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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Reading books online to get easier

November 17, 1998
Web posted at: 1:31 PM ET

by Bob Trott


(IDG) -- Microsoft researchers hope to make reading text on computer screens much easier -- a move that could jump-start the electronic book business -- with new software, to be first shown at Comdex, that greatly enhances screen resolution.

The technology, called ClearType, gives developers greater ability to manipulate pixels. Resolution of fonts, the first functionality Microsoft will address with ClearType, is as much as 300 percent tighter, according to Dick Brass, Microsoft's vice president of technology development.
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"We are able to address the area in between the pixels," Brass said. "You no longer are bound by the number of pixels on a screen."

The space between pixels is especially critical for text that is in 9-point to 12-point type, Brass said. By allowing for the rendering of characters in sizes that are not limited to the exact size of a pixel, ClearType shows a much sharper character than current gray-scale text, which may look fuzzy or jagged.

Microsoft CEO and Chairman Bill Gates, who immediately branded ClearType a "breakthrough" when he first saw it one month ago, will demonstrate the technology during his keynote speech at the Comdex show in Las Vegas this week.

ClearType brings additional functionality to the True Type Font Rasterizer that ships in Windows 98, Windows NT, and Windows CE, according to Bill Hill, a product manager at Microsoft Research.

Brass said ClearType is "months, not years" away from being finished, and that Microsoft has not yet made a decision on how to package the technology.

Microsoft Research is investigating areas in graphics other than text in which ClearType could be useful, according to Brass.

The technology could have a substantial impact on areas such as LCD flat panels; personal digital assistants and handheld computers; Web browsing; spreadsheets; touchscreens; and electronic books, or e-books. The e-book arena is of particular interest to Microsoft, which last month joined with publishing firms and other high-tech companies to set open technical standards.

"We found a way to make inexpensive screens look as good as the finest displays, and the finest displays look as good as paper," Brass said.

Bob Trott is a senior editor at InfoWorld, based in Seattle.

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