11 Mar 2004 raph   » (Master)

More on letter quality displays

I finally got around to putting up my Electronic Imaging '04 paper on the relationship between display resolution and perceived contrast of text.

Also, Kevin Burton sent me a link to this Interview with Microsoft's typography master. If you're interested in these topics, you'll definitely want to read it.

I think Microsoft is on to something here: find smart people who know what they're talking about, give them money and toys, and listen to them. It seems to work well for them, but there's no reason for them, or even evil proprietary software companies in general, to have a monopoly on this business method. Who knows, maybe we ingenious free software types can someday find a way to adapt it to our universe.

Not that I'm personally complaining, mind you. I really enjoy my job working on Ghostscript, and get to play with lots of cool graphics toys - I don't have a 200 dpi monitor in my studio yet, but Miles has offered to pay half for one, so it's tempting. I have a gut feeling that a letter quality desktop panel will be available within a few months at consumer pricing, at which point I'll jump on it.

If some kind benefactor wanted to set the cause of the free desktop forward a few months or more, one of the most effective things they could do is spread a few of those panels around to the people in the free software community who can make the best use of them: X, Gnome, KDE, Mozilla, etc. (I'd happily accept such a donation but would be equally happy to see it go to others for whom it's a more pressing need).

Indeed, the imminent arrival of letter quality displays will present a very crisp test of the health of the various organizations responsible for generating the relevant software. It's a pretty safe prediction that Microsoft will not only get the software mostly right, but also nearly singlehandedly create the mass market for these displays. Mac OS faces a choice - Apple can either lead as they did with FireWire, 802.11 and DVD burners, or they can drag behind and let the Wintel world kick their butt for a while, as they did with raw CPU power up until their shipment of the IBM 970. Sun will probably manage to screw up Java support royally - during the transition, I'm sure you'll see teeny fonts, chunky pixels, and related artifacts for quite some time. Mozilla won't even start to get its act together until there's reasonably good support for letter quality on platforms other than Internet Explorer (although the W3's sensible definition of the px will help them get to the goal once they really get started). And of course, it's reasonable to predict that the free software community will eventually get it right, but that it will take quite some time.

I think there are two other potential winners from the disruption to be caused by this technology: PDF and Flash. The win for PDF is pretty obvious; today's dot-matrix screens are just not quite good enough to display 8.5 x 11 inch pages with reasonable quality, in much the same way as early-'80s dot matrix printers were not quite good enough to render such pages on paper. The win for Flash is not quite as obvious, but I think just about as compelling. Once you get past Flash's reputation as the blink tag of the dot-com boom times, the underlying technology is actually pretty impressive. Existing Flash applications will immediately start looking good on letter quality displays once the client supports the devices, and Flash will continue to be one of the most painless ways to deliver such applications. Among other things, it's pretty darned cross-platform already, and that will probably just get better.

Interesting times ahead, that's for sure.

Advogato's DNS

I had DNS for advogato.org rather poorly configured. A power outage here this evening that took out the primary, and none of the secondaries thought they were authoritative, so oops. I also had the timeouts set quite short because of the recent server move, so double oops. Everything should be a lot more robust now.

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