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August 07, 2006

A nice new feature of IE7 I noticed last week: ClearType is now a browser-specific feature.

ClearType in IE7, overlaying pixellated text in IE6

When Windows XP was released in 2001, Microsoft launched ClearType as a way of smoothing on-screen fonts. Great, except for some reason, it was off by default. Most users never found the setting to enable it, so for the past 5 years, we’ve still had to assume users are seeing ugly pixellated fonts on the web.

But Vista aside, even in the forthcoming IE7 for XP, ClearType is a browser-specific setting and it’s enabled by default. Combine this with IE7’s presumed quick march onto user’s systems, and we’re going to see a whole lot of ClearType in the near future.

Preferences dialogue window highlighting ClearType switched on

Nicely done, IE team.

August 07, 15h

Try using ClearType for any period of time on a CRT and you might find out why it is off by default in XP; remember, it is designed to work on the subpixel level of TFTs :] Oh, and it was possible for application to use it since the beginning (it’s just that programmers did respect the system wide setting in this case until now - I wonder why…)

Anyway, as I do not have the slightest clue about the current percentage use of TFTs I have no idea if this a good thing or not.

Kevin says:
August 07, 15h

But why is ClearType so great? I understand anit-aliasing, and that’s great, but ClearType makes text look blurry to me.

August 07, 15h

I love Cleartype, and got in the habit of enabling it on any PC I worked on, even when it wasn’t mine, but I think it’s a bit weird enabling it for an application rather than a system - I think it should respect the system preference, rather than be set on individual apps. If I, for whatever reason, disable Cleartype in the system, I want all apps to respect that…

August 07, 15h

Great find!

I’ve long always just enabled it on desktops of people that I come across who are not using it. This is one area where I really wonder how people have just lived with ugly fonts for so long. I guess they just didn’t know any better.

I really hope the adaption rate for IE7 is as fast as we assume it will be.

August 07, 15h

I’m glad they enable it by default. Being used to OS X I can’t stand going to a Windows machine and not having anti-aliasing for screen fonts.

Greg says:
August 07, 16h

It still looks very welfare (think food stamp) compared to Safari and Quartz. I don’t understand what’s to hard, but they seem only capable of doing a half-ass job with rendering type.

Roland says:
August 07, 16h

What I wonder is why Microsoft doesn’t have a decent non-subpixel anti-aliasing option, like “Standard” in OS X.

Ben Ward says:
August 07, 17h

Whilst ClearType is certainly a Good Thing™, even on CRTs I find (sometimes with a bit of a tweak using the PowerToy) and as useful as it is to use as Web Developers that IE is going to force it on and as a Mac user it doesn’t directly affect me any more, I still have the same reservation as Paul Haine above.

ClearType is a system preference. That’s the only way that makes sense. Microsoft screwed up not having it switched on by default in XP but their solution should be to pop on a new Windows update that gives you a big, unavoidable visual-comparison style choice as to whether to enable it or not. Push people to switch it on (like they did with Automatic Updates in SP2). Encouraging individual apps to implement their own ClearType setting is just opening up a world of pain for application consistency for the rest of XPs life, and it’ll inevitably carry over into Vista as well which will be a real shame.

franky says:
August 07, 17h

Actually can you imagine people still have CRTs? Even people running Windows XP. On older CRTs ClearType can look really bad.
This setting was a typical MS choice, disabled by default for everyone and available for people with better hardware. MS even released a Power Tool for ClearType.

Dave S. says:
August 07, 17h

Paul, Ben – good general point, I think I agree with it too. But I can’t see any way Vista won’t have ClearType on by default system-wide, so this strikes me as more of a temporary kludge for those who don’t upgrade from XP for a while.

Maybe the better route would have been to have a Windows XP Update flip the system-wide switch, but I’m happy enough if this is all we get in XP.

Ryan says:
August 07, 20h

I just tried it here at work, and no thanks.

ClearType on my Dell 24” LCD is shithouse. It’s like my monitor has been smeared with Vasoline.

Why is this so hard? My Powerbook looks beautiful.

Adrian D. says:
August 07, 20h

> Encouraging individual apps to implement their own ClearType setting is just opening up a world of pain for application consistency for the rest of XPs life

Yeah I think the installer should instead ask whether Clear Type can be enabled system-wide, or at least apply the setting only to users with a LCD display.

