Microsoft Continues Working on Windows 10 High DPI Issues with Creators Update

Posted on April 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Windows 10 with 42 Comments

Microsoft Continues Working on Windows 10 High DPI Issues with Creators Update

Microsoft has now detailed some of the improvements it is making to high DPI support in the Windows 10 Creators Update.

As you may know, this islong-runninging battle between the past—non-scalable Win32 applications—and the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) future. And it appears that the past is winning, at least so far. As I opined in October, it’s not clear to me that Microsoft will ever really fix these issues.

But give them some credit for trying. In the previous major version of Windows 10, which arrived with the Anniversary Update, Microsoft introduced mixed-mode DPI scaling and some new high-DPI-related APIs to help ease the pain. And it making further headway with some more—but not all—high DPI issues with the Creators Update.

I find myself most curious about what Microsoft is not fixing in this release. And it is being transparent about this, noting that the following high DPI issues remain even after the Creators Update is installed:

“Magic numbers. Many classic desktop applications are still written to assume 96 dpi, so they look blurry on high DPI displays. But parts of Windows still do this too, including button borders and the menu bar padding in certain applications (like Notepad). So Microsoft says it will “scrub” Windows 10 to eliminate these legacy issues in a future release.

Child windows. The mixed-mode DPI scaling work done in the previous update only impacts top-level app windows, and not child windows.

MFC. The per-monitor DPI scaling work impacts applications written to Win32, WPF, and WinForms, but not the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) for C++.

Window dragging. When you drag a windows between two monitors with different DPIs, the window looks oddly shaped, with one rendered in the wrong DPI. Microsoft is looking to make this transition smoother.

Log out, log-in. While Windows 10 actually does a much better job than previous Windows versions in switching to new DPI settings on the fly, you still need to log out and then log back in to see all the changes correctly. Microsoft knows this is “a huge pain-point,” but it does “not currently have a solution for this.”

So that’s a long list, and helps bolster my contention that the only real “fix” for this stuff is the passage of time and the full removal of support for legacy Win32 applications from Windows. But here’s what was fixed in the Creators Update:

Per-app DPI scaling override. Now, assuming you can find the property sheet for an application’s EXE file, you can override the system DPI scaling behavior and configure the scaling behavior yourself. This should help fix some random errant applications that still don’t scale properly.

Desktop icons. Previously, desktop icons did not scale correctly on two or more displays with different DPI if you were running in the “Extend” display mode. That’s been fixed.

Internet Explorer. Microsoft’s mostly-forgotten legacy web browser was actually updated to better support high DPI and now displays more closely to Microsoft Edge.

Developer improvements. Microsoft has added a number of low-level features to Windows 10 to help developers improve their support of high DPI displays. And it is working to improve the documentation about this functionality, it says.


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Comments (42)

42 responses to “Microsoft Continues Working on Windows 10 High DPI Issues with Creators Update”

  1. Narg

    I do NOT think Microsoft should fix these problems. Developers need to step up to the plate on this. Not Microsoft.

    • fishnet37222

      In reply to Narg:

      If a developer creates an application using standard Windows controls and those controls don't scale well on high-DPI displays, that's on Microsoft, not the developer.

    • reason42

      In reply to Narg:

      A lot of the problems relate to Microsoft software, such as the joke that is Skype for Business, as one prime example.

    • Polycrastinator

      In reply to Narg:

      Developers aren't stepping up to the plate. Ideally I'd agree with you, but it's clearly not happening, so Microsoft needs to find another solution.

      There's a wider question here on development for Windows in general. I see Mac users talking about new and updated software on a regular basis - mostly creative to be sure, but not all - and I just don't see that stuff on Windows. We know there are a ton of Windows apps, but most of them are ancient. Where is that new development at all and, if it does exist, how can we start getting that information out there? The last truly exciting new Windows app I remember hearing about was Staffpad, which to be fair is awesome, but it's very specialized software.

  2. chriscarstens

    Will this mean that Quicken will be usable on my Surface Pro 4? I mean, really?

  3. Olen Ronning

    This improper scaling in mixed dpi setups continues to frustrate and baffle me. Seriously; microsofts own outlook and excel 2016 products still don't even do it properly.

    Paul is right though. The sad truth is that this won't really be fixed until app developers update their apps.

    Apple has the advantage of tighter control on hardware, earlier to release retina displays, and just a general greater emphasis on graphic quality and presentation (and app developers who care likewise). If I'm not mistaken, I think MAC OS has also had for a while now a more modern and sophisticated hardware accelerated GUI rendering engine.

    My big question is: for apps that scale up and look blurry, why is the TEXT also blurry? Shouldn't they be able to scale the text?

