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Can Windows Vista finally give me real screen size virtualization so we can stop using "large fonts" as a setting that doesn't really work?

By Andrew Pollack on 12/02/2006 at 08:08 PM EST

There are some things Vista could have that would really draw me in. Sadly, I can’t seem to find out if any of these are part of the product or not. In posting this, I’m hoping someone can either answer or point me to an answer for some of the questions.

Number one on my Windows Vista wish list is that they virtualize the screen more.

What I want is actually very simple. I want to tell Windows – in one place – that my screen resolution is not 72dpi, but is in fact 125dpi. Once that is accomplished, all Windows elements should be scaled to that result.

For any application which does not specify drawing size, but rather specifies pixels – the new AERO graphics engine should do a simple calculation “X pixels * (125 / 72) = Y pixels” and draw it as Y. For fonts and other “vector” based drawing objects, this should be even easier as the curve calculations are already based on this kind of math.

If this is done properly, an 8pt font will take up the same physical area on a high resolution monitor as it does on a low resolution monitor. What’s more, it will fit properly in buttons because the number of pixels on the button have been properly sized and should match.

Some people may WANT that optimized screen real estate. That’s easily handled. They just need to set the DPI setting on back to 72, and their ultra-sharp tiny little fonts will be right back again. The only thing that could suffer – in theory – is looking at pictures. If something is supposed to be 10 pixels, it ends up being 17.36 for me. Rounding is where you get the “fuzzy” aspect.

Why does this matter? Right now, I’m looking at a 19” monitor which is optimized for 1280 by 1024 pixel resolution. The laptop is more extreme. It’s a 17” monitor that is 1920 by 1080. Making some simple assumptions that the pixels are square and aligned uniformly (which they are not, actually) the two monitors come out to about 86 and 125 pixels per inch respectively.

LCD screens are not like the bulky old “tube” based screens. The pixels aren’t projected onto a phosphor screen; they are actual hardware – like little light bulbs. If you decrease the display resolution, you’re getting less crisp representation at each point than you would at the optimize resolution because the dots themselves cannot change size. They must therefore be approximated.

Where this becomes a problem is that many aspects of the Windows screen are designed to be a set number of pixels in height or width. The unit of measure is in pixels, not inches. This includes fonts, title bars, buttons, icons, and all kinds of other things. Much of the time, Windows doesn’t know how many of those pixels fit on a linear inch of screen space on my screen. What people don’t realize is that the old standard has been to assume about 72dpi for screen resolution. That means on my laptop, with nearly twice that resolution, things tend to be on half the ideal size.

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ah, and it turns out that Apple has done just as I describe....By Andrew Pollack on 12/02/2006 at 10:35 PM EST

So, when can I get a Windows product to do this?
Ah, Kam VedBrat at Microsoft wrote me a GREAT answer.By Andrew Pollack on 12/02/2006 at 11:48 PM EST
In addition to email to me, he's cross posted it to his blog, so rather than
post his answer it is better that I link to him.

Thanks, Kam.
re: Can Windows Vista finally give me real screen size virtualization so we can stop using "large fonts" as a setting that doesn't really work?By St■phane Leclair on 09/14/2007 at 11:53 AM EDT
Well, I can imagine that there is some justification for wanting fonts to
appear at some constant real-world size (and of course, that's what "points"
were originally supposed to mean). However, if all apps end up working like
this, where will we find screen real estate?

Say I have this application, WinWidget, that takes up some amount of screen
space at 800x600. Traditionally, if I wanted it to take up less space so I
could keep it in a corner while I work in OpenOffice, I could increase my
display resolution to 1600x1200. But in a system where the size of controls is
a function of font size and font size itself is a function of the monitor's
physical pitch, WinWidget will only use more pixels so that it will remain the
same size on-screen.

Maybe I'm just old-school, but I don't think this is a universal solution (and
neither is the "large fonts" feature, of course). This would work
satisfactorily only if all applications, even dialog-based ones, were to
implement a zoom-on-size feature so we could choose how much surface they take

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