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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

JAWS vs. NVDA: Hearing Another Voice

July 15, 2017 | 10 Comments

by David Flament

Tags: , , ,

Close up of hands on keyboard with white cane folded on desk.

I often talk to our clients about the need to learn a second screen reader and have even blogged on the subject.  I use both JAWS and NVDA on a regular basis.  I want to share my experience with a recent JAWS update and how NVDA came to the rescue.

The Crash

Back in April, VFO (parent company of Freedom Scientific)  released a JAWS update to JAWS 18 that made many users of Microsoft Office 2016 unhappy.  The update started crashing computers with Office 2016.  Like many people, I often have several tasks going at any one time and am constantly switching between programs, documents and spreadsheets.  My work computer began crashing several times a day.  It got so bad that I had to stop using JAWS.

Fortunately, I am just as comfortable using NVDA.  I switched to using NVDA as my primary screen reader after JAWS began crashing all the time.  Most of the commonly used screen reader keyboard commands are the same.  Also, all the Windows keyboard commands are the same, and for a majority of users, Windows keyboard commands are used most frequently.

NVDA: Pros and Cons

Previous to this incident, I used NVDA as my backup to JAWS at work.  I only used NVDA if JAWS could not read something or was acting strangely.  I was surprised to see just how much NVDA can do in the workplace.  It has really come a long way from its debut in 2006.  NVDA held up admirably even in Excel and our Access database.

Using NVDA has slowed my productivity in some ways.  For example, NVDA always announces the row and column numbers for tables in Access, and that takes time.  For other things like Outlook, it has been more productive.  NVDA announces all details in the Inbox list while JAWS only announces the Sender, size and date, skipping the subject.

As of this writing, VFO has come out with another update which may fix the problem.  I will have to see how much I go back to depending on  JAWS with NVDA doing such a good job.

If you would like to learn how to use NVDA, the free, open source screen reader, don’t miss our workshop on Thursday, August 9, 2017 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.  Call me to register!

David is the Manager of Adaptive Technology at Second Sense

10 comments on “JAWS vs. NVDA: Hearing Another Voice”

  1. bob jutzi says:

    David, I’ve used screen readers since their introduction back in the DOS era starting with 2.0 of JAWS and was migrated to JAWS once Window-eyes was discontinued. Since I am unemployed, I probably will stick with NVDA since I’ve found it to be an extremely powerful screen reader which more than meets my needs in addition to being free. I never can understand the reason for throwing down between $120 and $240 for upgrading screen access. JAWS must think it’s still 1995 and that this technology is new.

    1. Hi Bob, The release of NVDA 2017.3 certainly goes a long way towards supporting your comments.

  2. Jason Bratcher says:

    FreedomeScientific really does seem to still seem to think it’s 1995, but that’s definitely how a government funding model works.
    NVDA’s first release didn’t look like much, but my how far we’ve come.
    Now we just need to see NVDA become multi-processor aware and not quite such a memory hog;
    Then it will be a real shiver in the courtroom.
    No Law and Order included here.

  3. Blee Blat says:

    I’m actually surprised that people pay for Jaws at all;. It has a slight edge in braille support, especially if you don’t install a couple add-ons, but NVDA was much easier to get up and running, and I can keep it on a USB drive so that if I have to use it, then I can just pull it out and have it work. Even with the added braille support, I’m not sure Jaws is worth the price of 2 servers just to use a computer. My computer was $1000 on sale here, and the jaws license is $2000 plus upgrades. Even with a well-paying job, most folks aren’t going to pay that. Sure, it’s a good program for what it does, but I feel like unless Vispero really changes a few things, it’s not going to be competative for long, especially with NVDA now moving to Python 3. I was not aware that NVDA didn’t support multicore. I’m not sure Jaws does either. I didn’t notice performance issues, but then this box is rather high end. I did notice jaws taking a long time to start up and a few keyboard crashes, but I do think it has a bit better braille support once you get it working. But if you don’t use braille heavily, then NVDA is probably good enough. I can work with the NVDA braille support, but the way jaws marks selected text, and hyperlinks is a bit more intuitive, plus Jaws does a better job of fitting the braille to the display when reading long documents. That said, getting braille documentation for Jaws was a bit rough, because I have a HumanWare braille display. I had to install some extra things to make it work whereas NVDA just got braille as soon as I plugged it in. I could not recommend a new user to Jaws, as the learning curve is too much if you just want to get work done, and even for someone like me who likes to tweak things, I’m probably still better served looking at NVDA’s add-on system. Good post though. I’m still playing with Jaws as best as I can just to see what others are doing, but I’m not seeing anything that is a must-have feature.

