April 28th, 2004 • 4:33 am
This is one of these issues that I have been wondering about for a long time… See, I have Virtual PC installed on my G4, and it’s running Windows XP Home Edition. I don’t use it very often, and certainly haven’t spent any time trying to customize Windows XP’s configuration.
It all starts with Robert Scoble (a long-time blogger and more recently a Microsoft employee) claiming that Microsoft’s ClearType technology is far superior to Mac OS X’s anti-aliasing.
Going Nowhere retorts that he doesn’t agree at all, and provides screen shots to prove his point.
Scobleizer checks the screen shots and reiterates that there is “no contest“.
Finally, Going Nowhere takes Scobleizer to task regarding his assumptions and attitude.
Like Going Nowhere, I am not a specialist. But looking at his screen shots, several things appear obvious:
- The anti-aliasing in Mac OS X looks far closer to what the font actually looks like in print. Unless I am mistaken, that’s exactly what the purpose of anti-aliasing is, isn’t it? To make text on screen look more like text in print. The anti-aliased Times font in Windows looks nothing like actual Times characters in print.
- It could be argued that anti-aliasing is not necessarily about making on-screen text look like printed text (although Scobleizer doesn’t make that point), but only about making on-screen text more pleasant to read. Here again, however, I fail to see how the Windows XP text is easier/more pleasant to read than the Mac OS X text. On the contrary, the font weight looks like it’s changing wildly from one character to the next, especially in the boldface text. And the shapes are still much more angular than they would be in print, which makes them less pleasing to the eye.
- The Japanese text is not anti-aliased at all in the Windows XP screen shot, so the comparison is irrelevant there.
The bottom-line, to me, is that there is a reason why anti-aliased text is trying to look like printed text: It’s because print-like quality is the ultimate goal! The vast majority of the typefaces used today were designed for print. To me, a on-screen font that looks more like its printed version is obviously going to be more pleasant to read, because it’ll be closer to the font designer’s actual design.
The other interesting point is that Scobleizer is only able to say that ClearType text looks better to him on certain types of displays and after much tweaking of the settings — which is a typical Microsoft attitude: requiring users to tweak their settings vs. things working right out of the box. Mac OS X does give you four different settings for text smoothing and is not particularly smart at guessing which one is the best for your display. And sometimes (after a massive crash) it still forgets your setting and reverts to the default “Best for CRT”. But at least the setting is easy to find (under “Appearance” in System Preferences) and change.
Finally, all this sort of explains why I thought font anti-aliasing in Windows XP Home Edition in my Virtual PC environment wasn’t working very well: I probably haven’t even turned it on!