The Apple iPad may squeeze a 2048 x 1536 pixel display into a 9.7 inch display, but most Windows laptops with 15.6 inch or smaller screens have 1366 x 768 pixels. In fact, good luck finding a desktop PC monitor with a higher resolution than 1920 x 1080. But it looks like that could change with Windows 8.

Windows 8 screen sizes

Microsoft programmer David Washington has written a detailed blog post looking at how Windows 8 handles different screen sizes. Long story short, unlike every earlier version of Windows, Microsoft’s next operating system will support apps and graphics that scale well on screens with high pixel densities.

Up until recently, the more pixels you packed into a screen, the smaller apps, text, and graphics would look. So an 11.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, movies and pictures look great. On the other hand, text is virtually unreadable because it’s so tiny.

Windows 8 uses a new Metro-style user interface with an emphasis on apps that run in full screen mode. Like Android and iOS apps, these apps should look the same now matter how densely packed the pixels are on your screen. They’ll just look more clear and less pixelated on screens with high pixel density. But on screens that are physically larger, these apps may be able to show additional content.

With that in mind, Washington presents a list of common sizes for Windows 8 computers, including:

  • 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixels
  • 10.1 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 10.1 inch, 2560 x 1440 pixels
  • 14 inch, 1366 x 768 pixels
  • 14 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 23 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • 27 inch, 2560 x 1440 pixels

While a 27 inch screen may have the same resolution as a 10.1 inch display, it will be able to display more content.

None of this guarantees that device makers will produce those 10 inch tablets or netbooks with high resolution displays, but if they do Microsoft will be ready for them.

But there are a few down sides.

The first is that Windows 8 won’t support Metro-style apps on devices with screen resolutions lower than 1024 x 768 pixels. Microsoft says that only a tiny portion of computers fall into that category, but most netbooks to hit the market so far have had 1024 x 600 pixel or lower resolution screens. The only way to get the Metro UI working on these devices it to apply hacks.

Washington implies that future netbooks will have higher resolution displays, but while that might be true for netbooks that launch after Windows 8 is released later this year, it’s not good news for anyone hoping to upgrade an existing mini-laptop to the next version of Windows.

The other thing I found a bit troubling about Washington’s post is that it focused almost exclusively on Metro style apps. It’s great to hear that next-generation Windows apps will scale to different screen sizes, but part of the appeal of Windows is that there are thousands, if not millions of older apps that aren’t Metro apps. Windows 8 includes a traditional desktop and taskbar style view, but it doesn’t look like apps designed for that view will support scaling any better than they do in Windows 7.

Washington says that most users run apps in full screen mode most of the time anyway… but I’m pretty sure that a large number of power users clamoring for high resolution displays want them specifically so they can run more apps side-by-side in separate windows.

While I’m excited about the prospect of new Windows devices with high resolution displays, if most older Windows apps look awful on those devices then there’s really not much advantage to choosing a Windows 8 device over an iPad or Android device.

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16 replies on “Windows 8 to support higher resolution displays… but will apps?”

  1. My 5-year-old dell d820 has a 15″ 1920×1200 lcd… but it will never run windows. Linux works just fine on it, including its dpi setting 🙂

  2. It doesn’t take luck to find monitors with higher resolution.  There are several 2560×1440 models out there.

    I agree with the previous two comments that (1) metro is limiting and (2) resizing text has been available for a long time.  And yes, I think Windows 8 will be poorly received by the majority of business users.

    1. True… it doesn’t necessarily take luck so much as very deep pockets. 

      Resizing text and DPI has been available, but it’s not a perfect solution. You sometimes end up with enormous text next to small icons, or toolbars which don’t seem to be the right size for the applications. 

      Metro addresses this by resizing the whole app to fit screens with high PPIs… but it does nothing to address the issue with traditional desktop-style apps. 

      1.  Only caveat right now though is that they’re not finished working on it yet.  Metro is the big new feature and that’s what they want to get working first but they’ll also be working on the desktop mode over the coming months.

        Thing is a lot of people are thinking this preview is already what the final product will look like when it’s still very much incomplete.

        So I’d advise waiting till an actual release candidate before making too many conclusions.

        1. No, they will clean things up, patch bugs and tweak for another couple of months and then drop the Beta in October.  Remember to put OEM products on shelves in October means they will have to go Gold on the Beta version a good sixty days before that. They call that general availability and start charging money at that point.  Those of us who know wait until the real release a year or so later.  Used to be called .1 but now they call it Service Release 1.

          Lets break it down and work backward.

          Shipping the Beta (.0 version) internally targeted for Oct 1 so the schedule can slip a bit and still ship in Oct.

          That means it should go Gold in August, the earlier the better since ships take a while to get here from China.

          So to allow any sort of feedback from a final Release Candidate it has to get posted before July 1.

          They probably want a first RC or Alpha drop sometime in May.

          And once they tag it Alpha they are pretty much done adding major new features unless there is a major outcry about the Alpha… and then the schedule is likely to slip.  So they are already pretty much out of time.

          1. Uh, that isn’t entirely accurate, first MS made a list of hundreds of things they were going to do to Windows for Windows 8 and they’re only about over a third through that list!  So a lot more than just cleaning up and patching is left for them to do.

            Again, all we’ve seen is a Alpha release that above all else was to demonstrate what is new but isn’t the final complete OS yet.  Nothing has even been optimized yet as the preview still includes developers code that won’t be there in final release.

            While again it’s the Release Candidate that’s when they start to clean up, tweak, and patch, which is what Beta release is for and not Alpha!

            Mind the preview releases were probably prepared awhile ago and they’ve been working all the time we’ve been looking at those releases.  So it’s not like they stopped and waited for our reaction and are thus already further along already and May is still over a month from now.

