.NET Framework Version Error When Installing Visual Studio 2012

I received a few messages from readers recently asking about an error message they receive when trying to install the release version of Visual Studio 2012 on their Windows 8 system (I imagine that the same error will occur when installing on Windows Server 2012, but no one has contacted me about it). The error says that Visual Studio 2012 can’t install because the version of the .NET Framework 4.5 is wrong.

Unfortunately, the error message isn’t very helpful. You can’t install a new version of the .NET Framework 4.5 over the top of the existing installation. In addition, you can’t uninstall the old version and then install the new version because Windows 8 requires the .NET Framework 4.5 for certain operating system elements. In short, there isn’t any apparent way to fix the problem.

The issue will go away at some point because it originates as a conflict between the Windows 8 version and the Visual Studio 2012 requirements. Every reader who has had this problem is using a non-released version of Windows 8 (normally the RC version). You can’t install the release version of Visual Studio 2012 on a non-release version of Windows 8. I’m assuming that the same error occurs if you try to install a release version of Visual Studio 2012 on a non-release version of Windows Server 2012, but I’d like to hear if anyone has tried this out at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

What concerns me about this particular error is that it’s one time where Microsoft could have (and probably should have) come up with a substantially better error message or provided some sort of Knowledge Base article on the topic. As far as I know, there isn’t any such article and developers are currently having to rely on community support to fix this problem. It isn’t the first time Microsoft has left developers wondering. If you ever encounter this sort of problem, please let me know about it. If I can confirm the issue, I’ll put together a blog entry about it to get the word out to others in order to save them a bit of time.

 

Controlling Windows 8 Support Costs

Windows 8 presents a new interface and new methods of working with the computer. Microsoft obviously wants to try to create a new image as a mobile device vendor by putting a tablet interface on a traditional desktop operating system. Whether the strategy will work or not is a significant topic of discussion. Some pundits, such as Wood Leonard, consider the new Metro interface as the worst mistake that Microsoft has ever made. Other authors, like Ben Woods, are a bit more positive. You can find opinions between these two extremes over the entire Internet.

Change is always incredibly uncomfortable. I still remember the ruckus caused by the, now positively viewed, changes in Windows 95. Of course, Microsoft has had a few turkeys to its credit too, such as Vista. My experience has been that time shows whether a significant change will work or not. In this case, Microsoft really does have its work cut out for it. A less aggressive stance might have worked better, but the die is cast and we’ll soon see the results in terms of sales.

Windows 8 isn’t all bad news and you certainly shouldn’t approach the product from that perspective. While writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, I was also able to come up with some interesting product features and ways to make Windows 8 a little less of a shock to users. Some of these techniques, such as using a Start menu substitute, appear in my book. In fact, I discuss one of those alternatives in detail, ViStart. My conclusion is that it’s possible to reduce your support costs through careful management of the Windows 8 setup. You may also find that new security features actually reduce support costs by making it less likely that users will corrupt their systems.

Whether you like Windows 8 or not, you’re eventually going to have to support it unless you cut off all user access to other devices. Everything I’ve been reading as of late tells me that enterprises would just love to keep users from bringing in their own devices, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. With that in mind, I wrote an article entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8” that will help reduce the pain for administrators. I’d like to get your feedback on the article at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. More importantly, tell me your ideas for making the Windows 8 transition a little easier. If I receive enough good ideas, I’ll revisit this topic later.

 

Some Interesting Elements of Windows 8 Pricing and Licensing

As part of writing and tracking the products used for any book, including Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, I consider the pricing and licensing the reader can expect. Readers often contact me with product availability and pricing questions because it’s important to obtain the right product to use my books. Microsoft changes the packaging, licensing, and pricing of each new version of Windows, so one of the tasks I performed while writing the book was to keep up with the current licensing and packaging changes.

