Archive for March, 2010

Windows 7 ClearType WTF?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010 | IDE, Misc, Tech-savvy | 2 Comments

I recently had to switch to Windoze 7. I am not the kind of guy who likes migrating to new OSs – the biggest challenge was the switch from an all tuned Win98 SE to Windows XP almost a decade ago. Well, times change, and I don’t have to be on a first name basis with every file on my system partition any more. Things should just run, stable, fast and smart (oh, it does all that by itself?). Something that Linux Mint does for me every time I need a free OS for a random project (HTPC, friend’s netbook, arcade emulation machine, you name it). Windows 7 has been a great piece of software so far, it’s as fast as XP, has a good look and feel and does smart things like getting drivers from M$ so I don’t have to dl them from third party websites (btw: Dell, I pretty much hate you for your “support” section… it’s such a mess!).

All right, back to topic. I want to share some experience I gathered with Microsoft ClearType technology. This is a short description taken from Wikipedia:

ClearType is a trademark for Microsoft‘s implementation of subpixel rendering technology. ClearType attempts to improve the appearance of text on certain types of computer display screens by sacrificing color fidelity for additional intensity variation. This trade-off is asserted to work well on LCD flat panel monitors.

With ClearType enabled I have the constant feeling that my display has a focus problem. I’m really into pixels 😉 and I want to see ’em, not some blurry optimized mud. I understand the need for soft-focused cutting/editing using image manipulation software like Photoshop or Gimp, but fonts should be plain (black) pixels on plain (white) background. This is just my opinion, others may like the new style better.  I also agree that ClearType makes sense on a certain display size / resolution / dpi ratio, say a 20″ full-hd display with 120 DPI could be a good choice for subpixel rendering. I prefer the old style ratios like 20″ 1680×1050 75 DPI or 24″ full-hd 75 DPI.

Anyway, here are some examples of bad “optimization” and how I got rid of them, well, almost.

The first program that hurt my eyes was the eclipse IDE. Being a software developer I work with the eclipse workbench on a daily basis. What I did was copy my eclipse workspaces from my old XP box to the new machine. (Something I really like about development tools (eclipse, Java, MySQL, JBoss, …) – they don’t have to be installed, just unzip/copy ’em and you are ready to go. )

I launched eclipse and something felt different. I blinked my eyes. Still, something odd was displayed on my screen. I thought “OMG, ClearType”, so I disabled this feature as I did every time before I ever came across it (mostly Internet Explorer). The font rendering in the text editor was fine now, but suddenly the explorer tree looked horrible. See for yourself (click to enlarge, browse the enlarged pictures to see the difference):

I was stuck with either a nice representation of the explorer tree or a feel good editor. This sucked big time! But I found a solution to this problem, which included the enabling of the ClearType feature. Yikes! After fiddling with eclipse’s font settings I found the bugger! “Courier New” (the font I had used for source code for years) is getting rendered blurry, “Courier” doesn’t (@see font dialogue on the right hand side).

Switching from “Courier New” to “Courier” solved the rendering issue, but I did not like the line-height of “Courier”, the code seemed to be squeezed together, but this is another issue 🙂

The rendering “bug” was found and “Courier New” is history to me – today I use “Segoe UI” and I am pretty fond of the font. (Plz forgive me for that bad joke, it was just too tempting… 🙂 )

Conclusion: What I find annoying about the font rendering settings is the fact, that you cannot choose between an old sk00l font rendering style and the new ClearType way, meaning 1:1 pixels vs. subpixel rendering. You can only choose between bad (ClearType on) and worse (ClearType off) font rendering using Windows 7. While I am typing this my eyes really feel stressed reading on my Win7 machine and it’s always a pleasure to go back to my private ole WinXP desktop. *Sigh* It seems to me M$ foobared the non-ClearType rendering that bad you just have to use ClearType. So they can say: “Look, it all looks better with ClearType”. Yeah, right!

But M$ does not have to dictate how fonts are getting rendered. Software can give you the opportunity to choose the font rendering style. Read on for a good example on how a piece of software lets you choose how fonts are displayed.

Another tool I use on a regular basis is PuTTY. Again, “Courier New” used to be my weapon of choice for shells and as soon as I started using PuTTY on Windows 7 with ClearType enabled my eyes were screaming “Focus! Fooocus!” – I opened the font preferences dialogue and found some pretty interesting settings.

PuTTY gives you the opportunity to choose a font “quality” from Antialiased, Non-Antialiased, ClearType and Default. Default is enabled by, well yes, default, which is ClearType on systems that have ClearType enabled. I simply chose Non-Antialiased and all my font problems were solved. I can stick to “Courier New” with a proper line-heigt (in contrast to “Courier”) and crisp font rendering. Finully! Now I just have to wait for other tool developers to offer similar options to end users or the world falling into subpixel rendering apathy. Either way, until 200+DPI displays are released to the open public I will miss the good ole “a pixel is just a pixel” days and try to eliminate bad display “optimization”.

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Review: Invictus (2009)

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 | Movies, Reviews | No Comments

A friend of mine (Hi, Simon!) asked my whether I’ve watched Invictus. “Never heard of it” I replied. He was going to see it for the sole reason it is a rugby film (he was gonna watch it with his rugby team 🙂 ), which is nothing that interests me. Still I gave it a try and I was very surprised. First, the film is very good, second, rugby is not the main plot and last but not least, after watching the end credits I was like: “WTF! Clint Eastwood again?” The old bloke’s last few instalments all were convincing and pretty much ingenious (@see my review of Gran Torino).

The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.

So it’s more like a political drama rather than a sports flick. Morgan Freeman stars as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as the Boks’ captain, both doing a great job. After watching the film it was fun to read some more trivia about Mandela and the South African rugby team. I cannot say whether the films portraits actual history accurately, but it sure was a pleasure to watch.

8.0 / 10 – Moving, inspiring, heart touching. Thanks, Mr Eastwood, for another enjoyable evening!

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