After I configured several users' notebook PCs recently, the users complained that their screens weren't all that readable and asked me whether they could change the screen resolution. Given how bad my 40-something eyes are and because I could easily read the computer screens from more than five feet away, I was a little confused by the users' problem.

My confusion stemmed partly from the fact that I'd enabled Microsoft ClearType on the computers. I've found that ClearType makes fonts much more readable on notebook PCs at all screen resolutions. I sat down with one of the complaining users and enabled and then disabled ClearType, to show her how her screen appeared at lower resolutions (most of the notebooks' displays were set at 1024 x 768, although a few were 1280 x 1024 or 1600 x 1050). She agreed that the ClearType display looked better to her, but none of my changes made the screen easier for her to read.

As an experiment, I showed her the Microsoft ClearType Tuner Web site, at http://www.microsoft.com/typography/cleartype/tuner/1.htm . ClearType Tuner is an online tool that lets you select the way ClearType appears on your computer. (You must enable ClearType on your computer before you can use the tuner.) The tuner downloads a small ActiveX control and walks the user through several selection screens to tune ClearType so that it looks best to the user.

While walking through the tuner selection screens, I discovered that I never picked the same screens that the other person did; I was always at least one screen away from what the user thought looked best. When we finished using the tuner, the user was much more satisfied with her screen's appearance. It looked a little blurry to me, but the whole point of tuning the display appearance is to make it work for the person who spends the day in front of it.

To enable ClearType on your computer, perform the following steps:

  1. Right-click the desktop.
  2. Click Properties.
  3. Click the Appearance tab.
  4. Click the Effects button.
  5. In the "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts" drop-down box, select ClearType. Click OK.
  6. Click Apply, and click OK.

In general, ClearType works best on LCD panels (notebooks and flat-panel monitors). However, the tuning tool makes ClearType usable on some high-resolution tube displays, too. For more information about ClearType, check out http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearTypeInfo.mspx .