One of the issues with the current licensing strategies for Windows 8 is the loss of the activation grace period. Windows 8 activates differently, so Microsoft has had to change the way the entire installation process works. According to ComputerWorld (and verified by my recent installation of the RTM version), you must provide a key as part of the installation process. It’s impossible to bypass the key input as was allowed by previous version of Windows. The moment that Windows 8 detects an Internet connection, it authenticates the key and activates your product. The only way to evaluate Windows 8 is to get the trial version (good for 90 days, rather than the 120 days Microsoft allowed in the past). However, here’s the rub. You can’t update the trial version of Windows 8. If you decide that you want to obtain a licensed copy, you must wipe out your trial version and install the licensed copy from scratch. Online sources, like NetworkWorld, are already discussing the inconvenience of Microsoft’s new strategy. The main reason I’m presenting this information to you is that you should be prepared to backup your settings and start from scratch if you choose to use the trial version when reading my book and later choose to obtain a licensed copy.

In addition to changing the activation process and how you work with the product key, Microsoft also tried to rework the licensing terms to make them easier to understand. Unfortunately, according to SearchEnterpriseDesktop, the changes have only made the licensing harder to understand. According to the article, the licensing terms (also known as the Product Use Rights, or PUR) appear to make it illegal to run your standard copy of Windows 8 on a Virtual Machine (VM). Later the article says that you can install Windows 8 on a VM if you make an additional purchase, such as Software Assurance—a type of volume license. Other changes make it illegal to install your copy of Windows over a network connection (amongst other things). I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll probably read a number of these postings to figure out whether this particular claim is true.

The problem is that the various sites are contradicting each other and Microsoft hasn’t posted an easy to understand discussion of the topic. For example, when you read Ed Bott’s post on the same subject, you learn that it may be acceptable to install your copy of Windows 8 on a VM after all. Whether something is allowed or not seems to depend on the interpretation offered by the particular person reading the licensing agreement. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Microsoft is going to take the time to ensure no one is running their copy of Windows 8 on a VM and that Microsoft is also smart enough to know this. I tend to agree with Ed Bott in this case in assuming that installation on a VM is probably acceptable, but you should read the agreement yourself and make a decision based on how you view it.

Of course, everyone seems to assume that Microsoft has made these changes as a way of getting more money from each copy of Windows 8 it sell. I’m not sure what to think, except that it’s likely an attempt to make things better that didn’t work as planned. If you’re an administrator who needs to install a number of copies of Windows 8, it’s going to be a good idea to work through these new licensing terms before you make any assumptions about them. Home and small business users probably won’t see any differences because this group won’t typically run afoul of the new terms. I’m certain that Microsoft will provide an update on the licensing terms at some point that will clarify what it means by them to everyone, so don’t assume the worst for the time being.

What I’m most interested in finding out is how you perceive these new licensing terms. Do you think that these terms are a deal breaker? Will you end up spending a lot more time or money trying to get Windows 8 installed as a result of the new terms? Let me know your thoughts on this matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Introducing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference

I’ve just completed my 90th book, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference. This isn’t an in depth book designed to teach you everything there is to know about Windows 8 and the new Metro interface—instead, it provides you with an overview of most features and detailed procedures for working with the features that people will use most often. While writing this book, I looked online through various newsgroups for issues people have been encountering, checked out all of the latest news stories, and ensured I kept up-to-date on stories directly from Microsoft in the Building Windows 8 blog. As a consequence, this book contains input from all of the sources you’d check out if you had the time to do so. In addition, my beta readers and editors have done a phenomenal job of providing just the right input (thanks to everyone involved).

So, why do you need this book? Anyone who is updating from a current version of Windows to Windows 8 is going to find the Metro interface extremely confusing. It doesn’t work like the old interface and you’ll even find that the Start menu is missing. Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference is going to make it possible for you to become productive in an incredibly short time. I focused on the essentials in this book. The book’s arrangement makes it easy to find a specific item of interest quickly. The book content is arranged into the following parts:

 

  • The Big Picture: Windows 8
  • Part 1: Navigating the Metro Interface
  • Part 2: Navigating the Desktop Interface
  • Part 3: Using the Standard Applications
  • Part 4: Working with Gadgets
  • Part 5: Using Internet Explorer
  • Part 6: Configuring Your System
  • Part 7: Interacting with External Devices
  • Part 8: Accessing the Network
  • Part 9: Performing Administrative Tasks


As you can see, I’ve hit all of the highlights. Anyone who is already using an earlier version of Windows will want this book to get going quickly. Believe me, the Windows 8 interface is going to prove to be a major hurdle for adoption (something noted by almost every beta reader as well). If you’d rather be working than figuring out the interface, get a copy of my book!

