What's Wrong With Apple's Font Rendering?

I had read a few complaints that OS X font rendering was a little wonky, even from Joel Spolsky himself:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/06/whats-wrong-with-apples-font-rendering.html

From 4 feet away, the top one looks better. Can’t read it, but it looks better. Nobody does that though, so this is a clear case of Apple getting it wrong, which is a rare thing indeed. I just wanted to make the point that Apple’s decision isn’t always worse… just worse in the average use case.

“just worse in the average use case” - Your clearly apple fanboy material. Its clearly horrible on my LCD and my CRTs. I like crisp and clear fonts that take minimal eye strain to preceive. Anything else is likely to get my boos.

If you sit really close to the monitor, then the Windows way is better. However, if you move back a couple of feet (3 feet or so from the screen to your eyes), then the Apple way seems more readable. The Apple rendering is definitely darker.

I never liked Apple’s font rendering – not on OSX and not in the Safari 3 beta on Windows. I’ve always felt that Apple’s looks blurry.

On all LCD displays I have used (ranging from 1024x768 laptop screens to 20" widescreen displays) I feel that Windows’ ClearType is so much better. It might not make your text beautiful to look at, but its readability is miles ahead of Apple’s. Again, in my opinion. :slight_smile:

We were just discussing this at work…their font rendering is giving me a headache. Safari is getting a thumbs down from me for now.

This reminded me of an old Channel 9 interview with Bill Hill:

Somewhere he describes how Apple does font rendering. I think he said that they just take the text and blur it a little.

I actually much prefer the Apple/Safari rendering of these two examples; to my eyes–at the distance from which I’m looking at my monitor–the Mac rendering seems to be closer to the actual letter-forms of the typeface, whereas the Windows rendering looks stepped.

Maybe it’s because I’m used to it; maybe it’s because I’m using a correctly calibrated LCD; or maybe it’s just because on a purely numbers level I fall within the range of users Apple uses to ‘test’ their output.

I guess it all comes down to subjective choice and allowing control within the OS/App.

"The Apple rendering is definitely darker. "

That could be it. When I look at my IE 7 and FireFox browser windows, with ClearType turned on, they look too light and the slight difference in contrast makes it harder for me to read.

I think it may also have to do with the font you are using. OS X uses a different default font than Windows does. But Honestly, by the time the light gets from my broke-ass LCD, through the finger smudges and dust on my glasses, and into my 36 year old eyes… I’m just glad to be able to read anything at all. But it is weird that it would render worse. I wonder if it will get better with Leopard?

I noticed the same thing with Safari:


Looks awful on my LCD as well.

Yeah, I’m not sure you could say one way is absolutely better than the other. I prefer Apple’s font rendering, but I don’t think the other viewpoint is invalid.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with how far your eyes are from the screen. I usually have my laptop hooked up to a 23" Cinema Display and have 3-4 feet between my eyes and the monitor. The ClearType text /is/ more crisp looking if I move closer to the display – but putting your face that close to the display is going to do way more to strain your eyes than either version of the sub-pixel smoothing will be able to compensate for.

I also noticed that if I increase the font size, Apple style anti-aliasing becomes tolerable.

I’m beginning to think that the differences are…

  1. Apple doesn’t hand-tune the font aliasing hints for smaller font sizes.
  2. Apple chose a much, much darker contrast level for its anti-aliasing algorithm.

In Safari, go to Edit/Preferences… and then select the Appearance tab. For “Font smoothing”, choose Light (the default is Medium). Much better now. Not perfect, mind you, but much better.

I’m curious why Apple’s default font rendering strategies,
to my eye – and to the eyes of at least two other people
– are visibly inferior to Microsoft’s on typical LCD displays.

Perhaps that’s half the story: to your eyes.

I think that much of this is down to familiarity as anything else, the Microsoft rendering looks thin and gangly to me. For example, the text you blew up, the d in “render” looks off balance to me, the weight of the vertical bar is much heavier than the curve on the left hand side. But if you’re used to that, it probably looks “correct”. (Make the text on the page larger, and you’ll see that if anything, the curve should be thicker than the vertical bar.)

Do you wear glasses?

I prefer the Apple fonts and I do not wear glasses. I did an informal survey. With glasses, 100% prefered ClearType. Without glasses, 100% preferred Apple fonts. Sample size was only 6, but I’ve had this exact same argument with PDF vs Word documents and it trends the same way.

Apple fonts seem to come across as blurry to people with glasses.

Since I don’t wear glasses, I’m siding with Apple with this one. Apple’s core kernel is called Darwin. It seems they prefer the genetically superior. :slight_smile:

Hmmm, under OS X the font smoothing properties are located globally in the System Preferences - Appearance prefpane. I wonder why they don’t tie into the global settings under Windows? Willfully or is the Windows API difficult/hidden?

Also, you have the option under OS X to turn off font smoothing for a user specified point size. The default is off for 8 and smaller.

I just blasted a significant wedge of cash on a Macbook Pro, and the font difference smacked me in the face on my Dell 2405 monitor, unfortunately.

I wouldn’t doubt that OSX/Safari font is probably closer to print - but default MS font settings, in combination with ClearType, just look a lot nice on the technology that facilitates the majority of my reading…

Ha! You just helped me understand something that has always pecked at the back of my brain.

Glancing at your screenshots I immediately thought “Did he have a typo? Is this supposed to be titled What’s Wrong with Vista’s Font Rendering?”

'Cause the Safari version looks exactly right to my Apple-trained eye, and much more satisfying. The IE version looks “broken” to me.

In fact, I have always had the same reaction to Windows aliasing that your peer had: “Microsoft has some room to improve in this area”.

I never realized it was simply a matter of both platforms are choosing a different approach that they think is right–and we’re conditioned to see our main platform as the correct way. :slight_smile:

I wonder if it could be as simple as the fact that MS holds patents on some of the Cleartype tech (http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearTypeFAQ.mspx), and Apple can’t get too close without violating the patents or at least getting into a costly fight over them (or knuckling under and licensing them)? Just a theory as to your “Why didn’t they do this right when they usually do UI stuff well” question.