3 reasons why the new Vista fonts suck

March 20th, 2007 by Megan

Alright, they look pretty good. I’ll say that much. The problem is that there are couple of little things that make them unusable for practical purposes:

  1. They are a little bit smaller than other typefaces
  2. They look like crap in Non-IE browsers
  3. The anti-aliasing means that they need to be set pretty big to be readible

Correction: It looks like crap when cleartype is not enabled, which it is not by default in Windows XP. My fault for not being aware of this.

Here are screenshots of the same text in Opera (left) and IE 7 using Calibri at 15px:

Example of calibri, 15px in OperaExample of calibri, 15px in Internet Explorer

(Firefox looks basically the same as Opera; I used pixels just to ensure greater consistency. I don’t normally use absolute font sizes. In this article, all screenshots show Opera first followed by IE 7.)

The same text at the same size in Opera (left) and IE 7 using Verdana at 15px:

Example of Verdana, 15px in OperaExample of verdana, 15px in IE 7

See what I mean? First of all, Calibri looks terrible in Opera and Firefox. That’s a deal breaker right there for most of us. You’d have to use conditional comments to serve different CSS to IE.

The second problem is that since Vista fonts are only available for Windows users, and only users who are either using Vista or have the upgrade installed, many users will be seeing the next font specified. In order to make the Vista font readable on non-IE browsers it has to be pretty big. Since you can’t specify different sizes depending on the available typefaces, all specified fonts have to be at that size. That makes the next font specified (in this case, Verdana), much too big.

The problem is not as severe using the serif fonts, in this case Cambria:

Example of Cambria, 15px in OperaExample of Cambria, 15px in IE 7

And the same text in Georgia:

Example of Georgia, 15px in OperaExample of Georgia, 15px in IE7

I’d be interested to know of any possible solutions to this. It could work if there were other common fonts that are closer in size to the Vista fonts. I haven’t had a chance to do exhaustive research on that. Palatino Linotype seems to be a reasonable substitute for Cambria, but I’m not sure how widely installed it is. I haven’t come across anything that works as a substitute for Calibri yet.

If you want a quick way to check how different typefaces look on a web page, the Opera developer’s toolbar includes an option to change the font (under the Display menu). You can even specify custom font families by editing the .ini file for the toolbar. “Edit styles on the page” would work as well :)

It does make you wonder why this came about. Was it just ignorance on the part of their type designers? Negligence? Some underhanded way to make web pages look bad in other browsers so everyone has to use IE?

11 Responses to “3 reasons why the new Vista fonts suck”

  1. Fredrik Rubensson Says:

    Great post. It underlines my tendency to dislike Microsoft doings. Imagine the system requirement: “Text should look like crap in non-IE browsers.” What about Firefox? I have succesfully avoided Vista this far - my current customer is always lagging 3-5 years when it comes to software changes.

  2. links for 2007-03-21 | ITsVISTA Says:

    […] 3 reasons why the new Vista fonts suck An interesting look at Vista fonts and how they look in non-IE browsers. (tags: Font) […]

  3. Christopher Jaquez Says:

    The fonts only look bad if Clear Type is not turned on on the user’s machine (as it is clearly not on yours). This is true by default on XP but not in Vista. The difference you notice in IE is that it uses Clear Type internally no matter the system setting so that fonts in general look better.

    Fredrik’s comments sound pretty harsh when you understand the reality that the fonts were designed for Vista, where Microsoft could assume that Clear Type would be on and that both the font’s designs and the decision to use Clear Type in IE were made to make text look better for everyone. What about Firefox, Fredrik? It looks fine to me, but then, I have Clear Type turned on. And so should everyone!

    Right-click Desktop|Properties|Appearance|Effects|Click second Check Box|Select Clear Type.

    Then, thank Microsoft for making the text look so much better no matter what browser you use instead of senselessly blasting them due to your lack of knowledge.

