Sub-pixel font rendering technology

Wednesday 13 April 2005

A friend sent an email exhorting me to take advantage of ClearType on Windows XP. (Hmmm, he’s a newly-minted Microsoft employee... the beginnings of a subtle intra-friend marketing push?) I’ve tried it in the past, and been very impressed. I don’t use it because I switch back and forth from LCD to CRT a few times during the course of a day, and ClearType doesn’t look good on CRTs. I expect to be all LCD all the time in a week or so, so I’ll give it a real try then.

But I was reminded of Steve Gibson’s Sub-Pixel Font Rendering Technology page. It’s got a lot of good information about the technology. It also has Free & Clear, a demo of the concepts of sub-pixel rendering. Perhaps most surprising about the app is that it is Windows application but only 35Kb in size, complete. It’s that small not because there’s a 2Mb DLL alongside it, but because it is written in assembly language, just as all of Steve’s software is. I think he’s nuts, but I admire his dedication.


christopher baus 9:02 PM on 13 Apr 2005

I'm a fan of subpixel positioning. It is like magic. I first saw this at Bitstream when I was at Corel. Bitstream just couldn't make any hey with it, although they were way ahead of the game.

andrew 10:29 PM on 13 Apr 2005

Hey! I resemble that remark! I will have you know that I was a ClearType fan before the chip implant.


Kartik Agaram 3:41 AM on 14 Apr 2005

I periodically retry ClearType and remind myself that I don't like it. It just seems a tad out of focus, somehow.

Ned Batchelder 6:56 AM on 14 Apr 2005

It is a tad out of focus. That's how they manage to get rid of jaggies. I'll have to see what I think. In the past, I haven't liked font smoothing for the same reason, but ClearType on a high-resolution LCD may be a good tradeoff.

Michael Wexler 9:37 AM on 14 Apr 2005

As a former Softie myself, I can say that the Gibson "controversy" was well commented on while I was there. Bill Hill, one of the inventors of CT, is a Scottish guy full of piss and vinegar. He would argue technical points for hours and hours, not letting you leave til you conceded. (There's some great Channel9 footage of him talking about CT, though I don't have the link right now). Anyway, I remember some meeting with him explaining how CT was different from the other attempts, and I couldn't understand a word of it, between the tech and the scottish brogue (which grew more as he got more excited). Finally, a friend leaned over and explained it in a way which is kind of a consistent undercurrent in MS technology: "Basically, others may have tried to do it first, but we did it better and made it work." To MS, its not about who tried to do it first and failed (defined as market flop), its about who did it first and got it on every machine running an MS OS... which is a lot of machines. Yes, there are technical differences, but they appear to be splitting hairs to my novice understanding; a more techie person might see them.

I use which gives me much more control over ClearType. Different laptops require different tweaking, and this little widget lets you modify how CT handles the fades. It also lets you turn it off and on relatively easily.

Kartik Agaram 1:24 PM on 14 Apr 2005

Yes, I've tried the web tool, but I could never tell the difference between the different configurations. I think I'm slightly visually impaired in this regard, or lacking in the requisite taste and discernment :)

Hermann Klinke 1:58 PM on 15 Apr 2005

ClearType does not look good on CRTs, because it doesn't work on CRTs ;-), it's supposed to work only on LCDs. That's what I've read somewhere...

Sylvain Galineau 2:48 PM on 20 Apr 2005

Turned it on and loved it until I got into Eclipse. Code that looks like a page out of a college textbook is just, well....weird.

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