Similar in functionality to Windows 8, the update continues to improve on Windows accessibility and usability by providing improved touch screen support, some user interface improvements to the Start and lock screen, the return of the Start button in desktop mode and the ability to go straight to desktop on start-up. While the new operating system (OS) remains touchscreen focused, there’s more flexibility for traditional users of a keyboard and mouse to get access to the more familiar desktop environment of older versions of Windows such as Windows 7 and XP.
While the accessibility features in Windows 8.1 remain largely unchanged from Windows 8, there are substantial improvements over Windows 7 including the ability to start accessibility features automatically, a significantly updated Narrator screen reader and the ability to use Magnifier and high contrast colour schemes at the same time. Both Narrator and Magnifier have also been optimised for touch screen use, providing an additional way to engage with the tools on touch enabled devices.
Windows 8.1 also features some enhancements over Windows 8, including the ability to search for text in photos using Microsoft’s cloud-based SkyDrive serviceand a significantly updated Microsoft Store app, making it easier to search for accessible applications. Additions to the overall search functionality of Windows 8.1 also centralises search results making it less cumbersome for screen reader users to explore the search results.
Windows 8.1 will be included as a free automatic update from today for existing Windows 8 users. People wishing to purchase or update their existing Windows to 8.1 can purchase it online or in store from today.
New Microsoft surface tablets
Microsoft is also releasing two new Surface tablets on 22 October which include a number of new features such as Outlook and significantly improved battery life on both models. The Surface 2 Pro will come with a full featured version of Windows 8.1 Pro while the Surface 2 will come with Windows RT, a tablet-specific version of Windows.
While Windows RT looks and acts very similar to full versions of Windows 8.1, it can only install apps from the Microsoft Store meaning that Surface 2 users are largely limited to the accessibility features that are built-in. People with disabilities wanting to install traditional third-party Windows assistive technologies, such as NVDA, should look to the Surface 2 Pro or another computer or tablet running the full version of Windows’ 8.1.
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