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Interact Software

Resolution Independence in Mac OS X

Tuesday 24 August, 2004, 05:46 PM

Not so long ago, Apple engineers told us of their remarkable 'discovery' that despite all visual evidence to the contrary, 100dpi is the ideal resolution.

But despite this astonishing claim that 100dpi ought to be enough for anyone, I'm happy to see reports that Tiger, the next version of Mac OS X, will nevertheless have some preliminary support for resolution independence.

This will doubtless come as a surprise to all those who harangued me in the forum of my article on composition in Avalon. Several Mac advocates there seemed to be insisting that OS X was ready for resolution independence today. But since Tiger is to "introduce developer support for resolution independent user interfaces" this presumably means, as I said all along, that today's versions of OS X are not in fact resolution independent. Today's versions merely have some of the necessary prerequisites.

As I said in the protracted argument in the aforementioned forum, it's one thing to have resolution independence features in your drawing APIs, but quite another thing to achieve resolution independence in practice. It is not something that typically just works automatically - the point at which you try to change the default scaling factor is also usually the point at which you discover that your application comes out looking wrong at anything other than the default scale factor.

Indeed Apple, unlike its advocates in that forum, is apparently well aware of this issue. (My guess is that they know this because they've already tried it...) As the Apple Insider article says:

"According to confidential Apple documents, resolution independent UI will not be a user level feature in Tiger, nor will it be exposed anywhere in the Tiger user interface. Instead, the company is providing early support of the technology to developers who wish to prep their applications ahead of time, or implement the feature on an individual application basis."

So in other words, Tiger will make it possible for application developers to see just how far their applications are today from being resolution independent in practice. Presumably Apple will then start encouraging their ISVs to ship software that looks right at resolutions other than 72dpi, in the hope that one day they'll actually be able to let normal users switch this feature on.

I'm delighted to see that Apple does in fact recognize the importance of high-dpi displays, despite how it previously seemed. And I'm also pleased to see that they appear to understand the need to provide developers with the tools to test their applications today if high-dpi is ever going to become a reality for Apple's platform, as I hope it will.

Avalon, the next generation user interface technology for Windows, also aims to support high-dpi. Indeed, we have been able to see what our Avalon UIs will look like when scaled up or down since the very first public release of Avalon 9 months ago. (I.e. the PDC release of Longhorn.)

This is important because testing is the key. Scaling a user interface designed by someone who was assuming they could control the size and position of elements to the exact pixel often produces surprising and unattractive results.

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