On July 29, 2015, Microsoft will begin releasing Windows 10 to millions of users worldwide. In so doing, the last bastion of traditional software releases will fall. Windows 10 will be released in a software-as-a-service (SAAS) model, and while businesses and educators can opt out of the most aggressive release cycle, “versions” are about to be replaced with “major updates.” Many software vendors will not have versions of their applications optimized for Windows 10 right away: this includes adaptive technologies companies.
Microsoft is doing what Apple has done since it first released OS X in 2002. It will continuously update the operating system and force new features on consumers in the same way that Apple does with each new release of OS X. Failure to upgrade means exposure to risks as companies deprecate or abandon support of older versions altogether.
Windows 10 brings some exciting, new, enabling technologies for all users. The “Windows Hello” feature — when paired with suitable hardware — allows Windows to bypass a password entirely using facial recognition to sign in a user. The “Hey Cortana” feature allows natural-language voice queries to perform common tasks, such as “show me the Word documents I created yesterday.” Cortana also brings the power of Microsoft Bing to answer questions, such as “what is the square root of 4,060,225?” (2015, Cortana will tell you). But what does this have to do with adaptive technologies (AT) and accessibility?
It is tempting — and sometimes the best decision temporarily — to stay on an older, more-stable platform that’s known to work with existing ATs like the popular JAWS screen-reading software package, which (as of this writing) is not functioning on the latest build of Windows 10. Keeping a verified system like Windows 7 around running JAWS guarantees your vision-impaired users will be able to access content read aloud to them. But, they will be disadvantaged compared to users who need not remember a password, or who can ask Cortana for help doing research.
Microsoft has aggressively promoted the free upgrade to Windows 10 for users of Windows 7 or Windows 8. While this doesn’t cover educational or business licenses, parents and their representative lawmakers are unlikely to be swayed by “implementation costs” and “compatibility testing.” Strong arguments can be made for both, but they will likely ring hollow in the ears of parents who want the newest and best for their children.
To be certain, Windows 10 requires new hardware and a different approach to technology than its predecessors to actualize all of this promise. Thirty children in a room shouting “Hey, Cortana” with all of their queries is very different than 30 students typing those queries into Google’s website.
But, as soon as the most-common ATs run on Windows 10, and that’s likely sooner than later, educational IT departments are going to be asked why Windows 10 hasn’t been deployed. Understanding the enabling features of Windows 10 when paired with traditional ATs is critical to a successful deployment. Understanding how to disable Cortana during assessments is a critical topic, but one for another post, coming in August, so stay tuned.