Blurry, but fast: Safari's fonts

Blurry, but fast: Safari's fonts

Summary: Via Robert Scoble, I ran into an interesting discussion of font rendering in Safari running on Windows. Jeff Atwood has some side-by-side comparisons of Safari rendered text and IE rendered text showing the Safari's font rendering is clearly blurred (sorry, I couldn't resist).

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Via Robert Scoble, I ran into an interesting discussion of font rendering in Safari running on Windows. Jeff Atwood has some side-by-side comparisons of Safari rendered text and IE rendered text showing the Safari's font rendering is clearly blurred (sorry, I couldn't resist). Joel Spolsky explains that the difference can be explained by different philosophies about how to "coax sharper-looking fonts out of typical low resolution screens." Joel puts it this way:

Apple generally believes that the goal of the algorithm should be to preserve the design of the typeface as much as possible, even at the cost of a little bit of blurriness.

Microsoft generally believes that the shape of each letter should be hammered into pixel boundaries to prevent blur and improve readability, even at the cost of not being true to the typeface.

In a follow-up post, Atwood points out the font design and rendering is incredibly hard. It's not surprising the Apple would choose to be "true to the design" and Microsoft would "do what works." Who's right? Both Atwood and Dave Shea make a strong argument that Microsoft's approach is more pragmatic and results in text that's easier to read. I'm not sure this difference will result in fewer users for Safari. Some people like the way the Safari rendered text looks. I suspect in any event that people who choose to use Safari on Windows rather than IE or Firefox probably are making that decision for reasons that will trump font rendering and any resulting bluriness.

Topics: Browser, Apple, Microsoft, Windows

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30 comments
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  • True to font is worthless if the user can't see it clearly

    It takes a lot of work to come up with a READABLE font on a limited DPI device.
    georgeou
    • Which is why TrueType Fonts

      is being licensed by Linspire.
      I have [url=http://en.opensuse.org/Optimal_Use_of_MS_TrueType_Core_Fonts_for_a_KDE_Desktop_on_SuSE]True Type Core Fonts[/url] installed in openSUSE 10.2 KDE 3.5.5.

      Combine TT with Xgl 3D and you have a really nice interface--easy on my aging eyes.

      Kudos to Microsoft for development of TT.
      D T Schmitz
      • It's not just the font, it's the subtle pixel shifting

        It's not just the font, it's the subtle pixel shifting that factors in the pixel grid that makes the text look sharp.
        georgeou
      • Apple developed true type

        Apple developed true type MS licensed true type from Apple.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_type
        SquishyParts
        • Very astute

          MS did develop their own TT fonts.

          Thanks for clarifying.
          D T Schmitz
  • Fonts

    It seems to me that if font designs are set up for the screen, then either they are
    compromised for print uses or one has two display methods. I guess my assumption
    is that print on paper has a future. I also wonder if display resolution isn't another
    temporary condition, the way processor speed was in the 90s, and it is smarter to let
    the technology catch up to the technique. It does bother me that there's a possibility
    that the beautiful and elegant works of designers like Hermann Zapf get debased by
    the tyranny of x dots per pixel block.
    DannyO_0x98
    • Blame it on the hardware, it's never Apple's fault

      Hey we can't expect the artist to compromise their fine work. It's the monitor's fault for only being 100 DPI (or less). It's not Apple's fault for not accounting for the grid limitation of mere low-DPI LCDs. Pathetic users with their pathetic displays deserve to suffer for another 10 years until 200 DPI displays come out.
      georgeou
  • I reported the same thing...

    and was told that I was the only one who thought the fonts looked blurry.

    I totally understand the point about there being no "wrong" way to anti-alias fonts. I'm not one to doubt anyone who says that Safari would look better than Firefox on a 320x240 screen but my screen has just a tiny bit more resolution than that. When I first opened Safari and saw they hideous rendering, my first thought wasn't "Safari SUCKS!", it was "hmm, there must be a setting that lets me adjust this". There was but it would only allow me to choose between light, medium, or strong which should actually be renamed to "really blurry, somewhat blurry, or slightly blurry". [b]Where is the OFF choice?[/b] Does Steve Jobs truly believe he knows better than me what looks good on my 1400x1050 screen? Trust me, he doesn't. I would chalk it up to this being a Beta but this kind of "Jobs knows better than you do" mentality seems to run pretty deep through all of Apple's products. Thanks but no thanks.
    NonZealot
    • Steve Jobs can't be wrong, it's your fault

      Steve Jobs can't be wrong; it's your fault for using a pathetic 1400x1050 screen. You should have bought one of his 30" 2560x1600 cinematic displays sitting 3-4 feet away from your face. Do't you know that is the PROPER way use Safari? Get with the program! :).
      georgeou
      • Take you hand off it

        "Steve Jobs can't be wrong, it's your fault"

        Apple isn't wrong, they simply render fonts differently to the way MS renders
        fonts. MS users are use to the way MS renders fonts and find the way Apple
        renders fonts inferior.

