It Just Bugs Me

Something that just bugs me when it comes to computers - resolution versus font size. We recently set up an oldish mobile workstation-type laptop for one of our users here. It has a 15" LCD panel, running at 1600x1200 - high resolution by any metric. The user, reasonably, complained of unreadably small, though sharp, fonts. So, one of the other ever-helpful LAN administrators here decided to change the resolution to 1024x768. Xyzzy, the user no longer complains of small fonts. But wait! The user returns, complaining of a blurry display.

The LCD-savvy among you will be facepalming about now and crying out No shit, Sherlock! Well, yes. I wasn't surprised by this either. I don't expect most users to understand things like native resolution and why it's a problem for LCDs but not CRTs. I'm quite willing to explain it, and usually users get it once I do, but I don't expect everyone to know this. The problem here is that Windows (and for that matter, Mac OS X and Unix)offers a DPI setting, which will serve to increase the sizes of fonts consistently while still running at native resolution. This is, however, tucked away in an "Advanced" settings tab. Back in the CRT days, when just dropping the resolution was a decent solution, this was OK. Because it's thus squirreled, nobody knows about it. It's the solution, usually, to the "blind user problem", but nobody knows about it. Instead they run their 1600x1200 panel at 1024x768 and gritch about not having enough screen real estate, and blurriness.

The real problem here is that the DPI setting is so poorly known that even most administrators don't know about it. In fact, after I solved this problem, I asked around, and it turned out I was the only one who knew the setting even existed! (To be fair, one other did think of changing the font size through the Appearance tab - but this doesn't affect all apps.) I think I can blame Microsoft for this in part, but it's not all MS's fault, since nobody knew of it on Mac OS X either and we have a few advanced Mac users. (Though, I've used OS X on very high resolution displays, and it's rarely an issue. This is something Apple consistently gets right.)

This whole rant neatly ties into the other thing that Just Bugs Me - laptop displays. Why the hell is it that Asus can sell an Eee PC model with an 8.9" 1280x800 panel, but 1280x800 is all the more most manufacturers can eke out of a 15.4" one? Or for that matter, why are there no desktop displays capable of 1920x1200 in a 17" panel? Yes, I'd pay $800 for one. People get so amped up over physical size, but then forget about resolution, which is what really determines how much space you have to work in! I hear comments like, "Wow, I'd love to use a 36" HDTV for a monitor" - I usually don't bother to remark that no, they really wouldn't. At 1920x1080 it would look kinda pixely for general desktop stuff, and at 1280x720 it would look comically overinflated. 1920x1080 doesn't look half bad on a 24-28" panel, but at 36", it's not enough. The pixels are just too big.

Anyway, </rant>