The release of a beta of Apple’s Safari for Windows earlier this week has resulted in an interesting flurry of activity in web designer circles. Nevermind the instant security bugs and the quick release of fixes from Apple. I’m talking about typography.
The day that the beta came out, Jeff Atwood asked “What’s wrong with Apple’s font rendering?" He pointed out that others had discussed this before, but it wasn’t until the difference was visible side-by-side on the exact same machine with the exact same fonts (and with presumably the exact same font libraries) that it became truly surprising. Joel Spolsky responded with the answer: Apple and Microsoft have very different priorities when it comes to font rendering, and at current screen sizes and resolutions, Apple’s total respect for the letter shapes can mean blurriness. Their diligence becomes especially impressive when you consider the work that Apple must have had to go through to get Safari to run on Microsoft’s home turf but render fonts the way it would on Mac OS X.
Dave Shea piped in with his own opinion and a caveat: I like Mac’s look better, but I think Microsoft’s is a better choice for the medium. But more importantly, he points out that as soon as higher-DPI screens are available, the whole question will be moot. Microsoft’s deference to the pixel grid will be essentially meaningless. Which brings us back to what Jeff Atwood does best: a big post with research and quotes and numbers showing how far screens have come since the release of the PC AT and Macintosh. Not far. The sad realization:
Short of some kind of miraculous technological breakthrough, I can't see computer displays reaching 200 DPI in "a few years". It's unlikely we'll even get there in ten years. I'd love to be proven wrong, but all the evidence of history-- not to mention typical consumer "bigger is better" behavior-- is overwhelming.
Can e-ink or OLED be the miraculous technological breakthrough we need? Possibly, but neither of them are yet ready to replace CRTs or LCDs.
 The always brilliant Joel ends with a great metaphor about how people usually prefer what’s familiar. He doesn’t say it, but I think he was implying that this is a big contributor to entrenchment in computing holywars: Mac vs. PC, vi vs. emacs, KNF vs. OTBS.