But that kind of thinking would benefit Firefox and Opera too.

draco says:
August 07, 23h

On a old 15 inch CRT now, ClearType is a godsent. I love it – and it’s good that IE7 has it on by default so people can finally learn about it after 5 years.

August 08, 00h

Does ClearType only benefit poorer quality TFTs?

I’ve tried it on both my Samsung’s at home and my IBM at work, it just gives text a purple blur, making text a pain to read.

I remember trying CoolType on my old half-dead CRT when I first got XP, it looked more like standard antialiasing, I quite liked it.

Text looks great on Macs and Linux (standard antialiasing), I don’t see why we can’t have that.

Bramus! says:
August 08, 00h

Hi Dave,

I don’t think it’s “a browser-specific feature” and that eventuallly one won’t be able to turn off in Vista.

At least, that’s what I hope it will be like, cos’ ClearType really IS nice. (And also the fact OS X users won’t be able to mock anymore with our poor fontrendering :D)

Above that: Office 2007 beta also has on ClearType by default (and it can be disabled). If you haven’t tried it yet, you must really do.

A satisfied user (yes, they do exist!)


Phillip says:
August 08, 01h

You can tune cleartype either by going
to a MS site (IE only)
or by downloading a little app

These two options allow people to turn on cleartype if they don’t allready have it on, and once on you can choose how bold/antialiased you want it. I’ve never had problems with any of the many laptops and desktop LCDs I’ve used.

I think that you guys that have problems should try use one of the two apps and see what you’re not seeing :)

August 08, 01h

I tried the PowerToy app, and I managed to reduce the purple effect, but black text still looks like a mash of other colours.

When I take a screenshot and zoom in using photoshop, I can see why it looks like this. It’s because it is actually is like this. Black text is now made up of oranges and purples.

ClearType only seems to improve italic fonts, which is probably why they seem to use it all over the place on their demo site above.

How can black text become clearer by adding orange and purple? Surely this can only benefit poorer quality TFTs that mess up the image in a way which turns the orange and purples back into black.

If you find ClearType an advantage, can I ask what TFT you’re using? Is it running in its native resolution?

August 08, 02h has a good explaination of the technology and also explains why I see a mash of colours.

“ClearType and similar technologies work because human vision is much more sensitive to variations in intensity than it is to variations in color.”

This is also the basis of JPEG compression, so I can’t deny it’s the case, but perhaps my eyes (and others who don’t like ClearType) are more sensative to chrominance than average, or all the monitors I’ve used aren’t matching pixels and dots uniformly (I’ve tried a lot).

August 08, 02h

I don’t like it and agree with Kevin’s earlier comment about it making the text look blurry. I like the rawness of the pixels.

Jon says:
August 08, 06h

I’m not sure why MS decided not to enable any sort of font smoothing by default in XP. Personally, I preferred Standard over ClearType any day. As someone stated earlier, ClearType for me looked like someone smeared Vasoline on my monitor. Standard seemed to do the trick, however I really only enjoyed the effect on larger type sizes. Headings on webpages looked great, while the smaller font sizes had a bit of a mushy feel to them.

Paul Solecki says:
August 08, 07h

I agree with people about it being very annoying that it doesn’t respect the system-wide setting but for me it’s great on my main monitor. It looks crap on my secondary LCD monitor though.

Martin says:
August 08, 07h

Clear Type technology is only bad quality parody to Mac OS X Quertz (see this comparison: )

Mac OS X antialiased text seems like printed, but MS Clear Type text is pain to read. This is the reason why it was off by default. Even Linux has better anti-aliasing then Microsoft. Just try these systems side by side, Clear Type is definitely the worst and Mac OS X the best.

August 08, 07h

At work I have two machines, my monitor has two hookups but my older machine doesn’t have DVI (while the new one does). So I’m forced to use DVI for one and the old VGA for the other. Honestly ClearType looks tons better through the DVI. It might have to do with other interference issues. But I have Cleartype turned on with my new machine and off with the older one. Maybe a weaker symbol is hampering others?