I’ve assumed that there is going to be a strong interest in getting your current applications working in the Windows 8 environment, so there is only one chapter devoted to the Metro interface, along with mentions of it in other chapters. In fact, I even show you how to get around the lack of a Start menu (something I found particularly annoying while using Windows 8) using ViStart from Lee-Soft. Using ViStart definitely makes the Windows 8 environment friendlier to those of us who didn’t really want the Metro interface. You do find out how to work with Metro apps in this book, but it’s not a major topic because it will be a while before people start heavily investing in Metro apps (look for future posts in the Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference category for updates on using Metro apps).

Don’t worry, this book also discusses how to use touch to perform tasks and I even cover all of the keyboard shortcuts for those of you who prefer the keyboard over the mouse. In short, there is something in this book for everyone. Please let me know if you have any questions about my new book at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and I’ll do my best to answer them. In the meantime, happy reading!

 

Windows 8 User Beta Readers Needed

I’m starting a new book project, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, which means that I’m looking for beta readers. I try to get as many beta readers as I can involved in the project to enure that everyone gets a quality product. As noted in my Errors in Writing post, even the best author is only as good as the help he gets from others.

This is a user level book. My target audience has experience working with Windows, but there isn’t any requirement to have used Windows 8 in the past. I’ll be focusing on the desktop experience, rather than the Metro interface, even though there will be some Metro topics included by necessity. You don’t have to be a geek in order to be a beta reader for this book. I’m looking for people at every experience level. In fact, the less skilled you are, the better, because you’ll ask the sorts of questions that other readers ask most often.

It’s important to remember that beta readers provide direct input on my books while I’m writing them. In short, you get to help shape the final form of my book. Every beta reader comment is carefully considered and I implement as many of your suggestions as possible. Your input is incredibly important at this phase and unlike many other reader suggestions, you’ll see the results in the final product, rather than as a post on my blog after the fact.

Don’t worry about me bugging you for input. You sign up, I send the manuscript your way, and then, if you choose to provide suggestions on a particular chapter, you send the suggestions back to me. During the author review process (when I answer the questions of all of my editors), I’ll incorporate your suggestions. If you have any desire to work with Windows 8 and would like to be a beta reader for this book, ask for details at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Retiring Windows XP

A number of readers have written me recently to ask about Windows XP and its impending retirement. The same questions occurred when Microsoft decided to retire Windows 98 and many of the same conditions remain true. Whether you have a good personal reason to switch or not depends on what you’re doing with your computers. I imagine a lot of people are still running Windows XP because it continues to meet their needs. After all, one of the older versions of Office probably works fine for most home users (truth be told, I don’t use the vast majority of the new features in Office myself). Your games will continue to run, just as they always have. If the system is meeting your personal needs, there probably isn’t a good reason to upgrade it from a personal perspective.

That said, mainstream support for Windows XP ended April 14, 2009 and extended support will end on April 8, 2014. From a management perspective, Windows XP is becoming a liability in some situations. You’re already not getting any sort of bug updates for Windows XP.  When extended (paid) support ends, you won’t get any security fixes either. That could be a problem if your systems are attached to the Internet and someone finds a way to exploit the security problems in Windows XP (and believe me, they will). Let’s just say you want to have a newer OS in place before the support situation gets too bad if you’re planning to remain connected to the Internet.

Nothing says that you ever have to upgrade if you don’t want to. I still run a copy of Windows 98 for some older applications I have and love. That system has no connections to anything else—it’s a standalone system and there is no chance whatsoever of contamination from it. I don’t care about upgrades because I’m not running any new software on it. Basically, it’s a working museum piece. So, if you’re willing to use these older operating systems in a safe environment—go for it, but I wouldn’t recommend continuing to use Windows XP for much longer on a system connected to the Internet—time for an upgrade.