  4. Andy Says:

    Have to agree with Christopher Jaquez, you clearly know nothing about IE. Did you not stop to think why these fonts looked in better in IE? No, you just thought “ZOMG! M$ is evil and even their fonts are proprietry with IE tech. Boo! Hiss! M$ sux and FF rulz da ‘net”.

    I mean there is the other point that maybe MS didn’t intend these fonts for use on a website? Just because they gave you some extra fonts (which are used in their UI) doesn’t mean you have to use them on a webpage.

  5. Megan Says:

    Oh, I see. I wasn’t aware of that. No need to be so rude about it. I was a little bit joking about MS doing this on purpose. I will post a correction to the relevant point above.

    The point still stands about the sizing, especially with the sans serifs. And a lot of people wouldn’t know to change the clear type setting, even those using Opera and Firefox.

    I believe they did mean for these fonts to be used for web design. Some of them, anyway, and definitely calibri which is in the example above. I just find it annoying that it’s so much smaller. It is a nice font but it can’t really be used even though it will be widely installed.

  6. Fredrik Rubensson Says:

    I also should have stated that my aversion of Microsoft products is not based on facts - it is more a religious thing. If I try to disregard that feeling I must admit that Windows nowadays is a stable operative system and that Visual Studio is a really good development environment.

  7. Liam McDermott Says:

    Although the information on ClearType is correct, there is a reason people jump to conclusions about Microsoft’ behaviour. Take the latest Samba ‘improvements’ in Vista, where Microsoft engineers were given the mandate: ‘Fuck with Samba’.

    What about ODF and OOXML? Microsoft support a Free XML format (ODF), never! They create some binary cruft in an XML wrapper and shove it down ISO’s throats as a ‘competing’ standard. See the objections. Then when forced to create an ODF converter for Office they purposefully hamstring it so the thing both runs really slowly and isn’t fully functional.

    So to my mind it’s not suprising Fredrick came to those conclusions, even though–this time–he’s wrong. Never fear though, there are plenty of reasons to hate Microsoft with more being created all the time. :)

  8. Fredrik Rubensson Says:

    Thanks Liam for the support. I try to avoid hating but sometimes it is hard….

  9. Megan Says:

    Fredrik - I’d also like to apologize for the rudeness you (and I) experienced here. These types of posts are really quite unacceptable here. I think I will be modifying the comment template to include a message discouraging such rudeness (for a start - surely I would do more if it became a problem).

    I got linked from a Vista blog so I’m thinking that’s where those two commenters came from.

  10. Liam McDermott Says:

    Just some more points:

    I mean there is the other point that maybe MS didn’t intend these fonts for use on a website? Just because they gave you some extra fonts (which are used in their UI) doesn’t mean you have to use them on a webpage.

    So they bundly them with their browser for fun then do they?!

    Then, thank Microsoft for making the text look so much better no matter what browser you use instead of senselessly blasting them due to your lack of knowledge.

    Not really, as a GNU/Linux user I wont be thanking Microsoft at all when people appear on the Ubuntu Forums saying: ‘fonts look ugly in Linux’. It’s just another lockin tactic, it’s also a perfectly acceptable business practice, but you should realise the reasons why they’re doing this. Steve Ballmer:

    We won the desktop. We won the server. We will win the Web. We will move fast, we will get there. We will win the Web.

    Thanks Steve, but no thanks (and you haven’t won the server either). :)

  11. Christopher Jaquez Says:


    I am sorry that I came off as rude and, honestly, after I read the comments again after posting, I did realize that it was a bit more harsh than I really intended.

    I guess it just gets to me when people attack Microsoft for being “evil” when in fact they don’t truly understand the situation. As Liam alluded, there are plenty of reasons to resent Microsoft and their tactics without inventing one that aren’t true. Like he said, if you want a new reason they will give you a new one soon enough. Just make sure know the whole story first (which I do admit is hard when there is so much about such a large company that seems unknowable).

    Again, though, sorry for the rudeness and yes, the points about the size of the new fonts are quite valid. I have not done any web content using them but they also use the new fonts in the default template in Word 2007 and they are quite a bit smaller than Times New Roman at 12 pt.

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