I know this isn't really a question, but has there been any recent advancements or news about Resolution Independence in any of the major OSes? (Windows / Mac / Linux)

I'm quite interested in the whole idea and concept of it but recently it's been quite quiet on the whole topic.

  • 1
    What do you mean by Resolution Independence ?
    – Sathyajith Bhat
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 14:28
  • 1
    I second the request for clarification.
    – Joshua
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 14:42
  • 2
    Resolution Independence -- I wouldn't have expected the term to be unclear.
    – afrazier
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 15:58
  • Of course this was introduced by TeX / Donald Knuth ;-) What else could you have expected from a term so vague and technical-sounding?
    – trolle3000
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 16:42
  • If you have a Mac, the developer tools include /Developer/Applications/Performance Tools/Quartz Debug.app which is fun to try out (but nothing more).
    – Daniel Beck
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


Apple took great strides with allowing more RI in Leopard, but there is still a ton of fixed- and/or low-resolution bitmaps in various places. Windows 7 is the same way, leaps and bounds over its predecessor, but still hamstrung in various places.

For the clarification: Resolution Independence refers to an OS's ability to scale objects on the screen, so that if you're running a super-high resolution display, your icons and text don't continuously shrink. a 512x512 pixel image might be 2" across on a 20" display running at 1680x1050. On a 20" display running at 3360x2100 or more, the pixel density is such that that same 512x512 image would be the size of a postage stamp. It typically relies a lot on using vector-based text and graphics, rather than fixed-resolution bitmaps.

Until those high-density displays become available and more mainstream, or at least in the high-end / professional market, you won't see a big push for any of the OSes to finish their adaptations.

  • 2
    Your last sentence is what really seals the deal: Until we get more high-dpi displays on laptops and desktops, we're not going to see RI get "finished." That said, with most current GPUs, scaling hi-res bitmaps is probably faster and easier than trying to move too much to vector-based graphics. Text already scales cleanly, thanks to TrueType/OpenType.
    – afrazier
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 16:01

Currently all system are screen pixel based (72ppi). Only few OS already support configuration for more density pixels per inch :

  • Windows 7: you have the ability to scale interface, but only used for accessibility (Configuration panel > Appearance and personalization > Make text and other items larger or smaller)

    enter image description here

  • In iOS between iPhone < 4 and iPhone 4 the screen resolution is 2x more dense (Retina display). You can see it on iOS 3.x icon application (on iPhone 4), it's blurry.

The problem is, most of GUI frameworks (like Qt) use pixel based units for drawing/sizing user interface components (ui widgets) and no support scaling. There are many, used by lot of different applications.

  • 1
    You do realize that Mac OS X is also rather advanced in that regard? I'm writing this comment in a 1.5 scale factor Safari. The scroll bars and application specific UI elements are a bit blurry, but besides that, it works surprisingly well. The Dock even auto-adjusts live(ish) when changing the scale factor in /Developer/Applications/Performance Tools/Quartz Debug.app.
    – Daniel Beck
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 19:42
  • Yes, MacOS (iOS is the same base, for mobile) allow you to scale UI components, but it's only for a debug purpose
    – mems
    Commented Oct 8, 2010 at 10:55

While there hasn't been as much on desktop operating systems, mobile operating systems (iOS, Android) might have some more useful information. Considering current high-end phones are running at > 200 dpi, graphics and text must be significantly larger to keep on screen content readable by normal people.

It's difficult to envision the difference until you see a full-size Android or iPhone 4 screenshot at 800/854x480 or 960x480 on your desktop.


Despite widespread denial by Apple's fans, MacOS (currently 10.6) has no working support for resolution independence, and plans in this regard have quietly disappeared since Leopard. The ruins remain, however, and can still be activated in the command line. Most of Apples's own applications (especially Finder, Mail, iTunes) will display badly ruptured interfaces as soon as the DPI setting is changed. Apple's IDE (XCode) will even fatally crash, indicating that Apple's developers are currently not working on the problem. Because implementing resolution independence will require not only the adaptation of the OS and Apple's own applications, but also 3rd party applications, Apple will likely give about 9-12 months notice of plans in that regard. So: probably no resolution independence in Lion either. But perhaps we get workarounds (configurable font sizes within individual applications).

The problem is very bad and frustrating already, especially with the advent of high resolution screens in the 17in MBP and 27in Cinema display, which many folks find unusable.

In Windows, resolution independence has been working since XP (although the settings are somewhat hidden). Some of icons will scale badly, and in the early days, some applications had text and buttons larger than would fit into the dialog boxes, but these problems are almost gone. For most applications, Windows can be used with arbitrarily high resolutions.


GTK+ and Metacity are perfectly fine with using SVG via Cairo in order to render controls and window decorations.

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