Microsoft: Windows 8 will support retina-style displays, too

Microsoft: Windows 8 will support retina-style displays, too

Summary: Microsoft has big display plans for Windows 8. Now we just need to see the PCs and tablets that actually sport the higher pixel densities the Softies are touting.


Microsoft isn't going to stand by and let Apple take all the pixel-density kudos, as is evident from a March 21 post on the "Building Windows 8" blog.

David Washington, a senior program manager on the Windows 8 User Experience team, explained in more depth the choices Microsoft made in enabling its coming operating system to scale to differently sized and more pixel-rich screens. (He also mentioned Apple and the iPad by name in his post, which might be a first for any of the Building Windows 8 posts.)

The Softies said back at the Build conference in September 2011 that the minimum screen resolution that Windows 8 would support was 1024X768. (The resolution must be 1366X768 to enable the "Snap" feature, however.)  By selecting a hard minimum, Microsoft officials said they could insure that developers could use this as a baseline to insure all their navigation, controls and content would fit on a screen. Additionally, according to this week's new blog post, Microsoft's data shows that "only 1.2% of active Windows 7 users have screens with a resolution of less than 1024x768."

It's not just screen resolution that plays into how an operating system and apps look as they scale; pixel density -- the number of pixels in a physical area described in dots per inch (DPI) or pixels per inch (PPI) -- matters, too.

Washington said many of the coming Windows 8 tablets will have pixel densities of "at least 135 DPI," with some HD tablets and quad-XGA tablets going as high as 190 DPI and 253 DPI, respectively.

"Pixel densities can increase even more on lesser aspect ratios and smaller screens as we see in the new iPad," Washington noted, which sports a retina screen displaying 234 PPI, or twice the pixel density as the iPad 2, on a screen with a resolution of 2048x1536. (Apple calls these pixelly-dense displays 'retina displays.')

More from Washington's post:

"Some might be curious about the new iPad screen. For this screen, Apple has chosen a scale factor of 200%. The new screen has twice the pixel density (132 PPI to 234 PPI) on the same size screen. Because iOS and developers only need to support the predefined resolutions, they only need to design for this one additional scaling factor. In the case of iPad 2 compared to new iPad the 200% scaling factor means that what you see on 1024x768 is exactly what you see on the new resolution, only sharper because more pixels are used (as in the image of the app above). Additionally, on higher pixel-density screens like the new iPad, developers for games and other performance-critical apps may decide the right balance between letterboxing and running at a lower fidelity to deliver the best experience (frame rate, for example)."

In the case of Windows 8, with multiple OEMs building PCs and tablets with many different screen sizes, Metro-style app developers will need to "make sure images look great on each of the scale percentages," Washington said. Users, IT administrator and OEMs won't have to worry about doing anything proactively, however, Washington said, as Windows 8 will implement proper scaling "automatically," he said, supporting three scale percentages: 100% when no scaling is applied; 140% for HD tablets; and 180% for quad-XGA tablets.

Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott has a few critiques and questions regarding Microsoft's display-scaling approach, noting that users of Desktop apps will likely see few if any changes with Windows 8. His conclusion:

"Windows is just never going to be as simple and elegant as the iPad, and that's particularly true in this (high-density display) area. Windows' diversity of devices, as always, remains both a blessing (choice) and a curse (inconsistency)."

Agree? If not, why not?

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Tablets, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Talking points memo

    Does this mean the Munchkins' script will be revised? They've been telling us that no one needs the higher resolution on the new iPad.
    Robert Hahn
    • Where did you get your script from?

      I think it needs revising, you say the same thing over and over again.
  • Double 132

    "The new screen has twice the pixel density (132 PPI to 234 PPI)".

    Umm, I don't know heaps about DPI, but if you double 132, don't you get 264, not 234? Did Microsoft get their math's wrong here or am I missing something?
    • not the same dimensions

      you're assuming that these screens are all the same size. they are not.
      • uhmmm.. no...

        PPI = pixels per inch.. it's not a resolution.. they are specifying how many actually pixels per inch.. if they had used dimensions or resolution then the size of the screen would be relevant.. pixels per inch ARE pixels per inch regardless of the size or res of the screen..
    • Typo

      Typo. He meant 264.
      Jeff Kibuule
      • Doesn't matter

        It's still not doubled.
    • Even if it were

      "The new screen has twice the pixel density (132 PPI to 234 PPI) on the same size screen."

      Wrong. Pixel density is two dimensional. Even assuming the number is supposed to be 264, that constitutes a quadrupling of pixels, not a doubling.
      • Math

        To the innumerate idiots who -1ed me, math is math. Deal with it.
  • Freedom vs. Dictatorship

    I've always chosen freedom (Microsoft) over dictatorship (Apple), and I always will. (Windows 8 is another matter however).
    • How is Microsoft freedom?

      They're a monopoly on the desktop, that's not freedom, doh!
      • Sort of

        No platform offers you the freedom Windows does. You can rebel and go *nix and trade OS openness for lack of choice in applications, or enjoy Apple's our-way-or-the-highway attitude and take your walled garden. MS at least develops "in the open" and has always allowed an extreme number of form factors for their devices.

        I agree with the sentiment, though, that MS and open is hard pill to swallow. But lately, the shoe actually fits.
        x I'm tc
      • Re: Sort of?

        jdakula,how does Microsoft's decision to use a [i]locked EFI,[/i] that [i]precludes the use of any OS other than Windows 8[/i], represent "freedom"?

        Apple have been using EFIs for years, but they haven't seen any need to lock the hardware to prevent any other OS from being used on it.
      • Only for WOA, like iOS. x86/x64 can be multi-boot or replacement

        Businesses may want to lock down their devices, but consumers will be able to do what they want with x86/x64 based devices.
      • How is Microsoft Freedom?

        Really? Is there anything better than windows? Does the competition scale as well, offer freedom of software, hardware? Windows 8 changes some of this but it's still Windows under the hood.
      • Knowing what you are talking about

        @ jdakula
        Please delineate how, exactly, OSX is a "walled garden". Try knowing what you are talking about next time.

        Yes, they are called OSX, Linux, and Unix.
        First, there is nothing Windows can do that these three can't. Even if you want to talk applications, with WINE, these all become supersets.
        And sorry, but you can't complain that this is unfair, since it adds Windows software, because, funny thing, you talked about having "Windows under the hood". Well guess what? WINE does NOT have Windows under the hood. It runs Windows programs with NO WINDOWS.

        Linux scales from embedded to the world's largest supercomputers.
      • To the cowards who -1ed me

        ... without bothering to reply: interesting that you have no substantive reply.
        Truth hurts.
  • It all depends...

    ...on developers. Will they use vector or bitmapped graphics? What kind of fonts will they use? Will they use relative or absolute positioning?

    Windows is already pretty good at scaling UI elements for positioning, but bitmapped objects will always be the weak point. This is true on every platform, and the iPad is no exception.