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to Olen Ronning:

      macOS has had a resolution-independent graphics engine since 1988 when it was NeXTStep.

    • Polycrastinator

      In reply to Olen Ronning:

      That's been my question. I mean.. "override font at system level," should be easy to implement. If I can copy and paste text out of something I don't understand why this cannot be fixed. And text is where I notice this the most: I can deal with blurry bitmaps, but blurry text makes reading really, really tough.

      • rameshthanikodi

        In reply to Polycrastinator:

        The new "Override high DPI scaling behaviour" has a new setting called "System (Enhanced)" which now does in fact override the fonts, but it only works if the app is using GDI. If the app is using it's own framework like all those electron apps, it wouldn't apply.

  4. MutualCore

    I don't see how any of this can be fixed in Win32 applications as they use bitmaps and not vector graphics.

  5. reason42

    I've recently been on the edge on whether to stick with Windows 10 or ditch my personal laptop and get a MacBook Pro. Reading this article, the comments about MacOS and scaling, plus the ever increasing advertising creeping into Windows 10, I've now pretty much made my mind up and switching to Apple.  I just don't see Microsoft fixing these problems quick enough - my eyes hurt after gazing at terribly rendered DPI scaled applications.

    One other major irritant with Windows 10 and Office 2016 is the pathetic attempt at text animation. There is so much lag it is just too distracting to keep a flow going.

    • matsan

      In reply to reason42:

      I fully agree that the support for DPI scaling is horrible, especially when moving between screen connected to DisplayPort and the internal laptop. In most cases I need a full reboot of the system. Very annoying when you run multiple development VMs...

      In the latest Mac OS they have fixed something so my Dell QHD screen is now perfect on my Mac Mini (before the latest update, the login/lock screen was distorted).

      BTW The animations in office is possible to disabled: google found this, but there are many pages out there -

    • John Scott

      In reply to reason42: Completely agree with you, I fiddle with my HP laptop all the time and can't find a happy setting. Really thought this would have been resolved by now, I am too considering going back to a Mac which had this DPI thing fixed a while ago.

  6. norwayyyxxx

    You know you can write as many times as you like that "UWP is the future"; that doesn't mean it will happen.

    The only minor development efforts I see for Windows is updates to Chrome, Spotify, Steam, Origin, Office, iTunes and VLC.

  7. prettyconfusd

    Barring actual magic this simply isn't something that can be completely fixed.

    If there's a scaling issue with a program you use - go complain to the company you bought it from as its their problem to fix, not Microsoft's!

    There has been decent enough HiDPI support and developer documentation since Vista and a lot of devs have simply ignored it. Mac devs tend to be more conscientious so combined with the strict hardware control has helped them transition better.

    Sure, even some of MS's own programs have issues but different teams work on different things - and they should be working to improve them/transition them to UWP. If not, then complain away to the right teams!

    Speaking of UWP, why isn't Notepad updated yet? While it seems crazy to me that so many people still seem to use it so frequently that slight blurriness is a problem, it also seems like a very easy UWP to build compared to the Office apps...

    Photoshop still doesn't scale properly/well enough for me at HiDPI so I complained and then switched to equivalent programs such as Clip Studio and Affinity Photo that do scale properly. It's not Microsoft's fault Adobe haven't built/updated their apps properly, and if I keep using the programs and blaming the wrong people it kind of becomes my own fault for continuing to use something not fit for purpose.

  8. gregsedwards

    The struggle is real. I don't think I fully appreciated this problem before I got a Surface Pro 4, which I use at work docked to two 27" Samsung monitors running at 1920 x1080, while the built-in display on the SP4 is 2736 x 1824. Trying to use all three to manage content is like combing your hair using a funhouse mirror.

  9. skane2600

    I guess I don't see the point of buying laptops with small screens and high DPI just so I can scale it up to usability.

  10. BinBinLives

    Wow, going on how many years now, and high-DPI is still a mess. Way to go, MS

  11. glenn8878

    That's all? They didn't go far enough and they had these issues for years.

  12. Mark from CO


    Full removal of support for legacy Win32 applications assume developers have or will move to UWP.  This doesn't seem to be happening.  Consequently, to keep Win10 as a viable platform for consumer (and I would say mobile) requires Win32 applications, legacy or not.  This is the corner that Microsoft finds itself in.

    Mark from CO

  13. PhilipVasta

    Serious question, why doesn't macOS have these issues? My friend's MacBook pro handles multiple monitors and high dpi very gracefully.

