Windows Vista UI falling apart at high DPI

Microsoft has touted Windows Vista as the first OS capable of rendering a good UI at high DPI (DPI =dots per inch). Avalon (*) and the new Desktop Window Manager will make that possible:

"For example, Windows Presentation Foundation's vector-based rendering engine enables applications to scale to take advantage of high-DPI monitors without requiring extra work on the part of the developer or user."

So I tried out what would happen in Windows Vista if I would boost the default setting from 96 DPI to 200%, i.e., 192 DPI. The new Longhorn Display Driver Model (LDDM) will enable GPUs to be hot-swappable, yet I had to reboot after changing the DPI setting. Who's going to plug in a new GPU without rebooting if you can't even change display settings without rebooting?!

So what happened? Well, things started to fall apart...

Check out these screenshots. I recommend that you click on the images (and on the image in the gallery that appears after that) to see the full size versions.

Windows UI falling apart at 192 DPI (1) (click for larger version)

Windows UI falling apart at 192 DPI (2) (click for larger version)

As you can see the UI doesn't exactly scale like vector graphics. Some parts do, but other parts look really awful. Some texts are clipped. Some buttons (like the minimize maximize and close buttons) become fuzzy or jaggy as they are apparently bitmaps that are scaled. Okay lets go back to what Microsoft had to say about Windows Vista:

"End users want great graphics, high dots per inch (dpi), rich 3-D, animations, transitions, fades, all in a glitch-free environment, and Windows Vista offers these next generation graphics."

I guess the marketing department got carried away a bit there. Another Microsoft article says similar things, but note the disclaimer:

"Users with high-resolution monitors (for example, a monitor with a resolution of 1600x1200 pixels) will be more productive because Windows Vista can smoothly scale icons and the overall user experience to higher dots-per-inch (DPI) displays. As a result, users of applications designed for high DPI display, such as photo editing or engineering applications, will not struggle to read small on-screen text when simultaneously using an application that is not designed for a high-DPI display.

Note: Features discussed on this site are subject to change. Some features may not be included in the final product due to marketing, technical, or other reasons."

Look at this post from IanG on similar problems in the Tiger OS X UI. Ian Griffiths also shows how Avalon (*) can solve this high DPI problem using vector graphics. He created the buttons you can see below using Avalon vector graphics to show off to Apple. Too bad Microsoft isn't using Avalon in Beta 1 of Windows Vista. But I'm starting to repeat myself...

Avalon vector graphics buttons     

(*) Yeah, I know, I should write Windows Presentation Foundation.

One thought on “Windows Vista UI falling apart at high DPI

  1. Sorry - I was only joking about the images. But thanks for hosting your own local copies anyway. 🙂

    Since I last posted, I've found out that Win32 applications can declare that they know all about resolution independence. So if you want to you can write a Win32 app today that won't be subjected to bitmap scaling in Vista. Office does this - try Word on Vista in high-dpi and it doesn't go all fuzzy. And it's because there's an API that lets you signal your awareness to the OS.

    Of course you have to test to make sure your app looks OK at high DPI... But if you're prepared to do the work, your app will look good.


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