        But the reverse is also true, when Mac users look at a windows desktop we're
        amazed at the heavily pixelate text and how bad it looks.

        George claims Apple got it wrong, but this simply shows an ignorance of font
        rendering (particularly the history of MS font technology i.e. see Apple).

        If you are looking for a web browser that has text with heavy pixelation don't use
        Safari.
        Richard Flude
        • What makes you think Windows is more pixelated?

          Windows Vista really strives to find the right balance of smooth edges by shifting the fonts at sub-pixel distances so it fudges the font. Apple says the artistry and trueness of the font is more important and the hell with the pixel grid and limitations of lower DPI displays. The problem is that 99% of the world doesn't use enough pixel density to satisfy Apple's font requirements. You should look at the closeup of this blog.
          http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000884.html

          Windows XP had ClearType technology and it was too blurry for me and I always turned it completely off. Now Vista has finally managed to find the right balance for me.
          georgeou
          • Your links confirm my position

            "The problem is that 99% of the world doesn't use enough pixel density to satisfy
            Apple's font requirements. You should look at the closeup of this blog."

            I'd disagree with your assertion that the MS method improves the finished
            product, as does many of the posters to the blog you link.

            Yes I agree the final product is different for the two OSes, but this doesn't mean
            Apple got it wrong. This perception is built on your experience looking at "harsh"
            "jagged" windows fonts (terms taken from others describing the windows
            experience).

            Apple's implementation has many benefits:

            http://sarathc.wordpress.com/2007/06/14/safari-is-better-in-complex-
            unicode-font-sub-pixel-rendering/
            Richard Flude
          • There is no way that the Apple method looks better

            There is no way that the Apple method looks better. It might be better if you're doing desktop publishing and you're trying to see perfect kerning. We're not talking about desktop publishing here; we're talking about the desktop.

            The images on that blog I link to are as clear as night that the Apple method is visibly inferior from a readability standpoint. The thing about the Apple method is that it is a lot simpler to do because it?s completely oblivious to the pixel grid. Microsoft?s method has to go the extra mile of factoring in the pixel grid. This isn?t one of those apple or orange comparisons, it?s clear that Apple?s font rendering is primitive.
            georgeou
          • TO YOU

            "The images on that blog I link to are as clear as night that the Apple method is
            visibly inferior from a readability standpoint."

            TO YOU. Many posters to the blog, including font professionals disagree with your
            assertion. So do I. Even the blog itself makes the point.

            "This isn?t one of those apple or orange comparisons, it?s clear that Apple?s font
            rendering is primitive."

            Yet MS technology can't render a unicode font.

            Again the two technologies have taken a divergent path. Your experience dictates
            what you prefer, many others disagree with you. However using terms like
            "primitive" to describe Apple's font technology is one of the strangest phrases I've
            heard. Not unexpected from it's source.

            As mention if you want harsh, jagged "easy to read" fonts (assuming you use
            western charset) don't use Safari under windows or a Mac. Some of us have a
            different expectations.
            Richard Flude
          • Because people will defend Apple no matter what

            Because people will defend Apple no matter what. It doesn't matter if it's more blurry, it's Apple so it's got to be better.
            georgeou
          • You must be right then

            All the rest of us are wrong, we must be brainwashed.

            Actually now you point it out I'm perplexed that Apple has such a large following
            among designers, they clearly can't see the superior MS solution you're describing;-)
            Richard Flude
          • You defend MS to your dying breath.

            The funny thing is, I linked to the same blog to show how ugly (and harder to read
            IMO) the WinXP fonts are. Vista is a MAJOR step in the right direction where fonts
            are concerned.
            Bruizer
          • I tell the truth about Microsoft, good or bad

            I tell the truth about Microsoft, good or bad

            Good:
            http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=428

            Bad:
            http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=390
            georgeou
          • George I see.

            You're still on your personal [b]Jihad[/b]. Trying to rid the world of those infidel
            Mac users. They are all evil, because they don't do everything the Microsoft way.
            As I see it, windows font rendering is primitive and inferior. In another one of your
            rants (that's what they are, after all), you claim (and I quote)

            [i]Blame it on the hardware, it's never Apple's fault
            Hey we can't expect the artist to compromise their fine work. It's the monitor's
            fault for only being 100 DPI (or less). It's not Apple's fault for not accounting for
            the grid limitation of mere low-DPI LCDs. Pathetic users with their pathetic
            displays deserve to suffer for another 10 years until 200 DPI displays come out.
            Posted by: georgeou Posted on: 06/15/07 You are currently: Logged In | Logout? |
            Terms of Use[/i]

            so which one it it? Yes we all know that you will defend the benevolent gods in
            redmond. Heck you'll even cherry pick statistics to meet your agenda, so why am I
            not surprised that you lie to yourself in an effort to further your own personal
            agenda. Go Jihad George, go!
            Rick_K
      • The truly sad thing is...

        there are Mac zealots reading your post right now thinking [i]Yeah, right on, you tell him George!!![/i] :)
        NonZealot