Screen reader advisories and other info on Windows 10 21H2 and Windows 11 #ADVISORY
Note: before every feature update release, a general screen reader advisory is sent to prepare you for the upcoming release(s). These advisories include information such as key changes, things to be aware of, optimal screen reader versions, and some last-minute information.
The following advisory concerns two upcoming Windows releases:
Actually, there is one more Windows 21H2 release: Windows Server 2022 (build 20348) but since this forum mostly talks about Windows 10 (and soon, Windows 11), we will focus on the two releases mentioned above. Xbox One/Series X/S users are already on a version equivalent to Windows 11.
Windows 10 Version 21H2: build 19044 (marketing name and release date unknown) is undergoing final testing by Windows Insiders in release preview channel. Release preview channel includes those who were already subscribed to that channel, plus people using computers that are ineligible for Windows 11 upgrade (see Windows 11 section below). This release will utilize an enablement package where the “feature update” unlocks Version 21H2 specific features baked into recent cumulative updates for the last three Windows 10 feature updates (2004, 20H2, 21H1); in other words, people who are running Version 2004 (May 2020 Update) or later, specifically with recent cumulative updates applied, are already running Version 21H2 (or parts of it) except it is locked away until given a green light by Microsoft in coming weeks. Unlike Windows 11, the upcoming enablement package will be offered to everyone.
In addition to providing foundations to let businesses test Windows 11 before wider deployment, Windows 10 Version 21H2 backports one or two things from Windows 11 changes. Specifically, one of the key highlights of Version 21H2 is support for GPU compute scenarios in Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) generation 2. Apart from this and security improvements for businesses and connectivity, Version 21H2 should feel the same as current Windows 10 feature update (Version 21H1). Therefore, screen readers compatible with Windows 10 Version 21H1 (build 19043/May 2021 Update) should have no problems with Windows 10 Version 21H2 (see below for screen reader releases).
Windows 11: first, I and other Windows Insiders can assure you that you are not forced to upgrade to Windows 11 – it will be a free optional upgrade. But if you do decide to upgrade when offered, be sure to double-check and triple-check to make sure your system is ready for Windows 11: a recent 64-bit processor from Intel (Core 8th generation or later or equivalent Celeron/Pentium/Xeon with limited availability on some 7th generation I7 and I9 processors), AMD (Ryzen 2000 series or later or equivalent Epyc processor), or Qualcomm, at least 4 GB of RAM, at least 64 GB free disk space, UEFI+Secure Boot+TPM 2.0 capability, plus support from screen reader vendors (the last item is applicable to screen reader users). The easiest way to check Windows 11 eligibility is via (an updated) PC Health Check app, which can be downloaded from Microsoft website. And, as folks have been saying for years, please make sure drivers and software are up to date before installing feature updates, or in this case, a new Windows release.
What if your system is not eligible for Windows 11? Windows 10 will be supported until October 2025. As such, we expect screen reader vendors to support Windows 10 until then. As noted above, in addition to Windows 11, Windows 10 Version 21H2 will be made available, too.
Windows 11 highlights:
Screen reader versions: at a minimum, the screen reader you are using must be compatible with Windows 10 Version 21H1 (May 2021 Update). If you are planning to upgrade to Windows 11, a screen reader release that is optimized for Windows 11 is a must. In short:
For Windows 11:
Frequently (or possibly) asked questions:
A. Some of the known issues highlighted by Windows Insiders include:
* A “pane” window gets focused when switching between app in some cases
* Some screen readers (including JAWS, and to some extent, NVDA) may have trouble with working with redesigned emoji panel
* In Settings app, screen readers (including Narrator) do not announce update download and installation progress
Q. Can I run older screen reader versions on Windows 11?
A. Yes but not recommended as Windows 11 comes with user interface changes that will affect how screen readers recognize user interface elements.
Q. Can I upgrade to Windows 11 on unsupported hardware?
A. Yes but not recommended. It is possible to install Windows 11 via an ISO file as a clean install provided that your system meets at least UEFI+Secure Boot+TPM requirement. If you do so, you will be left in an unsupported state, with Microsoft noting that updates are not guaranteed and you may encounter more blue screens (see the Windows Insider Program blog post about system requirements posted a few weeks ago along with more recent communication from Microsoft regarding updates for unsupported systems).