    • rameshthanikodi

      In reply to PhilipVasta:

      Because mac apps aim to scale apps up by exactly 2x, whereas windows goes for 120%, 140%, 150%, 200%, etc. The difference percentages give you different app scalings and sizes with different real screen estate. Depending on your screen, you either want a higher resolution for more screen real estate or for a higher DPI. Windows tries to give you both.

      Multi monitor on a Mac isn't perfect either, if i'm not wrong, on a retina mac, you don't get to choose 100% DPI on an extended screen. That's why people are buying all those LG cinema 5k displays and stuff.

    • ecumenical

      In reply to PhilipVasta:

      It's not that MacOS doesn't have these problems, it's that Apple has such a limited selection of hardware that they simply forced apps to implement a 2x scaling mode and then sold devices that had displays at nice 2x multiples of existing resolutions. As long as you stick to Apple hardware (and the vast majority are just using a laptop with fixed display), you're golden.

      I'd be curious to know how well something like a 1440p or old 1024x768 display work with when used as a second screen with a modern MacBook, though.

    • TallGuySE

      In reply to PhilipVasta:

      Mac apps render at 2x at native resolutions. The display setting gives 4 other scaled choices, ranging from "larger text" to "more space". (it doesn't list percentages, so insert simplistic Mac joke here)

      The current MacBook and MacBook Pros both ship at a scaled resolution. Apple has a very effective scaling algorithm that renders the image at a higher resolution and then scales it down to match the native display.

      I've had no issue connecting my new MBP to a much lower resolution projector. Even the iPhone and iPad display fine on lower res projectors.

    • inlocoabsentia

      On macOS, apps that do not declare themselves as HiDPI aware are rendered at 100% and scaled by the OS using something like HD upconverting. They look blurry, but they at least look internally consistent.

      Notepad++ still looks like dirt on my Surface. Maybe it's time to switch to VS Code for simple text editing.

      • TallGuySE

        In reply to inlocoabsentia:

        This is one thing on a Mac that just works. Any modern Mac app has been updated with 2x graphic assets and the system takes care of the rest. It looks very good, even at non-native resolutions. Macs with retina displays were introduced in 2012; you'd have to be using pretty old software for it not to have 2x support.

      • PeterFelts

        On macOS, apps that do not declare themselves as HiDPI aware are rendered at 100% and scaled by the OS using something like HD upconverting. They look blurry, but they at least look internally consistent.

        Notepad++ still looks like dirt on my Surface. Maybe it's time to switch to VS Code for simple text editing.

        I just tried out Notepad++ with the "System (Enhanced)" compatibility setting and the text looked great when I changed the DPI.

  14. JacobTheDev

    > Window dragging. When you drag a windows between two monitors with different DPIs, the window looks oddly shaped, with one rendered in the wrong DPI. Microsoft is looking to make this transition smoother.

    That one drives me nuts, glad to hear they're looking in to a fix. I can tolerate most of the blurry stuff, but dragging between monitors is extremely annoying.

  15. glenn8878

    Too little too late. Android already surpassed Windows. It's like they are ensuring their obsolescence and irrelevance especially after abandoning alternative platforms (Windows Phone). Fixing DPI issues will make their tablets more useful. There no case for using Windows tablets. The UI alone doesn't work well. DPI is hardly the only problem with scaling. The tiles and on-screen keyboard don't scale well. Windows apps and the web browsers don't scale well.

  16. postpcworld

    Just would like to say that I am really glad for the Per-app DPI scaling overide . I just tried it out on the cheep version of "CrashPlan" and it makes it usable.

    There's a tip of the week here for curmudgeons running apps that are way too old on monitors with way too much resolution.

  17. eeisner

    I really hope that some of these fixes resolve the many, many issues I have with running a 1920x1080 monitor with my Surface Book. I have weird issues with Chrome extensions and OneNote UWP where the cursor position does not match what is being selected/highlighted (weirdly grows exponentially the further down the monitor I go), and of course window dragging and the need to log out/in.

  18. Waethorn

    Here's the mark: when Magnifier presents an image without blurring or pixel-doubling, then you know they fixed the problem.

  19. John Scott

    Its been a sticking point for me trying to get everything looking good on my 1920x1080 15" laptop. Didn't think it would be such an issues with Win 10 and this length of time updating it. When you increase DPI over the native 100 to say 125 or 150 even. The higher you go the more stuff just looks bad. This goes beyond apps and programs, even content on web pages can look fuzzy and while going back to 100 DPI makes much of this go away, my older eyes can't deal with it, even though everything looks sharper. Would have enjoyed this 20 years ago, today? Not so much. Maybe I was spoiled with Mac OS doing scaling so much better with HD screens. It certainly looks way more complete and why Microsoft can't even get all of their own stuff looking good is pretty sad. I can see why even today the lower resolution notebooks still are around.