When Firefox Quantum was first released in November of 2017, it temporarily regressed users of the JAWS screen reader. I’m happy to report that both Firefox and JAWS once again deliver a first class browsing experience together!

What happened?

When Mozilla released Firefox Quantum, starting with version 57, in November of 2017, it introduced a number of technical changes that improve the browsing experience for our users. Tabs run in separate processes now, so that if one tab crashes, it does not bring the whole browser down with it. This is also better for security on multiple levels. Web sites load faster due to a much improved and modernized rendering engine. And a lot of other new features which you’ve probably read all about by now.

However, due to these massive technical changes under the hood, we unfortunately temporarily regressed screen reader users. And while we quickly regained much of the lost performance with Firefox 58 for NVDA users, for JAWS these improvements helped only slightly.

A very fruitful collaboration

Therefore, a collaboration was started to bring both JAWS and Firefox back to a state together where the experience can be considered a first-class browsing experience. Over the past few months, accessibility engineers from Mozilla and VFO have identified and worked on performance and other usability issues together to improve both products to make that happen. This involved mutual understanding of what answers were required by JAWS from Firefox when it asked certain questions, particularly those that had not been dealt with in the work for Firefox 58 and 59. There were also some more architectural changes required on the Firefox side to handle very Windows-specific mechanisms. And while we were at it, we found and fixed some big memory leaks that had been bothering us since the release of Firefox 57, and which NVDA users will also have noticed improving in Firefox 59.

We’re happy to report that the combination of Firefox 60, released on May 9, 2018, and JAWS 2018, starting with the April 2018 update, are the result of this collaboration. With the combination of these versions or later, users of the JAWS screen reading software can again use the latest and greatest version of Firefox and be confident that they can browse the web in a speedy manner.

What does this mean for you as a JAWS user?

First, if you’re on JAWS 2018, make sure to get the latest update from the Check for updates item in the JAWS Help menu. The version you should be using with Firefox 60 is at least 2018.1804.26. If it says anything older, like 2018.1803.xx or less, please update.

Second, go ahead and download Firefox 60 (opens in new tab) from the Mozilla download pages. Please use the regular version, not the ESR, if you’re not required to do so by your employer. The regular version will get more frequent updates than ESRs, and you’ll always get the latest features and enhancements when you update the browser to a new version every few weeks.

Third, uninstall the version 52 ESR from Programs And Features.

Fourth, install the downloaded version 60 of Firefox. Your profile and settings should be retained, and you should still have all your bookmarks and history present. To be safe, you can also use Firefox Sync to save your bookmarks, history, login information, and settings to a secure Mozilla cloud so even if something does go wrong with your profile at some point, you can restore from sync and be back to your usual browser in minutes.

I do not have JAWS 2018 yet, what should I do?

Unfortunately, due to the big technnical changes, it was not possible to retain compatibility with versions of JAWS older than 2018. More information can also be found in this knowledge base article.

What’s next?

As with all software, enhancements and improvements are continuously being added. In the case of Firefox 60 and JAWS, a number of issues have already been identified, in part thanks to community members who tested the JAWS April 2018 update with Firefox 60 when it was in beta. The below is a list of fixes provided to us by Freedom Scientific that can be expected in an upcoming update to JAWS 2018, slatted for release later in May, and which we’re publishing with Freedom Scientific’s permission.

  • Improved JAWS performance and stability with Firefox 60 and later
  • Addressed issue when using ALT+DOWN ARROW and ALT+UP ARROW to expand or collapse combo boxes
  • Resolved reading math content
  • Now properly placing focus on the address bar when opening a new tab with CTRL + T
  • Performance improvements when using Say All (INSERT+DOWN ARROW)
  • Resolved reading the page address with the JAWS command INSERT+A
  • JAWS now properly accesses text displayed when toggling buttons that include the aria-hidden attribute
  • JAWS focus moving to the correct location on web pages that contain an anchor in the page address

If you are currently seeing one of these issues, you can be sure that these will go away once the May 2018 update of JAWS is released.

Reporting problems

As always, if you encounter problems not mentioned above, feel free to report them to either Freedom Scientific or Mozilla. We’ll check the reports out and will make sure they get addressed.

Happy browsing!

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8 thoughts on “Firefox 60 and JAWS 2018 back in good browsing conditions together

  1. Hi, this is good to hear. I’m wondering a couple of points that are blocking me from moving on from the ESR.

    1. What’s the situation with Session Manager and such? Is there a good substitute yet?

    2. Regarding addons, such as NoScript or Session Manager, in the previous FF versions they added menu items to either the main menus or the page context menu, which made them easier to access; now it seems necessary to use the toolbar which isn’t very keyboard-navigable. Is there any prospects this will be fixed?

    Thanks a lot for your reporting on this and for the hope I’ll get to use Firefox Quantum and benefit from all the performance improvements.

    • I don’t know about specific add-ons. If they have a new version available that is built on web extensions, they’ll just update and continue to work. You’ll have to go onto https://addons.mozilla.org to search for your add-ons to find out if they’ve been updated. I cannot keep track of all of them, sorry!

      And secondly, there are now APIs available for add-ons to also put items in the context menu of a page again. We are also working on improving the situation with the keyboard and toolbar buttons, but this work has just started. Stay tuned to the blog for more news on that front when it arrives. So if an add-on doesn’t put itself into the menu in addition to the toolbar, you can ping the add-on author, the API is there now.

  2. I realise that you can’t keep track of all the addons (there are so many of them) but was hoping you new about this one. I’ll keep an eye on that situation, so to speak.

    And the news that menu entries are now possible again is just great. Thanks so much! Very close to updating now.

  3. Regarding using NVDA 2018.1 and Firefox 60, should performance with this combination of software be back to normal or is there still work which needs to be done?

    • Well, back to normal is a relative thing with this big architectural change, unfortunately. Let’s say that, except for maybe one or two more optimizations, it’s as good as we’re going to get it with this current architecture. The only way to actually get a performance, especially with modern web apps, that is even faster is to go bufferless, as I wrote in my “Rethinking Web Accessibility on Windows” post on this blog in September last year. Unfortunately, due to the technologies involved, we’re not going to be able to get much faster without getting rid of buffers.

  4. will ad ons like web visum work in firefox 60 anothe reason why not moving over yet either.also another ad on which I have working perfectly in firefox 52 esr will not work even though the developer of the ad on has brought it over to firefox with the web ad on apis.

    • Hi Gary, WebVisum needs updating. I reached out to the WebVisum folks twice in the 18 months before the launch of Firefox Quantum, but they never replied to my messages. They went into complete hiding, and there’s nothing we at Mozilla can do about it. If an add-on author decides to abandon teir add-on, it’s their choice.

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