NVDA and Firefox 58 — The team is regaining strength

A week before the Firefox 57 “Quantum” release in November, I published an Article detailing some bits to be aware of when using Firefox and the NVDA screen reader together. In Firefox 58, due on January 23, 2018, the reliable team is regaining strength in playing well together and offering you good and fast web accessibility.

After the Firefox 57 release, due to many changes under the hood, NVDA and Firefox temporarily lapsed in performance. Statistics quickly showed that about two thirds of the NVDA user base stayed with us despite of this. So to all of you who stuck with us on this difficult release: Thank you! Many of the others moved to the extended support release of Firefox 52. Thank you to those of you as well, you decided to stick with Firefox! Also, statistics show that barely any of those of you who stuck with 57 decided to turn off multi-process Firefox, but instead used the new technology, and some of you even reported problems to us.

Since then, the accessibility team at Mozilla have worked hard to improve the situation. And I am glad to report that in Firefox 58, most of the bottlenecks and slowdowns could be fixed. We’re now delivering most pages fast enough again so that NVDA doesn’t feel the need to notify you that it is loading a document. In addition, you will start feeling the actual effects of the Quantum technologies, like faster page load times and other more smooth experiences now that the accessibility bottlenecks are out of the way. Feedback from users who have been using the Firefox 58 beta releases has been good, so we feel confident that those of you who upgrade from 57 to 58 upon release, will immediately feel more comfortable with your screen reader and browser combination again. And I am hoping that this encourages many of those who switched to the 52 ESR, to come back to Firefox 58 and give it a try. If you still don’t like it, you can go back to 52 ESR as before, but I sincerely hope you’ll stick with 58 once you notice the improvements.

Moreover, Firefox 58 introduces a new feature that NVDA will take advantage of starting in the 2018.1 release, due in February. Those of you NVDA users on the Next or Master development snapshots, already have that particular improvement. That improvement will speed up the cooperation between NVDA and Firefox even more, causing web content to render in the virtual buffer faster.

What’s coming beyond 58?

Of course, more bug fixes! :-) We’re continuing to make improvements which bring us closer to parity with Firefox 56, or even beyond that. On many small and medium size pages, that is already the case now, so Firefox 59 deals with stuff that mostly hits on big pages with lots of hyperlinks or many chunks of differently formatted text.

We’ll also continue to work hard to iron out any problems that may cause JAWS and Firefox to slow down so badly together. While some of the above mentioned improvements also improve the interaction between Firefox and JAWS somewhat, JAWS’s interactions with Firefox are different enough that there is still something causing bad slowness that we don’t see with NVDA at all. And while we’ll do everything to improve the situation on our end, there will also need to come some updates to JAWS from Freedom Scientific, the makers of JAWS. So for JAWS users, the recommendation still stands to remain on 52 ESR, which will receive regular security updates until way into the third quarter of 2018, or keep multi-process tabs turned off, as many JAWS users who remained with current Firefox releases have done. Note, however, that turning off multi-process tabs is something you do at your own risk. This is officially an unsupported configuration, so if anything breaks there, it’s tough luck.

I will have more updates in a separate article once we have them and there is significant progress to report.

In conclusion

As we continue to find bottlenecks, debug hangs, and look into sites reported by users, the situation will return to normal, if it hasn’t for you already. All of the above mentioned improvements we have made in Firefox 58 should impact more assistive technologies than just NVDA, except where noted.

I would like to repeat my thanks to all of you who decided to stick with the release, or even try out the beta and give us feedback on the sites you use day to day. This helped a lot over the past few weeks to make more improvements, and moreover, get agreement from release management to push these out to 58 even when they were initially already in the 59 timeframe. Through that, we’ve been able to give you even more improvements in Firefox 58 than I initially anticipated.