Apparently, my commentary "What's the Problem with High Screen Resolutions?" in the February 13, 2003, issue of Windows Client UPDATE touched a nerve with readers. I started receiving reader responses within 5 minutes of the newsletter's release, and the responses continued at an average rate of 75 per hour for most of the day. As I write this, 5 days later, responses continue to trickle in.
I apologize that I haven't answered directly many of the questions readers posed in their responses. The volume of email I've received makes a personal reply difficult, although I will try to respond to as many of the messages that asked specific questions as I can.
Among the most common comments I've received is that I must be very young, have great eyesight, and not spend too much time in front of the computer. I'm 45, just got my first pair of bifocals, and spend about 10 hours a day, on average, in front of a computer screen. I work about 2 feet away from the monitor and haven't noticed any significant degradation of my vision over the past 7 years as I've used higher-resolution screens.
I modify applications while I work with them to take advantage of screen resolution. For example, I write this column in Microsoft Word, using a 12-point Times New Roman font displayed at 112 percent of standard size. Using just less than half the screen at a 1920 x 1440 resolution, I can see an entire page of text and have no problems making out the fonts or working for long periods of time (I use this same setup when I write books). When I work with spreadsheet data, I often go to the other extreme--I use a 6-point font and a full screen to display as much of the workbook as possible. If I need to examine a small section of the spreadsheet in detail, I use the application's capability to increase the font size.
I set system fonts to large (120 dpi), which is 125 percent of the standard size of system fonts. Adjusting system font size to the large setting can cause display problems, and many readers pointed out that switching the font size from large to standard often cures display problems. This solution is well and good, but I believe applications should support the OS on which they run. The ability to display system fonts in the large size has been available in Windows for many years-- that ability should be fully supported by now.
As I mentioned, I'm still receiving responses to my request for display-resolution information, but here is some of the representative information I've received so far.
1. The vast majority of respondents who run in higher screen resolutions have jobs with "developer" in the title. If you've seen the Visual Studio IDE, this news won't come as a surprise to you.
2. A surprisingly large number of respondents use the Windows multiple monitor feature and run a pair of smaller monitors in resolutions such as 1024 x 768 or 1280 x 1024. Doing so makes sense when you consider that the cost of monitors is a gating factor to many users.
3. I received way too many comments from IT support people who pointed out that their users leave their monitors in whatever screen resolution the vendor set. I heard quite a few moans from IT guys who said that they acquired good-quality 17" monitors with all their systems, but that 800 x 600 was the only resolution their users would run in. I even heard from a couple of readers whose businesses were moving back to 15" monitors fixed at 800 x 600. The saddest response along these lines was from an IT staff member who pointed out that his company purchased only 21" monitors, and users still ran them in 800 x 600.
4. Quite a few readers expressed surprise that I could see my screen at any resolution larger than 1024 x 768. On a contrasting note, I heard from many users who run in 1600 x 1200, which elicits a comment that I've heard quite often: "How can you read the text when it's that small?" Obviously, screen resolution involves personal opinion and comfort. A couple readers related stories about surreptitiously changing screen resolutions during OS upgrades: Some of these folks moved users who had previously complained that anything larger than 800 x 600 was unusable on their 17" screen to 1024 x 768. None of the users even noticed the difference.
I'll continue to collect data, then solicit input from software vendors for a follow-up report, which will appear in the print version of Windows & .NET Magazine later this year. I'll be sure to let you know when that article becomes available online.