The other problem you’ll eventually encounter is hardware-related. I currently have three machine’s worth of spare parts for my Windows 98 museum piece. As long as I have spare parts, I can continue running that system and enjoying my old software on it, but there is going to come a time when the spares run out. At that point, using a new part in the old system doesn’t make sense. For one thing, the new part may not run at all because I won’t have drivers for it. In fact, the old motherboard may not even provide connectors for it. So, you may eventually have a need to upgrade your system simply because you no longer have working parts for the old one.

After I share my views on Windows XP, the next question that readers are asking is which operating system I recommend as an upgrade. My personal preference now is Windows 7 because it seems to be stable and offers improved security over Windows XP, without some of the issues presented by Windows Vista. I haven’t worked enough yet with Windows 8 to recommend it, but I feel that the new Metro Interface is likely to cause problems for people who have worked with Windows XP for a long time. The Windows 7 interface changes will be enough of a shock.

For me, the bottom line is that you’ll have to retire Windows XP eventually. Whether you retire it now or wait until later is up to you, but eventually you won’t have the hardware required to make the operating system perform well anymore. I ran into this problem at one point with Windows 3.1 and had to stop supporting any books that relied on that operating system. (As an interesting side note, I do maintain a DOS system and haven’t encountered any hardware so far that won’t run the ancient operating system.) I imagine that my Windows 98 museum piece will eventually fail too, never to rise again. If you truly enjoy using Windows XP, you shouldn’t let Microsoft dictate an upgrade to you. Then again, you have to consider the risks and eventual loss of ability to run the operating system. Let me know your thoughts about running museum piece systems at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Rise of the Touch Interface

I’ve been reading quite a lot about touch interfaces as of late. It seems as if vendors are determined to force everyone down the road to using touch interfaces whether the interface makes sense for every application or not. Because Windows 8 is placing such a strong emphasis on the Metro Interface, which focuses strongly on using a touch screen, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time thinking about how touch interfaces will affect computer usage in the future.

Let me begin by saying that from everything I’ve seen, touch interfaces probably work well for many consumer applications. For example, if you want to take some photos of the kids and then make some modifications to them before sending them to someone else, a touch interface probably does the job. However, my thoughts generally focus on business applications and the business environment where people are working in front of desktop systems most of the day. The focus of this post is on how the rise of the touch interface will work in the business environment.

The first consideration I made was size constraints. Touch interfaces work exceptionally well with smaller, handheld devices. There are some people who say that desktop computers are going the way of the dinosaur and that everyone will be using a tablet device at some point. I’m not persuaded that this changeover is going to take place. Although people may use a tablet and/or cellphone in addition to a desktop system at work, desktop computers are abundant and will probably remain so for a number of practical reasons.

 

  • The desktop computer screen is large enough to see well and to use for complex applications.
  • A desktop computer can use multiple screens.
  • It’s hard to run off with a desktop computer (in other words, steal it).
  • Desktop computers are easy to upgrade and maintain.
  • A desktop computer can contain more hardware than smaller platforms (such as add-ins for scientific or industrial work).
  • Multiple users can easily use a single desktop system.

I’ve read all of the arguments for using a cellphone or tablet to perform every business task and I just don’t buy them. Some tasks simply require a larger platform. (For example, I can’t imagine writing a book using a cellphone; the very idea is ridiculous). Unless someone comes out with a magic desktop platform killer, I doubt very much that the desktop computer is going to simply disappear. Even if such a platform should appear tomorrow, the installed base of desktop systems in immense. Replacing them is going to take time.

So, why the focus on desktop systems? The answer is simple. Desktop systems don’t work well with touch interfaces. Until you rid the world of the desktop, you’re going to need to support the keyboard and mouse interface. Some vendors just don’t understand this basic concept and think that users will somehow feel comfortable reaching over their keyboard (and whatever else is on their desk) to touch a monitor screen. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Let’s drop the desktop as an argument (partly because I can hear the hushed wind of many signs out there ). Even if you’re using a touch screen compatible device, there are going to be times when you want to type or you require more accuracy than a touch interface provides. Theoretically, this also means you’ll want to mouse about too. If the operating system isn’t friendly toward this sort of usage, the user is going to be less productive. More importantly, the user is going to become frustrated and use any other operating system that offers the flexibility that the user wants. For example, trying to draw anything detailed using a touch interface is nearly impossible (you really need a graphics tablet or a mouse to do that). Selecting things with fat fingers (such as the ones attached to my hands) is incredibly frustrating using a touch interface unless you’re talking about larger items (such as an entire icon).

