April 22, 2019

.comment: A Whole New Desktop with Anti-Aliasing

A Really Polished Look for Linux

  • March 14, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

I've spent a couple of days procrastinating, putting off writing this column. Not because it will contain unhappy news or will be particularly difficult to put together, but because I'll have to use StarOffice or WordPerfect or Applix Words, and during that time I'll have to look at screen fonts that aren't anti-aliased.

As you have probably heard, Keith Packard's Xft extension, which had been available hacked into versions of QT since 2.2.3, took up permanent and official residence there with last week's release of QT-2.3.0. This means that if you build QT with the -xft compile option (or obtain a binary that has it compiled in), and you do a few more things I'll discuss in a moment, you'll have anti-aliased screen fonts.

They are a joy.

For those who are not familiar with the term, anti-aliasing is a sleight-of-hand in which the jagged edges of curved letters and numerals are rounded off, making them look more like real letters and less like letters made from Lego blocks. This is done by placing gray pixels in the places where the rounding ought to take place and would if our screens were made up of something other than pixels. The two magnified images here show the effects of anti-aliasing and the alternative (what? aliasing?) on similar but not identical typefaces. They'll give you a sense of what I'm talking about, anyway.

The whole process is reminiscent of the "Resolution Enhancement" employed by H-P in their LaserJet III series, in which the size of the dots was varied, making an actual 300-dpi printer seem like a 600-dpi one.

TrollTech's inclusion of support for the anti-aliasing extension in XFree86-4.02 and later, which is therefore made available to KDE-2.x users, represents a considerable step for Linux in my view. Windows and the Mac have long had this feature. It's the first time a full Linux desktop has offered it. (I feel compelled to note that there are some people who find that anti-aliasing makes letters look fuzzy. They don't like the effect. It can be turned off in Windows, and on the Mac, and, yes, in KDE. My bet is that most people who try it will never look back. Take a look at the other screenshots here, and you'll see what I mean.)

So. How can you bring this marvel to your very own desktop?

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