Screen Resolution And Me: Clarity Begins At Home

May 18, 2009

I share a home office with my wife. We trade: she provides a constant reminder of the frustration that computers cause most ordinary humans and I provide desktop support. And I am, actually, a certified systems engineer with lots of experience configuring workstations. And for that I was well-paid. So my wife gets a bargain and I don’t ever forget that there is no such thing as a User Interface too simple – a daily reminder I wish I could transmit brain-to-brain to a lot of web developers and designers out there.
My wife has a big Samsung LCD screen that feeds off a Sony laptop running Vista. Ever since we got it, it has never looked right. Fuzzy. I remember playing around with the desktop settings a few times to get the icons and icon text bigger (but still fuzzy) and chalking up the overall lack of sharpness to the largeness of the screen. The resolution was set at 1440 x 900 – inherited from the laptop’s built-in display, probably. I don’t think I even tried jacking it up further because I assumed that everything would become unusably small.
“Damned computers”, I thought to myself. After all, back in the day, plenty of CRT’s looked like hell because in the end, big but a little fuzzy beat out less fuzzy but extremely small. So I let it go.
Then, about a week ago I posted a review of screen-readability guru Bill Hill’s article about screen resolution and how it is so often set wrong.
But not by me, no, never. Couldn’t happen. I’m a systems engineer, right? I’m sitting pretty.
Then a few days later, a light in my brain flashed on.
I walked over to my wife’s screen and, sure enough, when the resolution in Vista’s Display settings were bumped up in line with the screen’s “native resolution” – in this case 1680 x 1050 – everything sharpened up beautifully. And without getting unusably small.
This little episode makes me suspect that a lot of the complaints about Windows Vista have come from it’s having been introduced at about the same time the migration to LCD screens was picking up steam along with the move to laptops where, if a desktop display was also used and it was wide-screen, it was likely to inherit the settings of the physically smaller laptop display. Not knowing about any other options, people simply accepted whatever settings appeared.
A headache in the making, absolutely. It makes you wonder why there wasn’t or isn’t a wizard that pops up to walk people through the options when a new display screen is detected.
But of course experts like me wouldn’t need it. Truly, there is no substitute for experience.

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