Poor Typography

While I’m using Linux as my main operating system for a long time and I haven’t used MS-Windows for any significant amount for several years now, unlike my previous work place, in my current work most of my colleagues are using MS-Windows on their desktops. Because of this, I’m exposed to a lot of MS-Windows during the day.

The visual difference between the two desktops is always jarring for me – especially when I’m writing documents, code or emails (and not when browsing web sites, which visually is a very similar experience on both platforms) I’m astounded by how text looks so much different, even when using the exact same fonts. Perhaps I’m just used to it – sitting in front of a Linux desktop most of the day – but I find the typography on the Linux desktop (notably GNOME in my case, KDE is slightly different) much more pleasing to the eye then what you find on the standard MS-Windows desktop, and its always slightly painful to go back and look at text on an MS-Windows computer.

Since I can’t leave well enough alone, I’ve set up a comparison between the two scenarios – so you can check for yourself and tell me if I’m just imagining things:

Here are two screenshots of two email clients showing exactly the same email (which does not contain any interesting text – just the standard Lorem Ipsum test, which might be determinedly to the comparison). The first one is the MS-Windows platform which sadly everyone is familiar with:


The next one is the Linux client showing the same e-mail. The way the headers are displayed is slightly different, but I would ask that you do not take that into consideration and only concentrate on the differences in the presentation of the actual text.


The text on the MS-Windows platform is a bit smaller, though it may not be immediately noticeable from such a short snippet. As a programmer I can’t but not appreciate that – its so much easier to write code when you can have 2000 characters on screen at the same time instead of only 1800.

Normally I would think that this is due to the different default DPI (dots per inch) metrics used on each platform: MS-Windows uses 96 DPI by default, while X11 uses 75 DPI by default – causing fonts with identical point size to appear larger on X11 displays, but GNOME has its own font rendering settings which claim to be 96 DPI:

GNOME font properties

But I don’t mind the larger size – its probably one of the reasons why the GNOME text rendering is smoother, but not the only one. Anyway – what do you think ?

8 Responses to “Poor Typography”

  1. ik:

    Finally you agree with me, I do not know if you remember, but we had an argument about it, and you thought that I was just pity 🙂

    Anyway, I find the Linux fonts much smoother and much easier to read then the Windows equivalent as well.

    But your photos looks really bad on both systems IMHO. I’m willing to donate my screen shout with Linux font, if you are interested.

  2. Guss:

    I’m interested in correctness – same settings on both platform. If you want to send me a screenshot of this specific behavior (1st lipsum.com paragraph as an email), then I’m willing to post it.

  3. Eran:

    I prefer the windows font. And it’s not because I’m a windows user. I’ve looked at carefully, turned then looked again several times. I prefer the leaner, not bold, MS font. I’m a guy who reads a column of text, something that will fill up almost half your average screen, on a less than 320 display.

  4. Guss:

    The GNOME text is not bold – its simply larger (by a bit – on my 520 pixels example, you can fit 10 characters less). But you are non-average user, by your own admission, and my question is simple – do you think the average user is better served by MS-Windows text rendering or by Linux’s ?

  5. Eran:

    Then you will have to go deeper on the meaning of that. Who is the average user? What does he want? And what service would be better for him?

    I have good eye-sight and I don’t want to keep going back and forth to read PDFs, so I use the maximum zoom-out still legible.

  6. Guss:

    I suspect that the question of the average user is pretty trivial. There are some things that are easy to say about the average user, one of them that the average user is not you and probably none of your friends ;-).

    Seriously, the average user wants the most eye-candy and performance that you can get by not investing any effort whatsoever: if its not on by default, it doesn’t come pre-installed or it hides under the “Advanced” button then its not going to be used.

  7. Elad:

    The first difference that I noticed is not only the text size (which is VERY different – especially the aspect ratios, compare the letter ‘o’ in the above examples), but much more impotant – the different line spacing. When measured in units of character height (which is how the human sight grasps it), the two examples are very different – which has a huge effect on how comfortable you feel with the text.

    By the way, I consider myself the “average user”, for this matter.

  8. Guss:

    Well- which would you like to read better?

    (I’d like to remind everyone that the examples are current settings – defaults to the best of my knowledge – on two computers that are being used to read e-mail on a daily basis)

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