ClearType Font Collection: A Microsoft Achievement
|ClearType Font Collection: A Microsoft Achievement
November 15, 1998 was the day that Microsoft’s CEO and chairman, Bill Gates, revealed a remarkable breakthrough in font technology called ClearType (“Announcing ClearType,” 1998). Nine years later when Microsoft Office 2007 was launched, a resulting font from Bill Gates’ ClearType project ended the stint of Microsoft’s former default typeface, Times New Roman (“Times New Roman vs. Calibri,” 2007). The argument was that Times New Roman was better suited for printed material than for on-screen reading (“Times New Roman vs. Calibri,” 2007). The ClearType Collection fonts, on the other hand, allowed for easy on-screen reading, especially the new default font named Calibri (“Times New Roman vs. Calibri,” 2007). This paper will explore the history of ClearType, how ClearType works, and ClearType’s advantages.
The history of ClearType spans over nine years from the aforementioned 1998–2007 (“ClearType Information,” 2007). In Las Vegas, Nevada at COMDEX/ Fall ’98, a computer expo (Mediagods.com, n.d.), Gates expounded on his innovative ClearType technology for the first time (“ClearType Information,” 2007). It gained national recognition in news publications such as CNN, USA Today, The Washington Post, Wired News, and others (“ClearType Hits the Front Pages,” 1998). Despite all the coverage ClearType was receiving, confusion surrounded Gates’ invention concerning how the product worked (“ClearType Keeps ‘Em Guessing,” 1998). There was also speculation about who really created ClearType, which was spelled out in an early 1999 article called “Clarifying ClearType” written by Stuart J. Johnston (Johnston, 1999). He stated, “ClearType controversy aside, critics of Microsoft Research should consider the possibility that some very real innovation is and has been going on in Microsoft’s labs. Their job is to do the kind of research that leads to breakthrough technologies…” (Johnston, 1999). Despite the controversy, ClearType began making more strides. On April 7, 1999, a press release from Microsoft provided hardware makers and sellers with information regarding what hardware for LCDs will work with ClearType (“Microsoft Issues ClearType Technology Release,” 1999). The first launch of ClearType to the public was during the week of April 18, 2000, which was used for Microsoft Reader on pocket PCs (“Moment of Truth for ClearType,” 2000). In August that year, Reader was made available for download onto PCs (“Reader for PCs Available,” 2000). A year later in 2001, Joe Wilcox of c|net called ClearType “Microsoft’s finest achievement” and claimed that it’s clarity in Microsoft XP was “shocking” (“Microsoft’s Finest Achievement,” 2001). Over the next few years, Microsoft worked on creating a tuner to perfect settings for ClearType on home PCs (“2001–2004 ClearType News,” 2001). Finally, 2007 brought the change of Microsoft’s default font forever changing the face of its software (“Times New Roman vs. Calibri,” 2007).
ClearType, as stated earlier, makes reading on-screen easier for the human eye, but how exactly does it work? Microsoft.com says:
ClearType works by accessing the individual vertical color stripe elements in every pixel of an LCD screen. Before ClearType, the smallest level of detail that a computer could display was a single pixel, but with ClearType running on an LCD monitor, we can now display features of text as small as a fraction of a pixel in width. The extra resolution increases the sharpness of the tiny details in text display, making it much easier to read over long durations. (“What Is ClearType,” 2002)
The ClearType technology was created through an extremely complex and scientific procedure. Over the course of two years, Microsoft researchers studied typography and the psychology of reading in order to create ClearType (“What Is ClearType,” 2002). From their studies, they concluded that reading occurs when a process called word recognition is subconsciously done (“What Is ClearType,” 2002). The word shape, or bouma, spacing, and weight of letters and words create patterns that contribute to this process (Larson, 2004). This allows a person’s consciousness to then interpret the text’s meaning (“What Is ClearType,” 2002). Considering this information, Microsoft tried to figure out how they could clarify text on LCD screens, which are composed of red, green, and blue sub-pixels that make up actual pixels that render all on-screen images (“What Is ClearType,” 2002). All text is created by these square pixels, making letters appear jagged and blurry instead of smooth and sharp (“What Is ClearType,” 2002). This is what Microsoft sought to improve. “ClearType uses a model of the human visual system to choose brightness values of colored sub-pixels,” (“What Is ClearType,” 2002) allowing letters to appear smooth and sharp (“What Is ClearType,” 2002). Because ClearType created such a drastic change in on-screen reading, the software is now included in all laptops and high quality LCD screens (“What Is ClearType,” 2002).
ClearType’s obvious advantage is in its name: it makes type clearer on-screen. Twenty-five fonts now exist in the collection, including Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia, and Corbel (“Microsoft ClearType Font Collection,” 2004). Calibri, a sans serif font, is an easy read on-screen and in print (Van Wagener, 2005). Cambria is one of the serif fonts in the collection that can be used for formal printed documents as well as e-mail and web design (Van Wagener, 2005). The next font, Candara, is a less flexible font that has a small flare, making is slightly less reader-friendly (Van Wagener, 2005). Consolas is comparable to Courier and is great for programming for long lengths of time (Van Wagener, 2005). Constantia is another serif font that can be used for a business’s printed publications as well as formal online publications, allowing consistency in design (Van Wagener, 2005). Finally, Corbel has gentle curves and clean, geometric shapes like Arial or Verdana, creating an easy on-screen read (Van Wagener, 2005). Together, the ClearType font collection has achieved notoriety, and the new default font in Microsoft Office, Calibri, has become a household name.
Although ClearType has completely changed the face of on-screen reading, there is still room for improvement. In some instances, color around the edges of text can be seen (Xu, 2007). One person has said:
ClearType works because human vision is much more sensitive to variations in intensity than it is to variations in color, i.e. the human eye can discern contrasts in intensity about three times better than it can discern contrasts in color. Thus, when ClearType sacrifices color accuracy in order to improve the sharpness of light and dark, the overall effect - as seen by human eyes - is an improvement. (Xu, 2007)
Therefore, ClearType has been a major achievement for Microsoft over the past decade. Perhaps new strides will be made concerning the use of color in the creation of texts in order to create ultra crisp and clean texts that will improve readability on an even larger scale.
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