Internet Explorer 9 == WPF 3?

Microsoft just released IE 9. You can tell when Microsoft are serious about a product release when they do it using yet another focus-group inspired website that will be offline before the end of the year (anyone remember the NetFX3 site?).

Here are some of IE 9's new features:

  • They stole the combined address bar/search box from Chrome
    (But they put it in the wrong place, so you have to choose between having more than 3 tabs open at once and being able to see the address of the web site you're looking at)
  • Font rendering powered by Microsoft's patented Horse Manure Font Rendering Engine.

You might have heard of the Horse Manure Font Renderer before - it was the most hated feature of WPF 3.0 when it shipped.

Here's the engine in action (IE 9 on the left, Chrome on the right):

IE vs Chrome rendering

The font rendering problem in WPF was very tricky - few people preferred it, many really didn't, and most didn't notice. To me, personally, I find the text on the left very hard to read, and it gives me headaches.

It took a long time for Microsoft to acknowledge the problem in WPF, and even longer to fix it. While the problem existed, Microsoft kept insisting "I can't see the problem", it's "for the best", and it's "by design".

Internally, the WPF team took the complaints pretty seriously, and though it took forever, they did eventually fix it. The fix came in WPF 4.

I'm not just Microsoft bashing - everyone complained when Safari did this on Windows in 2007. I understand all of the reasons for it - but, on Windows, it makes text harder to read for me.


As Aaron pointed out below, on some machines the difference will be less apparent. The difference seems to be down to your ClearType settings - below are some examples at different contrast levels:

Different contrast levels

As you can see, adjusting ClearType to a low/medium level means the contrast isn't so bad, but personally, I prefer the high contrast setting for Chrome/Windows. I also notice a big difference on my 24" LCD monitor and my 16" RGB LED laptop screen.

Here's how this is going to play out.

  1. Microsoft will praise the new engine, because it makes super large fonts nicer, and because zooming is better. They'll conveniently forget that on the web, people like to read text. They might even suggest it's our fault for being scared of change*.
  2. MVP's and other shills will get on board, curbing any dissent
  3. IE 10 will be released, and the problem will be fixed, sometime around 2015.
  4. Those same Microsoft employees and MVP shills will blog about how bad the rendering was in IE 9, and how we should all upgrade to IE 10.

(* - the "scared of change" argument makes me smile - Chrome releases a new version every 6 weeks, and I don't complain. Hmmm, perhaps it's because Chrome releases don't suck?)

A picture of me

Welcome, my name is Paul Stovell. I live in Brisbane and work on Octopus Deploy, an automated deployment tool.

Prior to founding Octopus Deploy, I worked for an investment bank in London building WPF applications, and before that I worked for Readify, an Australian .NET consulting firm. I also worked on a number of open source projects and was an active user group presenter. I was a Microsoft MVP for WPF from 2006 to 2013.

15 Mar 2011

But they put it in the wrong place, so you have to choose between having more than 3 tabs open at once and being able to see the address of the web site you're looking at

Right click on bar and check "Show tabs on separate row" :)

15 Mar 2011

Although I risk being labeled a shill or anything I want to say a few things:

  1. IE stole the combined search box from Chrome who stole it from Firefox who stole it from Opera. Welcome to software, someone does something well and everyone else copies them. Hey, IE has had dev tools available since IE6, sure they aren't the best, but do you say Firebug cloned that, made it better and now everyone else is playing catch up?
  2. I don't know where you're getting your font rendering from:

Chrome or IE9?

Which one is Chrome and which one is IE9? My machine is Windows 7 x64 and I can't tell the difference between them. I don't know what page your source is coming from but I did my best to find a page which had the same font layouts (I used this page for reference).

Pro tip: Chrome is left, IE9 is right.

Personally I prefer the IE9 rendering:

IE9, FF4 and Chrome

This was taken tonight against IE9, Firefox 4 RC and Chrome 10.

15 Mar 2011


I'm using IE 9 RTM on Windows 7 x64 too - did you do anything to change the rendering?


15 Mar 2011

I think the difference is due to ClearType settings (search for 'adjust cleartype' in the Win7 start bar).

It seems that IE 9 uses the "darker" ClearType settings much more strongly than the rest of Windows/WPF. I can make mine look like yours by dropping the cleartype contrast all the way down, but then everything else looks bad too.

Geir-Tore Lindsve
Geir-Tore Lindsve
15 Mar 2011

Have you checked your ClearType settings?

IE9 renders way better than that here too (as shown in this twitpic, although Chrome is still slightly better.

15 Mar 2011

Never been through that wizard, my ClearType is using the OOTB settings.

15 Mar 2011

Chrome was, to the best of my knowledge, the first browser to sport the Omnibox (the real of the combined address and search fields.) Firefox and Opera still have separate boxes for address and search, and while you may type in searches in the address field (as you can in any browser) it's not the same functionality and more importantly, not the same user experience as the Omnibox.

Not been able to reproduce Damien's font rendering sample, but my primary machines are all Macs, and OS X font rendering is pretty soft/excessive. Will see if I can reproduce it on my Windows machine tomorrow, but I find it hard to believe because I've never noticed it and I've used Chrome as my primary browser since launch...

15 Mar 2011

You're wrong actually. IE9 stole WPF4 font rendering engine called DirectWrite.

15 Mar 2011

You need to play with the ClearType wizard a bit. Firefox 4 rendering is affected for the wizard results also.

15 Mar 2011

Actually, just got a laptop reimaged so gave both IE9 and Chrome10 equal pristine conditions. And apparently IE9 font is tiny bit better — the letters are rounder and less pixely, while still perfectly legible.

I love Chrome and don't really approve of IE donky style, but should say it does render text quite good and subtle.

Paul, you must have been meddling with your ClearType settings, that's why yours misbehaves.

David Connors
David Connors
15 Mar 2011

I fully support this product and/or service and/or blog post. You're dead on the money.

What is even better is that you wrote your "Here's how it is going to play out" section at the end and it took less than an hour for someone to pile on with a large font example. Pretty fkn funny.

+2 points to calling Hanselman out.

You made my morning.


18 Mar 2011

Well... I don't what's wrong but for the small text rendering IE9 is uberly unacceptable (por. - left:ie9, right: opera, CT turned off system-wide). I know it looks ok for the bigger texts (25px+?) but for something in range 12pt or less it's barely readable... and most of the the web is in that size...

20 Mar 2011

For anyone having problem with ClearType - use - it brings sanity to IE9 text display