Ai Squared - Window-Eyes - JAWS Migration
Thank you for being a valued member of the GW Micro and Window-Eyes family. We regret to announce that sales of Window-Eyes have ended in the United States and Canada. Users outside of the United States and Canada should contact their local distributor for options. We are committed to our customers and will honor existing product purchases and software maintenance agreements, and we will continue to provide technical support to end users that have purchased Window-Eyes or a support package. All users who are currently using Window-Eyes can continue to use the software indefinitely; however, as the Windows® operating system and/or applications change over time, Window-Eyes may not function adequately for your needs.
We understand how important a screen reader is to you and are offering JAWS® for Windows 18 as a replacement. We are committed to providing a smooth transition and will honor existing Window-Eyes product purchases and software maintenance agreements, as follows.
• End users that paid for and are current with Window-Eyes 9.x will be converted to JAWS 18 at no charge.
• If you are using an earlier version of Window-Eyes, you can purchase an upgrade to JAWS 18.
• If you are using the free version of Window-Eyes you can continue to use it. While there is not an upgrade path from the free version, if you are interested in purchasing JAWS, please contact our sales team at 800-444-4443.
• Existing Window-Eyes SMAs will be rolled into the JAWS SMA program for end users that migrate to JAWS.
Detailed upgrade and SMA pricing information is provided below.
To make this process as easy as possible, we ask you to complete a simple web form that will go directly to our sales team, who will then contact you with an authorization code for JAWS 18, or request additional information if necessary.
Requests for upgrades must be submitted at http://www.gwmicro.com/window-eyes/migrateform or by phone at 800-444-4443 by July 31, 2017. Note, the free Window-Eyes Offer for Users of Microsoft Office version is not part of the conversion program.
In one sense this is sad news indeed, but on the other hand it was expected that something like this would happen. After all, one company like BFO cannot be expected to sell two software packages that does roughly the same thing. In a way, I liked some of the features that WwindowEyes had in it. For example, take a look at the scripting language of WwindowEyes. You could use some of what you knew already of other computer languages and the like into account when scripting WindowEyes. I doubt that the scripting of WindowEyes will not be carried over. I am used to JAWS myself, but those who are transferring over maybe not be used to it. I do wonder how hard it would be for those people to transfer over. The next to go maybe magic or zoom text. I will let others decide which one of those make it out on top. Then again, zoom text maybe?
Sky Mundell Tuesday, 16-May-2017 12:07 AM ET:
As a 10 year Window-Eyes user, I am very heartbroken over this news. Window-Eyes, allowed me to do many things. It allowed me to go to university, and I even got certified in it and taught a few clients how to use it. I must say that, in Scotland, Window-Eyes was promoted in a college called Motherwell college by a guy called Robert Donald. Robert was a very strong advocate of Window-Eyes. He detested how JAWS was promoted in the education system and i'm going to repeat his words that he said to his students. His words goes like this: Its widely known by Window-Eyes users that it isn't a choice in education and employment. Below, is his bio that I got from one of his students. Robert Donald Biography. There are blind and Visually Impaired people, who take on huge challenges, who either give up or admit defeat. Robert did neither. He was born in a small town in the West of Scotland called Coatbridge. At the time it was a heavily industrialised area with Coal mines, Steel works and their associated businesses. Robert followed in the footsteps of his father and went from school to become an apprentice in an Engineering company. In his early Twenties he was diagnosed with Diabetes type 1. A very debilitating medical condition for anyone to deal with. Robert was by that time married with two children. As his condition deteriorated his sight began to fail. Society at that time had very little to offer blind people with the means of employment. Employment was itself diminishing in the area, as Heavy industrial companies closed and moved out of the district. Robert decided to learn Braille by himself. At that time there were no screen reading programs and the only talking computer was a bib model. He then applied to Glasgow University for a Mathematics Degree course, which he subsequently passed with honours. Once again jobs for blind people in this field were impossible to secure. He then returned to College to further his academic qualifications. The route he took was through Motherwell College. In 1995 a Company called GWMicro produced a screen reader for blind people. There were other screen readers on the market but Robert found this program to his liking. He learned all he could about Window-eyes and was aware at the time that this new world of computing and the internet was about to change the lives of the entire world. For the first time he felt blind people could participate in this new technology and change their lives forever. When his studying