  4. Atul Sahay says:

    I am switching to NVDA from Jaws after using the latter for more than 2 decades. Only those who are financed by one source or the other think of buying Jaws these days.

  5. Joseph Norton says:

    Hi David:

    Stumbled across your article in 2021, but, found it just as appropriate as when you originally wrote it.

    I was fortunate enough to have Rehab purchase JAWS several years ago, so I could attempt to work in a certain job. Before that, I was a Window-Eyes user, though I had not upgraded it in a couple years, and I wasn’t going to be able to afford what VFO wanted to charge to switch.

    Nevertheless, I also am a frequent user of NVDA.

    In recent times, I have done some experimenting with older software running on various virtual machines, and, sometimes, I need to have the screen read via optical character recognition. JAWS will do this, but, so will NVDA. In JAWS, it takes 3 key presses to do the same thing that can be done with NVDA with just one key press.

    As a result, I also recommend a blind user not depend just on one screen reader.

    If the person works with NVDA most of the time, it is possible to use JAWS in the 40-minute demo mode, to see if something might “read” better in JAWS.

    Now that Vispero has an anual option for JAWS/ZoomText, more folks may give it a whirl.

    Thanks for the article.

  6. Ella says:

    Hello, I had seen this article awhile ago but also decide not to comment till now after seeing some others comment in 2021.

    I also agree that JAWS can be very expensive, and especially in developing countries, it’s just a no go. Plus, the open source nature of NVDA means that it’s more likely to be compatible with the languages and input methods used in Non Western countries. Sure, you can have a whole bunch of synths and braille tables for a whole bunch of languages, but that doesn’t always ensure full compatibility with all languages. For example, entering Mandarin characters works so much better with NVDA than JAWS. Navigating the Mandarin candidate UI with JAWS just doesn’t really work at all.

    I, like many others, started as a JAWS user, but one day in 2018, I was strongly encouraged to seriously try NVDA, and I got really used to it in a matter of days. Soon enough, I was in love with NVDA and found that JAWS wasn’t offering me any major additional gains (although I never really learned the advanced features of JAWS). I don’t deny that JAWS has its advantages for some users, but for me, it really isn’t the case. Plus, the free price tag for NVDA instantly attracted me as well, since I was using JAWS on a school based computer loan. I also appreciate that NVDA is more simplistic in some ways, especially the fact that the settings are more centralized than JAWS’ endless levels of tree views and scattered settings. I also like that I can download alpha builds and see what’s coming in the next release of NVDA and the fact that I can raise issues openly and be heard by a community who cares. I also like the portability of NVDA.

    I’m really glad that I had both JAWS and NVDA to use over the last three years of high school because it really taught me the value of having two screen readers, but I used NVDA way more than JAWS to the point that it just wasn’t worth spending money on it or applying for loans to get it after high school. I wholeheartedly agree with the previous poster’s recommendation to keep a 40 min demo on your system for rare situational use cases. Also, the annual subscription license was only available in the US until recently when Canada rolled it out as well, but I don’t think anyone else other than US and Canadian citizens can get it. I’m not fond of the JAWS reseller model, I think it was good for the 90s when JAWS shipped on floppy disks but it makes absolutely zero sense these days imo. To sum up, unless my needs change significantly to the point of actually needing to use JAWS regularly again, I’m not paying for JAWS ever again, and even if I do, I’ll take the annual subscription that’s now offered in Canada.

  7. Moop says:

    Is NVDA still more of a memory hog than Jaws?

  8. Jason Bratcher says:

    Some things under the hood have been massively tweaked to make NVDA almost an ant (System resource-wise) compared to a sloth on most computers.
    Although being multi-processor/thread aware would definitely help it out?

  9. sean says:

    also to add to other comments ocr is better on nvda its free and simple to set up also since there are games like world of warcraft and minecraft that have accessibility mods for them that make them accessible they are programed with nvda in mind since python is easy to use also jaws is much more intrusive with displays for pcs and require much more to run

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