Q. What is the easiest way to check if my computer can run Windows 11?
A. Check out PC Health Check app from Microsoft – a link was posted to Windows Support website under this article: Download PC Health Check to test your PC for Windows 11 (windowsreport.com)
The app will tell you if your computer can run Windows 11, and if not, it will show you specific issues such as processor requirement or inactive TPM capability.
Q. Can I upgrade to Windows 11 from Windows 7 or 8.1?
A. Indirectly. First, install Windows 10, then see if your computer is eligible for Windows 11. Note that Windows 7 was released in 2009 and is unsupported as of January 2020, and Windows 8.1 was last updated in April 2014 with support ending in January 2023. You could try a clean install via Windows 11 ISO but be aware of system requirements.
Q. What is Start menu in Windows 11 like?
A. For the most part, Start menu in Windows 11 is similar to Windows 10:
* You will still land on search box when you press Windows key.
* The screen is laid out in tab order as follows: search box, Pinned (apps and other content pinned to the Start menu for ease of finding them), All apps button, Recommended (mostly recent searches but might not be present on all systems), and a list of account and power options list (User account button and Power button), then back to search box.
* Just like Windows 10, you cannot use first-letter navigation in all apps, but you can use first-letter navigation in Pinned list.
For example, to shut down a computer:
Q. You say that Microsoft Store will be home to classic desktop apps. Does this mean one day third-party screen readers can be downloaded from Microsoft Store?
A. In theory, yes but on Windows 11. This is due to policy changes from Microsoft to allow desktop apps to be registered on Microsoft Store where previously it was home to universal apps for the most part. This means that, if the screen reader vendor is willing and provided that the screen reader supports Windows 11, it won’t be long before you will see JAWS, NVDA, and other third-party screen readers listed on Microsoft Store. Note that there is a version of NVDA that is listed in Microsoft Store but it is a converted desktop app, not a native (classic) desktop app.
Q. How long will Windows 11 feature updates be supported?
A. Each Windows 11 feature update (including the one to be released this October) will be supported for at least two years (three years for businesses and schools). Feature updates are scheduled to be released annually.
Q. Will there be Windows 10 feature updates in the future?
A. Microsoft announced that at least one Windows 10 semi-annual channel (feature update) release will be supported until Windows 10 exits support in 2025, and since each update is supported for at least 18 months (30 months for fall releases for businesses)unless Microsoft says otherwise, we can assume that there will be updates for Windows 10 in the future. This can change based on what Microsoft says in 2022 and beyond.
Q. What is the relationship between Windows 11 and Windows 365?
A. Windows 365 lets you run Windows 10 or 11 from the cloud (hosted on Microsoft Azure) with your data stored on the cloud. This is mostly intended to let workers on the move access their work data and programs on the go. Therefore, Windows 365 is mostly meant for businesses.
Q. I heard that Windows 11 can run Android apps. Is it true?
A. Yes, almost. As part of Windows 11 announcement in June 2021, Microsoft announced Windows Subsystem for Android where Windows will be able to run Android apps. With this subsystem (under development), you will be able to install Android app packages (APK files) as though you are installing any other program. Also, Microsoft has partnered with Amazon so you can download Android aps from Microsoft Store, which in turn will offer a client for Amazon Appstore. In terms of accessibility of Android apps on Windows, this remains to be seen as Windows 11 will not ship with Windows Subsystem for Android at this time.
Q. Is widgets board (Windows+W) usable with screen readers?
A. Yes provided that the screen reader supports Microsoft Edge (as in Chromium Edge).
Q. Do I really have to upgrade to Windows 11?
A. It depends on your needs. If Windows 11 is offered to you and you think you may find yourself using Windows 11 features, go ahead and upgrade provided that you took usual precautions (backing up data, you have up to date drivers and software (including screen readers), you read about Windows 11 features). If you are satisfied with Windows 10, you are more than welcome to stay on Windows 10.
Q. Will Windows Access with Screen Readers (WinAccess) forum move toward standardizing on Windows 11?
A. Although most content will be based on Windows 11, we recognize that not all users will be moving to Windows 11. Therefore, we will do our best to accommodate the needs of Windows 10 users. This means people should specify which Windows release they are using so appropriate responses can be given.
Hope this helps. Questions, comments, and concerns (both Windows 10 and 11) are always welcome. Please stay safe and healthy.