was completed he approached Motherwell College board of trustees with an ambitious plan for blind people. He advocated that a classroom be set up Where Visually Impaired and blind people could be trained on a special program called Window-eyes. This program assisted him immensely with his studies at Motherwell College. He never gave up his dream and continually persuaded Lecturer’s and Management in the College that this would ensure Visually impaired and blind people, could progress from Motherwell College to Higher Education and then into the workplace. After several years of dedicating his time to prove his dream was a worthwhile project. His dream did come true. In 1992, a classroom was dedicated to exactly what Robert Donald had dreamed of. A place where ordinary blind and Visually Impaired people could learn about the world of computing, the world of Microsoft Office and an opportunity to put their skills to move upwards into Higher Education. Their World was their Oyster. With this self-arming knowledge, what was a normal life, having to depend on people to read them Daily Newspaper’s, Books and Letter’s was now in their own hands. With this revolutionary technology, they could do all these things and more. They were not alone in the world. Every aspect of the World Wide Web was at their fingertips with this new innovative screen reading program called Window-eyes. Robert taught hundreds of Student’s in the West of Scotland all about Window-eyes, the Internet, and Microsoft Office and about the power of Window-eyes itself. His dedication and strength of commitment was second to none. He continually ensured that his student’s had the latest computer’s, the latest operating system and of course the latest ‘Window-eyes program. At no time did he ever stop fighting for his student’s right to education and the right to be taught how to use the technology that would give them that knowledge... In 2008 Robert’s health deteriorated and he was forced to give up his job teaching at Motherwell College. Sadly a few years later he died from serious health complications of Diabetes. When the New Motherwell College was built, There was no classroom set aside for blind people to learn Window-eyes or any other screen reading program. Robert Donald dedicated every ounce of energy he had to his project of teaching blind and visually impaired people Window-eyes. Many of whom went on to University and gained academic qualifications. This was thanks to Robert Donald alone. Without people like Robert and Academic agencies willing to take a bold step forward and teach blind people these skills. There will be very little advancement for blind people in today’s society and to read back every single word they have written. That is a bio of a guy who managed to get Window-Eyes in a college and to teach it to hundreds of students there. Before bashing it, I would strongly erge everyone who reads this comment to think about this guys leggecy and what he did for the blind in Scotland in promoting Window-Eyes, the competitor to JAWS, in a college.
joshknnd1982 Tuesday, 16-May-2017 11:25 AM ET:
I wrote to freedom Scientific or VFO a few times telling them practically how to lower the price of Jaws. I will re-state here, what I sent to them. If VFO wants to greatly lower the price of Jaws for users who are on very low incomes and in third world countries now that they have more developers they should put some of those developers to work on improving espeak and its multilingual ability along with improvement of its klatt based voices. In edition, make a version of jaws in which all of the nuance products are removed or ripped out. Replace nuance omniPage with google OCR or tesseract for OCR. Replace eloquence with espeak or better yet, VFO's own forked version of espeak with improved klatt-voices and improved multilingual abilities. For natural voices, include the free speechHub.org voices along with microsoft speech platform voices. Disable network install over a lan, home users most of them don't need that. make this jaws a download-only or $20 or $30 for dvd version with some basic training on the dvd. Free jaws would have no tech support unless you pay extra for it, no nuance goodies unless you pay extra for those. This free or low-cost jaws would have no sma agreement so unlimited upgrades.
Marcie Brink-Chaney Wednesday, 17-May-2017 1:46 PM ET:
I just remember a few things that made Gw Micro and Window Eyes unique. In the 1990's I could use WE to access a map of Michigan to get to my area's unemployment office and this was not accessible using another screen reader (not JAWS). When trying to use bullets and charts, WE gave descriptions of what the charts and bullets looked like in order for a blind user to choose the one needed. The company had a payment plan for users who could not afford an outlay of around 700 dollars. Also, when Microsoft was creating VISTA, it invited screen reader producers to come to help them make VISTA more accessible. GW Micro was the only company who came. Only once did I have trouble getting an answer from GW Micro's tech support and most of the time, it was excellent. With major companies trying and/or succeeding to build in accessibility into their products, I wonder how long third party companies will last if Microsoft Google, Amazon and others succeed as well as Apple has.
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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.