Still sticking with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1? Time is quickly running out for users wishing to upgrade to Windows 10 at no cost, provided they use the operating system's assistive technologies.
Officially, the last day that users were able to grab a free Windows 10 upgrade was July 29. Users seeking to install Windows 10 on a PC are now required to pay for the operating system, which starts at $119 for the Home edition and $199 for Windows 10 Pro.
Not everyone has to part with their money, however. Microsoft extended the deadline for users relying on Windows' screen reader, magnifier, high-contrast settings and other accessibility-enhancing features.
Now, as 2017 draws to a close users only have a few days to get the free upgrade.
The no-cost Windows 10 upgrade offer for assistive technology users expires on Dec. 31. Microsoft is not restricting the offer to any specific use of its accessibility features, yet the company recommends that users check with third-party assistive technology vendors to ensure that their applications are compatible with Windows 10.
According to Microsoft, users with disabilities and other conditions who encounter difficulties with the stock Windows experience will find plenty of compelling reasons to upgrade to Windows 10.
First, Windows' text-to-speech engine got a major upgrade in 2016's Windows 10 Anniversary Update. The operating system's voices technology used in Narrator can now handle roughly 800 words per minute, twice the former limit of about 400 words per minute.
Narrator is now available in several more language and country pairs, expanding its international appeal. For example, Narrator can now speak Dutch in Belgium and the Netherlands or French in Canada when the corresponding localized version of Windows is purchased in those countries, (also available as a separate download).
Narrator also gained a Scan mode that enables users to activate a function or item of interest with greater ease. Users can turn on Scan Mode by pressing the Caps Lock and Spacebar. Once enabled, users can trigger actions, like visiting a web link, by simply pressing the spacebar.
Microsoft's accessibility efforts extend well beyond Windows.
On Dec. 13, the software giant announced a major update to its Seeing AI app for iOS devices. The app uses an iPhone's or iPad's camera, in conjunction with Microsoft's world-sensing suite of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, to help visually impaired users experience the world around them with verbal descriptions of their physical environments, plus the people and objects inhabiting them.
The updated application now features handwriting recognition, allowing users to read personal notes or fonts that mimic handwritten text. Seeing AI also takes some of the anxiety out of shopping or leaving a cash tip at a restaurant with a new currency recognition feature. Currently, it supports U.S. dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros and British Pounds.
Other new features include color recognition, a document reader and a musical light detector that generates an audible tone when the camera is held up to a light. More information is available in this blog post.