Of course, we all know by now the only way to get massive amounts of users to use a particular browser is to bundle it. For all the pubilicity and popular opinion, Firefox is still sitting at what, 15%? Good luck climbing that hill without force-installing Safari during an iTunes upgrade. It can’t hurt to have another browser on Windows, but I don’t exactly see a major revolution happening here. (Jon Hicks and Jonathan Snook have a few more thoughts on yesterday’s Safari news.)
But what really caught my eye though is the trouble to which Apple has gone in order to mimic the OS X Safari experience on Windows. Everything from window sizing controls to scrollbars to font smoothing. There’s an ironic point to be made here about how much complaining is directed at applications that don’t make an effort to be Mac native when run on OS X…
Joel Spolsky took particular issue to the font rendering, using the release of Safari to rant at length about the philosophy difference between Apple and Microsoft when it comes to displaying on-screen fonts. He’s absolutely right about familiarity affecting judgment, to the point where simple unqualified statements like “I prefer OS X’s font rendering” are fairly useless in a debate about any relative merits between the two operating systems.
What I really wanted to respond to are two points in particular from Joel’s post. One, the bit where he says, “Microsoft pragmatically decided that the design of the typeface is not so holy, and that sharp on-screen text that’s comfortable to read is more important than the typeface designer’s idea of how light or dark an entire block of text should feel.” Marginalizing type designers is a pretty poor way to make any sort of point about typography, given that entire careers are based on an understanding of legibility and facilitating ease of reading. A statement like that one almost veers into dangerous “programmers knowing better than experts in their respective fields” territory, which I can’t imagine was his goal. Joel’s a smart guy, I’m sure it was unintended.
However, lest the larger issue go unheeded, that brings us to the second point. Joel talks about the pixel grid, and how Microsoft’s type rendering pays more attention to it. Speaking as someone who thinks a lot about the pixel grid, I have to say I think I’m coming around to the idea that Microsoft’s ClearType simply works better.
Alright, I’d better qualify that quickly. Think about it this way — as a designer, you don’t just set type in Photoshop and let it go, right? You tweak. You kern. You attempt to match the letters to the pixel grid as closely as possible to reduce the blurriness. Sometimes spacing suffers, and you have to choose between a slightly blurry letter with perfect spacing, or a more precise fit within the pixel grid with just slightly off spacing. I can’t be the only one that leans toward the latter most times.
And that’s the difference here. ClearType is a closer match to what I do manually already. Yes, I prefer the way type on OS X looks; ClearType seems too sharp and overly blocky, the subtleties of the curves are lost and it’s overly chunky. But, for the medium in which it’s being rendered, it seems like a more ideal solution.
Here’s the caveat though — high resolution displays. At 100dpi, ClearType wins out, but we’re not going to be stuck here much longer. Give it a few years, let’s do this comparison again when 200dpi is standard. I suspect the pixel grid won’t matter nearly so much then.