I do agree wholeheartedly… OS X destroys Windows with this stuff.

web says:
August 08, 09h

Has anybody else noticed that IE7 popup blocker is now blocking popups from any link which has a target=”_blank” – I thought blockers were supposed to be disabled on user initiated links but it seems by default IE7B3 has it on “KILL ALL WINDOWS” mode…

Is this just me? – I have not had the time to research.

August 08, 09h

Apple has the great advantage that they have a very limited range of hardware where their stuff has to work. If one hooks up a non-Apple LCD to a Mac and it looks crap then it’s the LCD’s fault, but if one hooks up the same LCD to a Windows machine it’s Microsoft’s fault…

As for the original topic, a decent anti-aliasing for IE was over-due, but in my opinion Opera still show the best performance of all the Windows browsers in this respect.

Get Overit says:
August 08, 09h

I have a quick solution for those of you who don’t like ClearType. Turn it off and forget about it.

Anyone who does like it. Keep it on and enjoy it.

There’s no need to post the same complaints over and over again. I swear some people just like to read their own writing.

kramer says:
August 08, 10h

As for the mac os anti-aliasing looking better, if you compare that image martin posted (thank you) it’s clear to see that the mac makes the fonts look more bold than the windows version. Couldn’t you just tweak cleartype to a more bold setting?

Neil says:
August 08, 11h

I don’t think the post is about how well ClearType works on a particular display but wheather it is on by default and in what situations.

To me it is simply another reminder of the many variations in a users visual experience.

Hasan says:
August 08, 11h

Björn, you might try user the ClearType Tuner (that Ben mentioned indirectly) for adjusting ClearType on a CRT. After tweaking, I prefer having ClearType enabled…

Hasan says:
August 08, 11h

I should have mentioned that you’ll have to open up IE to use the tuner, of course:P

Ryan says:
August 08, 16h

Phillip thanks for those tools, but why do I need them? My Mac’s version of this tech is beautiful. It’s just another example of poor quality copying from our friends in Redmond.

If I turn on ClearType in its default state my PC becomes unusable. I certainly can’t program on it anymore, I’d go blind.


Ryan says:
August 08, 16h

There is no setting I can get in the ClearType tools linked that give acceptable results.

A shame.

Scott says:
August 08, 17h

Seeing as how IE is usually faster for me than Firefox, I see the list of reasons to use Firefox dwindling, and myself possibly switching back to IE…

Peter says:
August 08, 17h

As pointed out by others, ClearType tends to work best on LCD monitors. When WinXP was released in 2001, I’m guessing the percentage of users (who were expected to get WinXP) who had LCD monitors was probably not high enough to justify enabling it by default - as noted, it can look bad on older CRTs, but on some it doesn’t look bad. (Though I suspect some of it is subjective.)

Five years later, it probably makes sense to enable it by default. Though, sometimes it’s hard to speculate that a majority of users will have a technology just because it’s cheap or widespread. I remember even a few years ago, hardly any PC games/software were released on DVDs because market research indicated a majority *still* did not have DVD drives.

Or, as a current example, take DVD burners: They’re dirt cheap ($40 CDN or less for a dual-layer burner), but I’m willing to bet that most computers (not just ours, or those of tech-saavy people) do not have them.

Jonathan says:
August 08, 17h

Peter’s right. I bought my first LCD in 2001. A 15” Viewsonic that ran about $400-500. It wasn’t a deal for sure, but I had less deskspace than brains or money at the time. Now a 20” or 21” runs in the $300-500 range and 17” lcds run regularly under $200.

However, while it does make sense to enable it by default, I think it should remain a system wide setting as some other have stated. On the other hand, there may be circumstances where having the ability to disable it on a per-application basis could be useful.

Dave S. says:
August 08, 18h

Okay, it’s been a while since anyone’s made an original point, so after this marker I’ll be aggressive about deleting comments that don’t say anything beyond:

- ClearType looks better on LCDs
- ClearType is great/horrible
- It should be enabled system-wide instead of on a per-app basis.

Tim says:
August 09, 00h

Initially I thought it looked blurry with ClearType, and I was having a hard time looking at it. CRT & LCD.

