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Web Reading Requires More than Just Character(s)

As I discussed in my article about onscreen typography in TidBITS-403, the Web has sparked renewed interest in fonts that are easier to read onscreen. Most of the responses I received either concurred with using typefaces such as New York or Georgia in place of the standard Times, or suggested alternatives such as Utopia. However, several TidBITS subscribers pointed out that it takes more than just font adjustments to make reading easier for viewers’ strained eyes.


Compare and Contrast — Christopher N. Vogt <[email protected]> writes that one failing of modern operating systems is the attempt to replicate the physical world.

A subject most people don’t consider when it comes to computers and eye strain is the foolish idea of making computers look like paper, i.e. black text on a white background. I often compare this to reading the wattage on a light bulb with the light turned on. Talk about eyestrain! I continue to be frustrated with systems – Mac OS included – that don’t have a simple support for swapping between white-on-black and black-on-white. I’ve sat in front of a computer screen for 8 to 16 hours a day for 20 years, and I have never suffered from eyestrain, except when I can’t get white-on-black.

Quality Is Key — Tracy Valleau <[email protected]> mentioned the importance of the physical medium from which you’re reading.

As a programmer for the past 20 years, I’ve spent more than 80,000 hours reading text on the screen. The single most useful thing you can do to save your eyes is: get a good monitor. With a good monitor, anti-aliased type just looks fuzzy while crisp type is, in fact, easier to read.

All the typeface changes in the universe won’t help if you use a cheap monitor. If necessary, send it out to be sure that the guns (which draw the image on screen) are properly aligned.

Burned by Charcoal? Since the introduction of Mac OS 8, typographers have argued about the quality of Apple’s choice of system-wide font, Charcoal, over the venerable Chicago that has shipped since the first Macintoshes. If you want to change your Mac’s font in the Appearance control panel (which affects the text in menus and dialog boxes), you’re likely to find only Charcoal and Chicago as options. However, as the Web site below details, there’s an unsupported workaround enabling you to specify other fonts to be used by the OS, with a little help from ResEdit (Apple’s free resource editing tool).

< charcoal.html>

< Apple_SW_Updates/
US/Macintosh/Utilities /ResEdit_2.1.3.sea.hqx

More Info and an Interview — To read even more about onscreen fonts, with a particular emphasis on fonts and Web browsing, check out the in-depth feature recently published by Web Review. You’ll find a good collection of detailed information about screen fonts; embedded font technologies; employing font technology in Web sites; Cascading Style Sheets; and more, including an interview with Matthew Carter, designer of Microsoft’s Georgia and Verdana typefaces, who talks about the different design process involved in creating a font for screens, not printers.


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