ClearType in Internet Explorer 7

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Windows Internet Explorer Engineering Team Blog

ClearType in Internet Explorer 7

Hi. My name is Bill Hill, and I’m one of the original inventors of ClearType. My job at Microsoft is Director of Advanced Reading Technologies. The ClearType and Readability Research Group which handles the ongoing development of ClearType reports to me.

Our team’s mission is straightforward: "Research and develop innovative technologies that improve reading on the screen for Microsoft customers worldwide". Surprisingly, reading’s the major task for which people use their computers – most people spend more than half their time at the screen reading.

Since the IE7 beta went public, we’ve been monitoring all the comments on the IEblog. We want to know what kind of experience people are having, and want to look for ways to make it better for anyone who’s having problems or issues.

We’ve seen some complaints about the decision to turn on ClearType by default in IE7, and wanted to share our (and the IE team’s) thinking.

The first thing to say, though, is that this version of IE7 isn’t even Beta 2, and we know there are some bugs that need to be fixed. There are some wacky things that shouldn’t happen, and hopefully we’ll get these cleared out during the beta process.

The decision to turn ClearType on by default in IE is unusual, but was made because solid research over the past few years has shown conclusively that it improves reading - the task at which IE users spend most of their time.

When we shipped WindowsXP in 2001, we were very conservative with ClearType. We were certain ClearType would improve the user’s reading experience, especially users with LCD displays. But we didn’t have enough experience with ClearType to know either its drawbacks or the full extent of the benefits. After 5 years of real world experience and research, we’re now quite confident that the benefits for using ClearType are significant, and it was a mistake that we didn’t turn it on by default in XP.

We have solid, peer-reviewed empirical evidence showing that our users read more efficiently when ClearType is turned on. A couple of the findings have been described in our fontblog, including a 17% improvement in word recognition accuracy, and a simultaneous 5% improvement in reading speed with 2% improvement in reading comprehension. More studies are on the verge of publication, and will also be described in the fontblog.

It certainly is unusual that IE is not respecting the system ClearType setting, but the problem is that most users do not know about features that are not turned on by default. We’ve found that a large percentage of WindowsXP users don’t know about ClearType, or how to turn it on. Yet when we’ve shown someone how to do this, they immediately see a huge improvement. We believe the benefit of a 5% reading speed improvement offsets the minor annoyance for the few users that don’t like ClearType.

ClearType not only improves the reading experience on LCD displays, but also on Trinitron CRT displays where the color sub-pixel information is laid out in the same RGB pattern that we see on LCDs. Unlike when we shipped WinXP, LCD displays and Trinitron CRTs now dominate the market.

ClearType will be turned on by default in Windows Vista. Shipping ClearType on by default in IE7 gives non-Vista users of Internet Explorer the same improvement in reading online.

 - Bill Hill

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