The touch interface is here to stay. I can see how using a touch interface could speed certain tasks. Unfortunately, I can also see that using a touch interface exclusively will make certain tasks unnecessarily cumbersome and slow the user inordinately. As I work with various interface options, I see a touch interface as an addition to the current options, and not a replacement for them. What is your take on the touch interface? Have you used one? Have you used it to perform complex tasks without using any other sort of input device? I’d really appreciate getting your input on this topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Discovering Metro – The Apps

I’ve talked about the new Metro interface in Windows 8 a couple of times now. For example, in my Considering the New Metro Interface—Ribbon Redux? post, I considered how Metro compares to the Ribbon. In Accessibility on Windows 8 Metro, I discussed the shortcomings of Metro for the user with special needs. However, I haven’t really discussed the central purpose of Metro as of yet because there wasn’t really enough information to do so. Things have changed. A few recent posts about the Metro applications (apps for short) have me wondering what’s so amazing about this interface.

I keep comparing Windows 8 to Windows 7 for good reason. In writing Professional Windows 7 Development Guide I found a lot to like about Windows 7. I’m trying equally hard to find something to like about Windows 8, but so far, except for some truly exceptional lower level functionality that Microsoft seems intent on not discussing, I’m not finding too many positive things to say. I’m not alone in this regard. I recently read a post by Eric Knorr (a 22 year veteran author) who has decided the time has come to get a Mac, rather than continue his saga with Windows. Another post tries to put a positive spin on things by saying that Windows 8 represents an experiment, one where Microsoft can afford to fail.

My latest point of concern are the winners of the First Apps Contest. The top winner is a weather forecast application. It doesn’t appear to convey any more information than I get from Yahoo every morning when I start up my system. Of course, this makes me wonder just what to expect from the other winners. The next two winners are games of some sort—neither of which looks particularly interesting. I don’t dabble in the stock market, but the SigFig app is the only one in the list that looks remotely interesting. However, this particular app is a port from other platforms, so it’s not original or unique. The next three winners are…you guessed it, games. A final winner is a cookbook application. The description provided as part of the Microsoft post didn’t tell me enough about this particular app to know whether it’s going to be a valuable addition or not. The bottom line is that Microsoft chose eight apps to represent Metro and out of those apps five are games of dubious value. Let’s just say that I’m not impressed and leave it go at that. By the way, this post appeared on 29 February and has only garnered 10 comments to date—it appears that I’m not the only one that Microsoft failed to impress.

Today I read about app licensing and I began to wonder how many developers Microsoft will attract. Some of the terms make sense. For example, a developer can choose how long to provide a trial version of an app before the user must purchase it. However, the first possible problem that occurred to me is that once the trial is over for one user on a machine, it’s over for everyone. Machines often have multiple users. This policy makes it less likely that the various users will buy the app unless they all try it at the same time. The post doesn’t make it clear whether everyone on a machine can access the app once purchased or not, but if the license to use an app is sold on a per-user basis, this policy would tend to limit the number of licenses that a developer can expect to sell.

Developers will need to sell their apps with multiple installations in mind. Once the user has a license to use an app, the app can be installed on up to five machines. Theoretically, this means that five people could be using that same app at the same time—four of them would use the app for free. As a developer, that policy would worry me more than a little.

The app policy also makes it clear that all app updates are free to the user. Just how the developer will get compensated for the time and money invested in an update aren’t clear, but the current users won’t do their part to support the developer. Perhaps there is a good reason why Microsoft’s first contest only attracted game developers, a weather app, a cookbook, and some financial software.