            If the release candidate still has problem is when we can really start to worry as it’s much harder to fix anything at that point but as long as problems aren’t too big then they can still fix smaller problems in time for final release.

            Really, MS is working hard on this and it’s still too early to underestimate them yet.  Like for example it wasn’t long ago that Windows 8 for ARM was rumored to be delayed until nearly mid 2013 but now it’s back on track to be released this year with regular Windows 8.

            MS may also not bother with optical discs with the Windows 8 release and either go with download-able ISO or USB drives and/or the initial release may be OEM first and then retail a bit later to give them more leeway if they need it.

            While you may be right about the Service Release but we’ve yet to see whether what will come out in final release will be as bad as some people are already fearing or not.

      2. I think what Microsoft will have to do is have a “compatibility” mode where the horizontal and vertical resolution is doubled or otherwise scaled so that older applications hard-coded for low-DPI displays can run on newer high-DPI displays.

    2. they make 2560×1600 monitors still as well.  The cheapest I’ve seen anything in that resolution is $599 which was a steal.  There’s no luck in it, it’s just that anything above 1080p TV resolutions are niche products right now, expensive to make, and hence tend to focus on a more professional crowd like graphics designers and CAD specalists, who have an easier time getting approvals, or just justifying, spending money on single massive panels when you could buy 3 fairly decent 22″ monitors for the same price.  Sure they’re TN panels, so the color reproduction sucks but…

  3. Metro can be absurdly unintuitive, starting with the fish. Why should you look at a fish as the first icon upon booting up? What does a fish have to do with computers? And as users have found, clicking on the fish does nothing to help you use the OS. Meanwhile, the only thing Metro does on my recent-vintage netbook is tell me it can’t run because the screen has insufficient resolution. It tells me to adjust the resolution, which it already knows is set at maximum. It is one of the great ironies of technology that the maker of the world’s most successful OS platform is also one of the most boneheaded when it comes to basic usability.

    1. The fish won’t be part of Windows 8 when it officially launches. It’s a beta fish, and Microsoft includes it as a boot logo and desktop background to indicate that this software is still beta… even if it’s called a “consumer preview.” 

      A similar graphic was used with pre-release builds of Windows 7.

      I won’t dispute the rest of your points though. 🙂

    2. You thought the fish was an icon? You actually tried clicking on it? And you were upset when clicking on it didn’t do anything? That is rip-roaringly funny! I literally almost fell out of my chair when I read that. My co-workers were wondering what I thought was so funny, so I showed them and they all got a good laugh out of it too.
      Also, read the article, Windows 8 has a minimum reslolution, but there are hacks with a very high success rate of getting Windows 8 to run on older netbooks with unsupported screen resolutions like yours. If everyone is as clueless as you, Microsoft is in big trouble with Windows 8!

  4. first point – you can adjust how windows / applications appear on ANY size of resolution of screens since win 98/xp. but one has TO DO THIS by one self. so this bragging about tiny text and menu sizes is bloody nonsense.

    … and microsoft knows this too.

    the obviously stupid thing ms trying to do with win8 is to force everybody to change by brute force way users should work with their pc’or tablets. they already tried that once with vista and failed miserably. could be they will fail again, at least on pc’s.


    1. No. You can adjust the text size and the size of common controls, and that is NOT the same thing. All of your glorious DPI adaptation ends when your beloved app begins to use bitmaps. As a result, if you set a resolution of 135 DPI and run a legacy app you’ll get pathetic results.

      Windows 7 can scale the legacy app content to the desired resolution, but you’ll get an AWFUL rendering if you do that. The only apps that truly work good with higher resolutions are WPF apps, and those are a minority.OTOH, since Linux toolkits use vectors extensively, Linux doesn’t have these problems.

      1. as i said, adjusting means a mix of work on dpi settings as well as text sizes and windows controls (like scrollbars, menubars etc). and that means one will have to fit things individually. applications not following the general rules for the usage of windows and controls are nuisance anyway. unfortunately ms made this possible via e.g. visualbasic etc. the company is and was incoherent in this regard all the time.

    2. Not true.  Applications have to be expressly written to take in the Windows Font setting, even when using WCF, and they have no way of knowing what the size of the monitor is, just the resolution, as things currently stand in Visual Studio 2010.  So an application cannot scale itself according to the monitor.  Right now, any application that is designed to make use of more screen real estate won’t necessarily scale up the size of the controls, because that looks retarded on a large 27″-30″ screen, which is exactly what you need to do on a high dpi small screen.  

      You can scale the desktop font size, but not the size of 99% of all the system dialogs that rely on Windows API…  If you’re a developer or if you actually read the article, you’d know that this isn’t simplistic stuff available since Windows 98, it really is new functionality.

      That said I do tend to agree with you in your comments about Win8 and forcing users to use Metro.  I’m particularly appalled by the way it assumes ARM computers don’t need the desktop, because it destroys the ARM netbook market before it even gets to exist.  At least on Windows.

      There’s a lot of frustration to go around, there’s no reason to conflate things that aren’t similar to make patently false claims.

  5. That was a pretty neat read about how they handle resolutions and dpi.  Too bad that Windows 8 seems to be almost entirely focused on Metro.  They talk about it like it’s going to eventually be the only Windows interface.  I find that troubling since I’d never use a desktop where you could not tile 2 or more windows next to each other and control the size of your windows.  It was depressing to read that they think the windowing method doesn’t work well.  I would be more interested if they were planning to make the real Windows desktop more scalable to different resolutions and dpi.  I can imagine a windows desktop with a metro theme, only you can open multiple windows just like windows today except the content of the windows scale properly.  I guess one of the points of the blog post was explaining why they could not do that, but I hope someday it will happen.  Only being able to dock 2 apps side by side and not being able to resize them is limiting.

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