Almost 2 years after introducing its ClearType technology, Microsoft is finally integrating ClearType into shipping products, including Microsoft Reader for laptop computers and Pocket PCs. The display technology uses a special technique called sub-pixel rendering to effectively triple the perceived resolution of LCD displays. When users enable ClearType, the system renders all onscreen text at three times the usual vertical resolution. (Horizontal resolution remains unchanged.)

The origins of ClearType are somewhat controversial: At COMDEX in Fall 1998, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates introduced the technology as a recent breakthrough at Microsoft Research. But programmer Steve Gibson, maker of SpinRite and other well-regarded products, says that the technology has been around for more than 20 years. And he should know. Gibson essentially invented the sub-pixel rendering used in Koala Technologies' Gibson Light Pen, which he originally developed for the Apple II computer in the late 1970s. Gibson says that the technology was crucial back then because the Apple II's 280 * 192 resolution was too fuzzy to permit accurate input on a standard TV set. Gibson points out that Microsoft was aware of this technology: The Microsoft BASIC Interpreter Reference Manual, printed in 1980, includes a blurb describing sub-pixel rendering.

In any event, Microsoft has big plans for ClearType in today's wirelessly connected world. The company has signed agreements with several book retailers to port e-books to Microsoft Reader format. And Microsoft's plans to include ClearType in the next versions of Microsoft Office and Windows will give the technology its biggest boost yet.

ClearType is an application-level option in Office 10 (the code name for the next Office version). And in the next Windows 2000 version, code-named Whistler, ClearType will be an available option for users with LCD displays. Whistler will employ the technology through its Display Properties dialog box, which will be updated significantly to support Themes, a UI skinning option. Users won't need special applications to take advantage of ClearType; the OS will automatically provide the improved resolution.