I’m not precisely sure what users will want from their apps. It’s clear that the industry as a whole really wants to like Windows 8, but no one has a compelling reason to like it so far. The sad thing is that Windows 8 really does have some interesting features, such as a new file system, to offer, but Microsoft isn’t promoting these interesting features very much. What is your take on Windows 8 in general and Metro in specific? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Visual Studio 11 and Windows 8

The trade press is beginning to talk about Visual Studio 11 quite a bit more often now, even though the release of the initial beta won’t even happen today (coincident with the consumer release of Windows 8). The word on the streets is that you won’t see anything too exciting or unexpected in Visual Studio 11. Yes, Microsoft is making the usual laundry list of changes, but there isn’t anything that you wouldn’t expect them to add. Here’s a quick overview of the changes that I’ve been able to glean from the various articles I’ve read:

 

  • HTML5 and JavaScript support
  • Touch application support
  • Agile application development
  • Cloud application development
  • .NET Framework 4.5 support
  • Metro interface designers
  • Devops integration (a tool designed to make it easier for administrators and developers to communicate)
  • IntelliTrace updates that make it possible to trace activity in operational applications
  • Asynchronous programming updates
  • Parallel program development
  • Improved SharePoint support


In other words, Visual Studio 11 is targeting Windows 8 and Windows Azure development. Along with these changes, there are rumors that Microsoft will simplify the IDE to make it easier to use. I just hope that they don’t bury functionality in places where you can’t find it. The Ribbon interface that Microsoft is so fond of adding to other applications does just that—making them a nightmare for power users to use, while simultaneously reducing the learning curve for the novice (the bad and the good that comes with any change).

There isn’t any mention of one of my pet peeves with Visual Studio 10, it’s voracious appetite for system resources and an unflinching desire to freeze the system. The current version of Visual Studio tends to require me to reboot my system at least once during any programming session.

Also missing from the laundry list is any mention of Silverlight, which makes me wonder whether Microsoft is putting this technology out to pasture. In addition, there was nary a mention anywhere of updated Windows Phone support. You’d think that Microsoft would be providing some updated support for Windows Phone development considering that many developers will need to support the mobile device. More and more users are augmenting their desktop systems (or replacing them entirely) with mobile devices, so Microsoft had better get on the ball.

Everything I’m reading focuses on Microsoft’s two main languages C# and Visual Basic. For example, I haven’t seen anything about F#, which appears in the current product. Of course, IronPython was orphaned quite some time ago, but the IronPython community remains alive and well (see my IronPython 2.7.1 Update post for details). This lack of information makes me wonder about the future of Microsoft’s other languages (including C++).

Of course, the updates in Visual Studio 11 and the .NET Framework 4.5 will affect applications of all sorts. During the upcoming months I’ll try to test all of the application examples in my books to determine whether there are any issues you need to know about. In the meantime, please continue to use the supported versions of Visual Studio when working through the examples in my books to ensure you have the best learning experience possible. Contact me with any concerns or observations you have about Visual Studio 11 at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Accessibility on Windows 8 Metro

Anyone who reads my books knows that accessibility is a major concern for me because I see computers as a means for leveling the playing field for those who have special needs. In fact, my desire to make things as accessible as possible is the reason for writing Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. Microsoft has always made a strong effort to keep Windows and its attendant applications accessible—at least, to a point. You still need a third party application such as JAWS to make Windows truly accessible (the application developer must also cooperate in this effort as described in my many programming books). Naturally, I’ve been curious about how the Metro interface will affect accessibility.

Here is the problem. The most accessible operating system that Microsoft ever created was DOS. That’s right—the non-graphic, single tasking operating system is a perfect match for those who have special needs precisely because it doesn’t have any bells or whistles to speak of. Screen readers have no problem working with DOS and it’s actually possible to use a considerable number of assistive aids with DOS because it requires nothing more than text support. Of all the the graphical environments that Microsoft has produced, I’ve personally found the combination of Windows XP and Office 2003 to be the most accessible and feature rich. The introduction of the Ribbon with Office 2007 actually reduces accessibility. If you have trouble seeing all of those fancy icons and the odd layout of the Ribbon, you’re not going to enjoy working with the Ribbon.

