Windows vs. Linux Fonts Mon, Nov 6. 2006
You read that right: fonts. The article suggests that Linux fonts and font handling are not as good as XP's. I found that interesting, since I did a side-by-side comparison the other day in preparation for a XWN740 class.
Just for interest sake, to make it easy for you to compare fonts and font renderings, here is an image showing Windows XP and SUSE 10.1 rendering the same page (zdnet front page) in Firefox using the default font settings:
The upper portion is Windows, the lower portion is SUSE. I used the default settings because that's what most users will see.
Personally, I like the lower example a lot more: compare the body font rendering (non-antialiased vs. antialiased), particulary the name "Mary Jo Foley", as well as the heading font.
IE6 gives about the same rendering as Firefox on XP, and Fedora Core a rendering at least as good as SUSE.
Here are the fullsize 1024x768 screenshots, made at Seneca College, if you want to compare:
(How hard is it to manage fonts in Linux? My two elementary-school daughters will tell you that you can install a font from a font website in a couple of clicks and a drag'n'drop. My hard drive is suffering as a consequence of this ease-of-use, but their school presentations look really cool).
What do you think of XP and Linux font handling?
I prefer the windows non-antialiased fonts. The sharper edges makes it easier to read.
I do like antialiased fonts for titles, buttons...basically anything that's bigger than a 14px size where the pixelation becomes too obvious.
Yeah, the upper screenshot is a lot clearer, especially the regular text. This SuSE screenshot is blurry. I wouldn't use a computer like that all day with blurry fonts.
I circulated this to a number of family members and friends, and the conclusion is ... people generally like what they know. The Linux folks liked the Linux sample, and the Windows folks liked the Windows sample (even when I didn't tell them which was which). H'mmmn.
I actually find little difference. I suppose that if we put the two into a jar and didn't tell the individual to draw the two and tell which is preferred, that there would be no difference.
No one mentioned the speed of rendering the images. I think that might be an issue.
This comparison is meaningless. You've compared XP with anti-aliasing off with Suse anti-aliasing on. It's a world of difference. I'm a GNU/Linux user and have been using anti-aliasing for a while, but I also know you can enable it in Windows XP.
Secondly, antialiasing works best on LCD display where it can be done with sub-pixel smoothing. The big boost on linux is that it can all be done on the fly by hardware if you have the new opengl desktop (eg compiz on aiglx). Whilst this may come in Windows Vista it won't be available on those machines stuck with XP and unable to upgrade.
You say that "This comparison is meaningless. You've compared XP with anti-aliasing off with Suse anti-aliasing on." -- Actually, XP here is using the default settings, which use antialiased rendering sometimes (see the heading text in the example) and not other times (the body text in the example). And since most people won't play with the settings, I think the default settings are quite reasonable for a head-to-head comparison.
While subpixel hinting can improve rendering on LCDs, that doesn't make antialiasing (without subpixel hinting) any less useful on CRTs.
I always use Windows fonts and non-antialiasing with Linux. Once you know how to do it, it's very easy. See http://www.homepages.lu/pu/beautiful.html.
SuSE's fonts are better than Microsoft's fonts (even with ClearType) but I have to say that I think the size of the fonts are better on XP - especially at the low resolution you're comparing them on. Here's the big question: If I change SuSE's fonts so that they're as small as XP's, will the change be uniform and will it break the UI?
Maybe we should have let your elementary-school daughters write the blog... Maybe that way we would know HOW to do that drag and drop to install fonts on Suse.
Can you tell us, please?
Good point! We use Fedora at home, but the same principles apply. In either KDE or Gnome, you can open the file manager (Konqueror or Nautilus respectively) to the special location "fonts://" (if there is no location field in your Konq/Naut window, try Ctrl-L).
In Konqueror, two options will appear: Personal and System. Select the Personal folder for your personal (not system-wide) fonts.
Then you can drag-and-drop font files into the Font window -- most fonts are distributed as TTF (TrueType Font) files these days, but Type1 (PostScript) and other font types will work too.
If you are getting your fonts from a site such as 1001freefonts.com, the fonts will be in ZIP archives along with other files such as .txt files containing font descriptions and license terms. If your browser is configured to open ZIP archives in an Archive Manager (file-roller or equivalent), then you can drag the .ttf files from the Archive Manager window to the file manager's Font window.
To use the fonts, just restart the application you wish to use, since the font list is read only as each application starts.
There's an illustration of the process here:
(Note: When using Nautilus, newly-added fonts won't appear in the font window until your next session, but they will be accessible in applications).
To delete fonts, drag them from the Font folder to the Trash.
If you have my book, this is in section 2.7 on page 86
Use Bytecode interpreter in freetype2 and use this local.conf. Besides I still use NLD 9 as my primary desktop.
I'm all for anti-aliasing, imo it's easier on the eyes and a little less 'd i g i t a l'.