Then you stop looking for the pixels *on* the screen, and start looking ever so slighlty *through* the screen. Bit like those auto-stereo-ooh-its-a-sail-boat things.
My eyes are more relaxed, I don’t squint at the screen so much because I don’t have to work out where every pixel is to form the letters. Like normal book reading you start scanning the words, instead of peering at every letter. Our brain was designed for softer shapes anyway, not pixellations.

And if its inclusion in IE7 means I can design so that other people see what I see, especially large italic fonts, then all the better. Although I can hear “that IE7 is so much better than Firefox, look at the text…” , which would be very infuriating!

May not contain original material.

Kevin says:
August 09, 04h

I’d always thought that ClearType wasn’t on by default because on hardware that was around at XP’s inception, it actually causes a noticeable performance hit. It certainly did for me on my old Athlon XP 1800+ (with integrated graphics admittedly). I left it off on that machine for that reason, and have only begun using it permanently since upgrading to a much faster machine with a 6600GT graphics card.

August 09, 05h

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Dave. I enjoy the feature so to me this is good information you’ve shared.

Ryan says:
August 11, 02h

Like Tim, I had a very hard time adjusting to ClearType on my Laptop LCD (and I still don’t use it on my Desktop CRT).

When I friend tried to convert me, I wretched at the way it looked, and refused for months to switch over. Every once in a while, however, I would try it out for a while. Finally, I started liking ClearType more. Certainly, it looks more blurry when you compare to “Standard” (which seems to do nothing) or “nothing”. However, when I switch back to standard now, my eyes hurt and I wretch at the ugliness.

Simply put, it just takes getting used to. I am now happy with ClearType, I think it has made my screen easier to read. But the transition was not easy!

Chris says:
August 11, 07h

I love ClearType, but there are still fonts it doesn’t smooth, like the ones used for dialogue boxes in Illustrator. Agh!

August 12, 17h

Like Tim and Ryan I also had a hard time getting used to ClearType. Finally I switched over, like Ryan said, “it just takes getting used to”. I’ve tried going back but it just isn’t as readable.

Chris says:
August 13, 11h

On my 19” CRT ClearType is brilliant I love it – Im not entirely convinced that it’s good that IE7 has it on by default though.

Tomek says:
August 17, 07h

Didn’t even know before that such thing exists - just tried it today and so far it’s great. But I think that having it enabled/disabled per application is actually a good idea since ClearType is good for web pages an such but not so great when it comes to work with monotype fonts like, for example, Courier. I had to switch font to DejaVu Sans Mono in my IDE to make it usable again.

August 21, 05h

I think the point of this entry was that ClearType was initially only activated from within the Windows OS and now can be activated from within the IE 7.0 browser. When I first installed IE 7.0 beta, I was pretty horrified by the quality of the text on my large LCD monitor and started to get a headache. It took me about 24 hours to figure out it was ClearType and another 24 hours to figure out how to turn it off. I also tried to “tweak” the settings, but that apparently only effects the OS CLearType settings (which I had already turned off). Note this was two beta versions ago, so they may have fixed that by now.

Regardless of whether you offer ClearType or not, or whether it is default or not, or whether it is controlled by the OS or the browser settings, I would highly recommend that there be an easy way for the user to know what it is and how to turn it off and on.

Jeff says:
August 22, 22h

Cleartype control is appallingly bad on the Office 2007 beta. I’ve managed to turn it off (at the Word app level) for Outlook, but persists in the sender and subject fields!

So now I’ve got crisp body text and blurry sender fields, which just serve to constantly remind me what a bunch of muppets the MS designers are!

People are going to want Cleartype off, or Cleartype on, for all their apps. They are *not* going to want a mix of aliased and anti-aliased within the same application.

August 30, 04h

This is slightly off-topic, but I understand that the version of ClearType in Vista will somehow be an improvement over the one in XP. Hopefully those improvements will include making it easier for people to adjust to their individual taste.

As for myself, I’ve been using ClearType for the last five years and find it vastly better than nothing or than XP’s “standard” anti-aliasing option. I’m glad to see it getting more exposure in IE7.

@Jeff: Office 2007 is in beta. It’s an old software joke (and truism) that beta is Latin for “it doesn’t work yet.”

Petr says:
October 13, 12h

I think, that clear type feature looks worst than no antialising method on LCD monitors. For me is better readable looks better no antialiased text with common fonts (verdana, tahoma or with font here).