I installed and tried the developer version of Windows 8 to test it for accessibility. Now, it’s a pre-beta product and there aren’t any Windows 8 products out for applications such as JAWS, so I have to emphasize that I didn’t test under the best of conditions. In fact, you could say that my test was unfair. That said, I did want to see how bad things actually are. Let me say that JAWS works acceptably, but not great, with the classic interface. It doesn’t work at all with the new Metro interface (at least, I couldn’t get it to work). So, unless you’re willing to trust Microsoft completely, you’re out of luck if you have a visual need at the moment. Things will improve, that much is certain, but it’s important to keep a careful eye on how Windows 8 progresses in this area.

The new version of Narrator
does come with some new features. Some of the features may seem like
glitz at first, but they’re really important. For example, the ability
to speed the voice up or slow it down, and the ability to use different
voices, helps with cognition. A more obvious improvement is the ability
to use different commands with Narrator. Narrator will also work with
Web pages now as long as you’re willing to use Internet Explorer as your
browser.

It’s with this in mind that I read the post about Windows 8 accessibility entitled, “Enabling Accessibility.” Let me be up front and say that accessibility is an important issue to Microsoft—at least, it has been in the past. According to this post, 15% of the people using computers worldwide have accessibility needs. The more important piece of information is that the number of people with accessibility needs is going to increase because the population is aging and things such as eyesight deteriorate as we get older.

From what I garnered from the post, developers are going to have to jump through an entirely new set of hoops to make their applications accessible in Windows 8. Some developers already have problems making their applications accessible and some simply don’t care to make their applications accessible. If you fall into the former category, you can read my A Visual Studio Quick Guide to Accessibility (Part 1) and A Visual Studio Quick Guide to Accessibility (Part 2) posts in addition to reading my books. If you fall into the latter category, you’re going to find it harder to support users in the future and will definitely see reduced sales because the number of people with accessibility needs is increasing.

Microsoft is improving the Assistive Technologies (ATs) it provides with Windows in order to meet new accessibility requirements. However, my experience with these ATs is that they help people with minor problems, not someone who has a major issue. Even the author of the blog post acknowledges this deficiency in Microsoft’s support. So, if you really do need to use an eye gaze system to work with Windows, you’re going to have to wait for an update to your software before you can use Windows 8 and that update will be longer in coming due to the Metro interface with all the new hoops it introduces.

Part of the new developer interface revolves around the enhanced experience that a combination of HTML 5 and XAML provide. In addition, Windows 8 will require developers to use the new Web Accessibility Initiative-Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) standard. The plus side of the change is that it does adhere to standards that other platforms will use—the minus side is that developers will have to learn yet another programming paradigm. If you want a quick overview of how this will actually work, check out, “Accessible Web 2.0 Applications with WAI-ARIA.” The quick take is that, despite Microsoft’s claims to the contrary, developers will need to do more now than simply fill in a few properties in their applications to make the application accessible. You’ll actually have to code the accessibility information directly into the HTML tags.

The post provided by Microsoft on Windows 8 accessibility support leaves out a few unpleasant details. For example, it gives the impression that your Visual Studio Express 2010 application is accessibility ready right from the start. That’s true to an extent. However, the author leaves out important details such as providing speed keys for users who need them (the requirement does appear in a bullet list; how Windows 8 will help you implement them isn’t). The current templates don’t provide for this need and the Metro interface will make it harder to add them.

One of the most positive changes is that Microsoft is going to test Metro applications for accessibility. If the application meets the baseline (read minimal) requirements, the developer will be able to market it as accessible. At least those with special needs will be able to find software that meets a minimal level of accessibility. However, that minimal level still might not fulfill every Section 508 requirement (something that companies commonly sidestep as being inconvenient). In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb here and state that minimal is probably not going to be enough to help many of the people with accessibility needs. You’ll be able to support JAWS at a basic level, but more complex software and setups will require additional help from developers.

One of the things you should keep in mind is that Microsoft is proactive to an extent about accessibility. They even provide a special Microsoft Accessibility site to provide updates about their strategy. However, I’ve been finding myself tested with their direction as of late. The interfaces they’re putting together seem less accessible all the time. I’d love to get input from anyone who uses their tools daily to meet specific needs. Talk to me about accessibility requirements, especially those needed to make Metro usable, at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.