Firefox 57 from an NVDA user’s perspective

Firefox 57, also known as Firefox Quantum, will be released on November 14. It will bring some significant changes to the Firefox rendering engine to improve performance and open the door for more new features in the future. Here is what you need to know if you are a user of the NVDA screen reader.

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.

I need full speed

If you do require Firefox to perform as fast as before and cannot or do not want to wait until the above mentioned performance improvements arrive on your machine, you have the option to switch to the Extended Support Release (ESR), which is on version 52 and will receive security fixes until long into 2018.

However, we encourage you to stick with us on the current release if you possibly can. Your findings, if you choose to report them to us, will greatly help us improve Firefox further even faster, because even we might not think of all the scenarios that might be day to day sites for you.

I want to stick with you. How can I help?

That’s great! If you encounter any big problems, like pages that take unusually long to load, we want to know about them. We already know that long Wikipedia articles such as the one about World War I will take about 12 seconds to load on an average Windows 10 machine and a current NVDA release. In Firefox 58 beta, we will have brought this down to less than 8 seconds already, and the goal is to bring that time down even further. So if you really want to help, you can choose to upgrade to our beta channel and re-test the problem you encountered there. If it is already improved, you can be certain we’re on top of the underlying problem. If not, we definitely want to know where you found the problem and what steps led to it.

And if you really want to be on the bleeding edge, getting the latest fixes literally hours or days after they landed in our source code, you can choose to update to our Firefox Nightly channel, and get new builds of Firefox twice a day. There, if you encounter problems like long lags, or even crashes, they will be very closely tied to what we were recently working on, and we will be able to resolve the problems quickly, before they even hit the next beta cycle.

In conclusion

We know we’re asking a lot of you since you’ve always had a very fast and efficient browsing experience when you used Firefox in combination with NVDA. And we are truly sorry that we’ll have to temporarily slip here. But rest assured that we’re working hard with the full team to kick Firefox back into gear so that each followup release will bring us back closer to where we were before 57, plus the added benefits Quantum brings for all users.

More information

12 thoughts on “Firefox 57 from an NVDA user’s perspective”

  1. Marco,

    I know that this is not the blog objective but I am extremely curious to know how do you plan to take performance back in a some what technical way … because the way I understand it screen readers are slow on ff 57 because the browser now uses multi process rendering and thus can not easily feed the screen reader virtual buffer in a progressive way like it did before, making the screen reader wait for the whole thing to be complete before the buffer is finally feed.
    This plus the fact, and I am not completely sure, that injection is no longer allowed to happen making ipc the only alternative and slowingg the comunication between these two parts.

    This being what happens, I can not see how you would increase back thhe performance unless virtual buffers are no longer used but I don’t think this will happen soon. Further more, this would be a NVDA release not a FireFox release. How are you going to take performance bback to the expected levels on this new architecture? Curious …

    1. DLL injection is currently still allowed in the main process, which we call the browser or browser chrome process, having nothing to do with the browser of the same name. What we do not allow, is screen readers to inject into the content processes. That’s why, in 57, things are so much slower indeed. However, there are things that we as a browser vendor can do to mitigate at least some of this problem. And the results are looking very good. This has to do with caching, advanced Windows COM stuff, and being smart about what screen readers usually want the most. As hinted in the post, initial work lands in 58, and this already speeds up a lot of things. 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! 🙂

      As for the future, I’d like to refer you to an earlier post on this blog titled The Future of Web Accessibility on Windows, where I lay out some thoughts on future changes to browsers and screen readers to give the Windows world a more future-proof approach than virtual buffers. But first, we need to get the basics in place, and that also means not regressing users too much if we possibly can.

      1. Thank you for your clarifications.

        Being a c++ programmer (although not a browser dev) I am interested in following this topic. If there is documentation or discussions about it please do point where those would

        About your post of the future of web accessibility on Windows, let’s see how things go. I tend to believe that some things a virtual buffer can do may enhance productivity in ways that no virtual buffer solutions can not.

        VoiceOver provides fast navigation by elements already for native applications. TalkBack is going the same rout. I think that this is a tendence that should stay.

        1. I am sorry the comment was cut at the wrong place.

          For example, some pages will still be pages, not web apps. Take a look at blogs, tutorials, electronic books and foruns ….. these will be text based, no mather what. And there is no better thing to deal witht hat than a virtual cursor (conceptually, not talking about implementations here ) … or one might try to read a text bbook on the web using the review cursor, but this is not going to be a good experience.

          On Mac OS before El Cappitan (if I remember correctly ) access these kinds of content was a very frustrating way. It got some what better when we started to be able to arrow through the page. So I would say I am a some what supporter of the virtual cursor concept, although not necessarily of the current implementations. Curious to hear your thoughts by the way.

  2. I am probably not staying with the new Firefox. It will not let me use the Navigational Sounds extension which I have come to depend on for telling me when a page is generating activity. Unless some form of this extension appears either within Firefox or as a new extension, I may have to migrate to something else with navigational sounds.

  3. is there any site or bugzilla bug I can get specific metrics for various screen readers? I’m doing a blog about this, at a much deeper technical level and want to have citations for some of the claims I’ve seen floating around including the improvements already happening.

What are your thoughts?