Don’t Update To Firefox 57 Just Yet, Blind Kids

Last Updated on: 9th November 2017, 03:20 pm

In a couple of weeks Mozilla will be releasing an update to Firefox, my current browser of choice. It’ll be version 57, it’ll go by the name Quantum, and according to the makers of JAWS and NVDA it’ll mess up your screen reader something fierce and you probably shouldn’t use it if you plan on ever getting anything done on the internet again. Here’s part of FS’ explanation.

On November 14, Mozilla is expected to release a new version of its Firefox web browser. Firefox 57 represents such a significant technical and performance change that it’s going to be known as Firefox Quantum. Mozilla and mainstream reviewers of the beta code agree, the browser is much faster and more memory efficient.
The reason why mainstream users will see such a significant speed increase with Firefox Quantum is that it is switching to a multiprocess methodology. Unfortunately, Mozilla in their switch to multiprocess for Firefox has chosen an accessibility approach in which each call for JAWS to obtain information takes orders of magnitude more time.  We are disappointed that Mozilla has not at this time adopted the highly performant approach that Google took with Chrome to increase security while at the same time allowing screen readers to access information at unparalleled speed without needing to make any changes.
For now, we recommend switching to the Extended Support Release (ESR) of Firefox as work on the accessibility issues continues, because even when you are running assistive technology that supports Firefox Quantum, performance with Firefox will be much worse than you are used to. We’re working with Mozilla to improve the situation and are hopeful of further improvement.

If you want to grab that Extended Support Release, it can be found here. Just ignore all the stuff about businesses and it not being for individuals.

Otherwise, it might be time to give Chrome a try. It’s come a long way since the last time I played with it, that is to say that it actually seems to be usable now.

I’ll be curious to see who gets new Firefox support sorted out first. My money’s on NVDA because anyone with expertise can contribute to it, they seem to have working relationships with just about everyone and because god would it ever be hilarious to watch FS explain their way out of getting smoked by an outfit that survives on grants and donations from guys like me rather than extortionate upgrade policies.

Update (November 9th, 2017): Based on this post on Marco’s Accessibility Blog and the comments underneath it, I’m feeling pretty confident about my NVDA prediction. Seems that fixes are already in the works before the trouble evenb starts.

From the post:

For users of the NVDA screen reader, some of these changes may initially seem like a step backward. To make the accessibility features work with the new architecture, we had to make some significant changes which will initially feel less performant than before. Especially complex pages and web applications such as Facebook or Gmail will feel slower to NVDA users in this Firefox release.
Improvements in the pipeline
Fortunately, NVDA users will only have to put up with these slowdowns for one Firefox release. Firefox 58, which will move to beta the moment Firefox 57 is being released, will already improve performance so significantly that most smaller pages will feel as snappy as before, larger pages will take a lot less time to be loaded into NVDA’s browse mode buffer, and web applications such as Gmail or Facebook will feel more fluid.
And we’re not stopping there. In Firefox Nightly, then on version 59, performance improvements will continue, and more big pages and web applications should return to a normal working speed with NVDA.

And this, from a comment responding to a reader question.

Furthermore, we’ve provisioned for an optimization that hopefully will make it into an NVDA release soon that will speed certain things up from their end, too. The pull request on that is awaiting review and merging as we speak. So, stay tuned!

There’s some other worthwhile reading there as well, including how we can all help maybe move things along even faster. It has me curious as to how bad this is really going to be, and thinking that maybe I won’t be as quick to switch to the ESR as I originally thought I might. Hell, I spent much longer than I should have using a complete piece of shit, so who knows, I may not even notice a problem.

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1 Comment

  1. Firefox decided to get pushy and update me to the new version. It’s a little slower using NVDA, but after playing with it for a while I can say that so far it’s not nearly as bad as it was made out to be. Now that I say that I’m sure the next thing that’ll happen is I’ll hit a total dealbreaker, but so far so good.

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