Thursday, 26 July 2012

The apple way or the fuzzy way

OK, the new macbook pro and retina display is damn cool.

In fact, it suffers from being too good!

This is a problem that I had previously encountered on a nice IBM screen (3840x2400). The pixels were too small for most normal desktop operations. Whilst it is often possible to increase font sizes, you can rarely increase all of the icons and window decoration on many systems in quite the same way.

Now apple have been clever - you get to select a virtual desktop resolution, e.g. 1920x1200, and it then scales to the actual screen resolutions of 2880x1800. This may sound batshit insane, but in fact it makes more sense than it sounds. The clever bit is that the scaling really only applies to things like bit maps (images) as the fonts are rendered using the native resolution anyway. So the virtual desktop is really just a major scaling factor not a loss of resolution. All very sensible.

Except... One assumes that the clever logic to use the native resolution where you can (fonts, and presumably vector graphics, etc), is only possible if you use the right libraries. Some non-apple apps don't.

This is a slight nuisance for me, as I normally use Firefox and Thunderbird for web and email on all of my machines (my desktop machines are linux of various styles). These apps do work, but they work as if the screen was the virtual desktop resolution, including all fonts.

Fortunately using Safari and Apple Mail is OK. Their mail app is actually pretty good. So I have gone the apple way rather than the fuzzy way. Still can't see where I set default fonts on Safari though.

There is no screen option for native 2880x1800, but there is some good news - apps like World of Warcraft simply see all the screen options including a native 2880x1800 and work really nicely - cool. No oversampling is offered, but to be honest, with pixels this small, you don't need it.

See.. Right is Firefox, left is Safari :-


  1. A developer friend of mine has told me, in a rather pissed off manner (because of the complaints he gets about his software), than on these Retina display MacBooks, there is basically Apple-only extensions with no public API to the graphics libraries for taking advantage of the Retina display, so non-Apple sanctioned apps look like crap.

    1. Worse than I thought then. I assumed it was simply a matter of apps being more generic and so not using them, but hidden APIs is really not fun.

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    3. To my knowledge that is BS. The apps that don't look right yet are either using some slightly non standard way of drawing or they are using the old Carbon APIs that will never support Retina.

      A good example of this is Chrome, it was using a slightly non standard drawing technique (IIRC to increase performance) and so its text is blurry. But they have fixed the issue in the developer builds. Doing so didn't involve and secret APIs.

      There are also plenty of third party apps that supported Retina just fine even before the Retina MacBook even existed, Apple have provided tools and settings for HiDPI stuff for a long time now.

  2. Yeah I saw that when someone posted a screenshot of chrome

    Have you tried running Linux or windows on it?

    How does that work?

  3. Hi Adrian

    It's possible to run the Retina display at full resolution. Here are some sites which have various options: -

    Hope this helps :-)