The only gripe I have is when designing web pages. Some designs require pixel perfect alignment of elements which can 'break' the layout of a page depending on varying font heights (AA vs no AA being the factor here). Being that most of the world is using windows, I'm forced to go with styling which will render correctly with no AA. This in turn results in a malformed page for any gnu/linux users out there, myself included, which is a shame.
I could always position elements absolutely (x pixels from top of window, y pixels from left) but if someone should require bigger font sizes to view the page, then that person is going to have problems.
What a chew on trying to sort the linux fonts out, i found this site as i have tried several Linux distros out and i knew there was something amiss i thought it was me at first, but everytime i went back to XP the eye strain was reduced, what a shame and i was so looking forward to an alterative to this OS, can't they knock a distro out that's already sorted and unfuzzy ?
further comments : after trying the Ubuntu live CD on my laptop as against my main system using CRT i can report that it's a lot easier on the eyes, and acceptable, when i eventually get a TFT screen for the main system i will give Linux more serious consideration.
I should point out that the font rendering can be tuned -- in Gnome, use System>Preferences>Fonts, in KDE use the KDE Control Centre. You can enable or disable antialiasing and configure the level and ordering of subpixel smoothing (for LCDs). If you're finding that you prefer the fonts on an LCD over those on a CRT then it's probably the subpixel smoothing options that are causing grief.
Leaving aside the fact that Chris was comparing defaults, I think you've got some things wrong.
1- That's not "XP with anti-aliasing off". That's with it enabled. Not doing it depending on size is on purpose. This behaviour is by design (see #1's second paragraph, which, for the record, I absolutely disagree with, but that's the reasoning behind disabling antialiasing on some small sizes). Xft lets you configure that too (of course, the trend is to preserve typefaces and not destry them, so that form of extreme hinting -- as I like to call it -- without any antialiasing is so eighties).
2- "antialiasing works best on LCD" wait, wait, wait, we are talking standard, old school, grayscale antialiasing, not sub-pixel antialiasing (none of the two images was rendered that way). If you want to compare ClearType vs FreeType's sub-pixel, be my guest, but that's another story (hint: take a look at Turner's f'ing patented patches, that's awesome).
2.1 Corollary: Windows XP can't display good fonts on a CRT (even though 1/3 fractional horizontal hinting with antialiasing on but no subpixel rendering would give excellent results). I hope Windows Vista (which doesn't provide non-antialiased rendering, I think, at least user-configurable -- as OS X, if an app requests it, I don't think it wouldn't be provided) flares better, but I don't and won't have a machine with it installed . I've seen some (admitedly low-quality jpg) screenshots of its UI where you could see that some fonts (in the taskbar and the start menu) were rendered similar to ClearType but with grayscale antialiasing, and even a bug was filed during RC stage about it . Yet I've only seen screenshots with ClearType enabled, and don't know if it has an option for a CRT-friendly grayscale ClearType.
3- "The big boost on linux is that it can all be done on the fly by hardware". No. That's simply not happening. Compiz and AIGLX accomplish OpenGL acceleration only on windows composition (and I think that's awesome), they don't even know that a bunch of pixels form a character... that's your old friend CPU at work... They only know about windows and how to move them around. Even though that's something that (possibly) will someday make sense to do on hardware, we (Linux, Windows, or whoever) are far away from it (there are some parts of it that can be accelerated, as Matrox did in the past and a few experimental projects are investigating, including one from Microsoft's Labs). First will come (I assume) vector acceleration (which, generally, needs lower precision and no hinting).
Sorry for the long post, Chris.
I think there is something wrong with the Windows setup that you had, and it shouldn't be used for this comparison.
In Windows XP, I use ClearType + Calibri, Cambria, Consolas, Segoe UI on my LCD screen (a 1920x1200 with about 105dpi) and it looks both sharp and smooth, at all sizes. You cannot discern any aliasing at all, and there is no tiring fuzziness.
In Ubuntu 7.04, I use subpixel aa + slight hinting on Gnome, but the fonts never look as good. The best looking ones are still from MS (Corbel, Consolas and Segoe UI) but they retain some of the aliasing (or become too heavy or too light when you play with the amount of hinting.) For some reason, Calibri and Cambria are not aa'ed at all.
In any case, subjectively both of my setups look better than the XP screenshot you posted, probably because they are not "default" settings as you said.
I am not sure that "that is what most people would see" is a correct assumption, though. Everyone does care about what they are seeing, and try to improve it. It maybe a tad easier to achieve that on Windows atm. You just need to stumble on ClearType setting, and install some MS application that includes the "C" series fonts (e.g. Office or even Powerpoint viewer.)
As an aside, I have a nagging suspicion that people who claim that they prefer non aa'ed fonts haven't seen the best combination of ClearType+MS "C" series fonts and a suitable LCD screen.