Origins of ClearType not all that clear

I received an intriguing email today from programmer Steve Gibson which sheds some light on Microsoft's ClearType technology, which was covered as part of my Comdex review earlier in WinInfo. Steve has an amazing Web site called Inside Microsoft's ClearType that argues rather effectively that Microsoft's latest display technology breakthrough was, indeed, a breakthrough... when it first appeared almost twenty years ago. While the passage of time has done nothing to change the fact that this technique is terribly effective, it was first used on a 280 x 192 Apple II computer because a TV set's fuzzy output could be effectively improved using the exact same technology.

And Gibson knows what he's talking about. He was the developer of Koala's Gibson Lightpen for the Apple II and remembers talk of display resolution improvements using the technology Microsoft now calls ClearType. I won't try to explain the technical details here--mostly because Gibson's Web site includes a far better discussion on the subject than I could ever hope to provide--but one example he does site basically proves that Microsoft was aware of this 1980. Microsoft's BASIC reference manual for the Apple II includes a blurb describing the technology.

As Gibson says on his Web site, "Given this information, it is my sincere hope that Microsoft will acknowledge that they, in fact, rediscovered old and well-proven technology, and that they will not attempt to acquire and/or enforce overly broad patents which would certainly be overturned following a closer examination of PC industry history. This technology is too important for any one company — especially a company that didn't invent it — to attempt to prevent its free use within the industry. I hope Microsoft will understand this."

Gibson will soon be releasing a freeware program called Free & Clear that will let anyone experiment with the technology used by ClearType on their own. He's agreed to talk with me about this, but I'm waiting to hear from Bill Hill, the Microsoft researcher who presented ClearType during the Gates keynote. I hope to have more information early next week.

In the meantime, please take the time to visit Steve's excellent Web site about this topic

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