If you fail to recognize the gravity of the presented question, or do not know what VFO or NV Access is in the very first place, worry not, as an elucidated background, plus a comprehensive answer to the presented question, along with an illustrative situational example – all are in order.
In a mobile first world, Smartphones are essential in getting your job done, your activities scheduled, your entertainment got and maybe even your health monitored. With Apple’s flashy iOS, the sentimental Symbian OS, the highly flexible and variably flavoured Android, Windows Phone, Tisen OS, etc., our mobile first era has infinite choice, options and alternatives, and this reciprocal competition is what will continue spurring mobile innovation. However, can you imagine, just for one instant, that a duopoly, let’s say Google and Apple, was to dictate your most indispensable and crucial of requirements in a digital age, because of the acquisition, merger, bankruptcy or abandonment of all other brands? How insecure would you feel to have only two baskets to place all your cyber eggs in?
Believe it or not, this is exactly what is analogously happening in the Windows screen reading area. Popular Windows screen reading software like Dolphin Supernova and System Access have virtually stagnated, Microsoft Narrator is still a work-in-progress, Hal has since long bid farewell, and most recently and notably has been the discontinuation of Window Eyes. Technology has shattered otherwise impenetrable barriers for the visually challenged and opened doors to education, employment, entertainment, and everything in between, and a big part of that technology has been computer access made possible by screen readers. In the mid-1990s, there were more than ten screen readers for Microsoft Windows, but for today’s almost 300 million vision-impaired worldwide population, only two full-fledged and viable screen reading options exist – JAWS (Job Access With Speech) for Windows from Freedom Scientific, now part of the VFO-Group and NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access) from NV Access. Simply put, a duopoly.
The Million Dollar Question
Now, let me restate the question of the hour in a simplified form – will the VFO-Group, owners of the Freedom Scientific made JAWS screen reader, after phasing out its subsidiary AI Squared’s Window Eyes screen reader, venture out (caught the pun?) to buy out NV Access and its free and open source NVDA screen reader, and thereby establish an absolute monopoly as far as Windows screen readers go?
The Billion Dollar Answer
Very simply put, I confidently answer a big ‘NO!” and following are my top three arguments supporting my staunch belief:
- NVDA is all open source code anyways – Would the VFO-Group even achieve anything at all by buying out NVDA? As I stated earlier, NVDA is an open source project which accepts community code contributions. Programmed primarily in Python and secondarily in C++, all the ingredients of the recipe called NVDA are already publicly available. As a direct or indirect result of this, several major NVDA features such as audio ducking and mouse tracking have been Borrowed by JAWS in the recent past. Apart from the brand value, which too, of a chiefly community-driven product like NVDA, would get severely tarnished in case of an acquisition and consequently inevitable commercialization, I discern no other substantial ground for the VFO-Group to purchase NVDA.
- *Whom* Will VFO Get Then– Acquiring NVDA implies acquisition of the Australian non-profit charity organisation, NV Access. In other words, the VFO-Group will get its hands on just 4 guys that mainly manage the entire NVDA project – the incredible Michael Curran, James teh, Quentin Christensen and Reef Turner. Do you think such a huge investment, because acquiring NV Access and NVDA would undoubtedly demand a large sum, be justified with such little gains?
- It’s Too Late – If NV Access was truly up for grabs, a merger or partnership deal with VFO of some sort would have been struck by now. NV Access has hired two new employees in 2016 in the form of an extra programmer and a support documentation specialist. NV Access has collaborated with Amazon to make Kindle e-books accessible. NV Access has continued its endorsement of the international NVDA Users and Developers Conference (NVDACon). This implies that NV Access has no plans to pause and NVDA does have an independent and sustainable future.
NV Access’s Official Response
In the live Q&A session post the Keynote Address by Jamie at NVDACon International 2017, I gutsily and straightforwardly asked NV Access for their statement on the subject, and equally candid was their reply. Below is a text transcript of the relevant bits:
Me: A particularly controversial question but one that is being debated among the blindness community. With Window Eyes being acquired and now phased out as part of the VFO-Group, many are talking about a potential ‘VFO acquiring NV Access’ kind of a situation’. Thoughts?
Mick: Should I take that question?
Jamie: Go for it!
Mick: I think with what is happening with screen readers being acquired, and creating potentially what is a monopoly, is just more reason why NV Access needs to continue to exist and do what we have been doing for the last 10 years, and we are fully committed to doing this on our own and independently. We are just not going to let this happen. We are not going to be bought out.
Jamie: We cannot be acquired legally. One of the reasons why we are set up as a charity is because it protects us from things like this. Even if Mick and I went evil, the law would not allow it. It’s just not possible.
Mick: Just to give a little bit of context to this, there have been non-profits that have been acquired in the past. However, what happens in that case is that only the name gets bought and not the assets, and since one of our assets is open source with unassigned copyright, even if VFO bought us out which they are not going to, they wouldn’t get NVDA. Pretty simple, actually!
P.S. With all doubts and misconceptions out of the way, long life to and three cheers for NVDA!