Hands-On with Redstone 5: Display Improvements

Posted on July 8, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 29 Comments

It seems like a such a small thing. But the ability to discretely zoom system text elements in Redstone 5 says a lot about Microsoft’s new strategy for Windows 10.

One of the big debates over the years—both inside Microsoft and out—has to do with what Windows is, and what role it plays in the lives of its users. On either end of this debate are two starkly different views. In one view, Windows should be as lean as possible, a platform upon which its users run mostly third-party apps and services. And in the other, Windows is feature-rich and supplies many users with everything the need out of the box.

You can see the shifting sands of Microsoft’s Windows strategy through these views: In Windows Vista, for example, Microsoft went all-in on bundled apps like Windows Mail and Windows Calendar, but in Windows 7, it decoupled those and other apps into a separate, more easily updatable package called Windows Live Essentials. But Windows 8 and 10 mark a return back to feature-rich. Back and forth we go.

With Windows 10 at the three-year mark, however—this is the point in time in which Microsoft has historically shipped a new version of the product—the pendulum is again shifting away from bundled apps. And Microsoft is now focusing more on the core, often productivity-focused, functionality that impacts all users every day.

(This doesn’t mean that Microsoft will decouple the apps that come with Windows 10. Thanks to its new servicing model, these apps can be updated at any time and don’t need to wait for a new Windows version. But I do think we’ll see fewer new apps, and that those apps that Microsoft does add to Windows going forward will be productivity-focused and not niche creativity apps, like we saw in 2017.)

As you probably know, I fully support this important shift from what I call nonsense functionality. And my own view and usage of Windows matches most closely to those who believe that this platform should be optimized for me, and not for the corporate needs of its maker. I may choose to use certain Microsoft apps and services, but if I do so, it will be because they are better. Not because they are made by Microsoft.

More to the point, with Microsoft deemphasizing niche apps and use cases, it is likewise focusing now on these core productivity and usage scenarios that I feel are so important. And throughout the development of this next Windows 10 version, called Redstone 5, what I’ve seen is incredibly exciting. There is no nonsense, no fat, in there at all. This was true months ago. It’s true now. And I feel like it will be true when this thing winds down. It’s a great time to be a Windows fan, and that’s saying something given the months of uncertainty we just endured.

Whether Microsoft ever chases the white whale of consistency in the Windows 10 user experience is uncertain. And, frankly, unlikely. But the firm has taken several steps in Redstone 5 to at least address some important related issues. And even reverse some regressions.

Key among these is one of my longtime Windows 10 complaints. Which is that in the move to supporting high DPI displays—a daunting task given all the legacy desktop software that customers still use—Microsoft moved to a display model in which the user can arbitrarily scale (“zoom” or magnify) onscreen display elements globally. But not discretely by element type as before.

What this means is that you might configure a high DPI display, like that on my Surface Book 2, to 200 or even 225 percent so that on-screen elements are visible and readable. This actually does work pretty well, but it doesn’t address two related issues: That users often prefer to display text at a larger size, globally, than other on-screen elements. And that they also often like to display text in reading-oriented apps (web browsers, word processors, email apps, and so on) at different sizes as well.

Display zoom in Windows 10 today

The latter case is something that needs to happen at the app level. And Microsoft’s web browser (Edge) and word processor (Word) obviously have long supported this kind of functionality. The Mail app in Windows 10, alas, does not. Yes, you can “zoom” the text/content inside an email message, but only on the fly, and that zooming does not respect the pane borders; it is “zoom” not “scale.” What you can’t do, and this is so obvious a need, is set a custom scale/zoom/magnification level globally for the reading pane. This is one of a few reasons that I cannot use the Mail app.

In the Mail app, text—especially in plain text emails—is too small and it can’t be globally zoomed

In Redstone 5, however, Microsoft is addressing the former issue. And in doing so, it is correcting a regression it created with the first version of Windows 10: You will be able to globally change the size of text in the system separately from the zoom/magnification level of other on-screen items again.

This is important. Many people are now overly-zooming their displays in order to make the text big enough for their eyes to read clearly, but doing so makes everything else too big, creating a cartoonish look.

In my case, I mentioned using 200 or 225 percent zoom on the Surface Book. With Redstone 5, I can now use the lower zoom level (200 percent) for the system, but configure text, system-wide, to be zoomed to 125 or 150 percent. The effect is more pleasing to me than the old style: I can use small on-screen user interface elements, but because the text is always bigger now, I can read it more easily. More generally, just having this level of customization is important, and not just for those with vision issues. I routinely make the fonts bigger on my phones as well. And many iPhone users with poor vision know that bolding the font used in system text makes the whole system easier to use.

There are other display improvements coming in Redstone 5; a new video playback mode called “Adjust video based on lighting” will help improve the visibility of videos when played outside or in bright environments, for example. But this “new” ability to resize system text really speaks to the type of thing I love to see Microsoft working on in Windows 10. And if this kind of change is all that Redstone 5 is about, I couldn’t be happier.

 

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Comments (30)

30 responses to “Hands-On with Redstone 5: Display Improvements”

  1. MikeGalos

    In the bad old days one of the reasons for the "Install them all and make them visible" camp was that without knowing the utility was there users wouldn't know the feature even existed and there was a large market of, frankly, questionable quality 3rd party applications whose entire market was people who didn't know that a better utility was already installed with the operating system. These 3rd party utilities were often not upgraded and people, reasonably, thought that since the 3rd party product existed it must be because Windows didn't include that functionality and that damaged Windows' reputation.


    I worked, several times, on functionality that was part of Windows but either not installed by default or was hidden and in those cases I frequently ran across people asking which 3rd party utility to use who were shocked when I'd tell them they already had it in Windows and just had to enable it.

    • Oasis

      "I worked, several times, on functionality that was part of Windows but either not installed by default or was hidden and in those cases I frequently ran across people asking which 3rd party utility to use who were shocked when I'd tell them they already had it in Windows and just had to enable it".


      Why don't they just provide an Owners manual and show everything that is installed and how to enable the hidden stuff. I remember the used to be a tab that had a tutorial in XP(I think).

  2. bluvg

    When will they offer more 3:2 resolution options? For those with uncooperative apps, the native-or-nothing 3:2 options leave one with no choice but a letterboxed display.

  3. Chris Payne

    How about fixing all the other auto-scaling issues in Win10 too? Why is it everytime I dock/undock my surface, Edge and Skype (both UWP apps) and Windows Explorer go crazy with their sizing. Chrome displays exactly right no matter what. How can MS mess up their own products so much?

  4. Tony Barrett

    Using the term 'niche' you actually mean 'pointless'. Microsoft's definition of a 'productivity app' is anything they can sign the end user up to pay for 'as a service'. Microsoft need to forget all the apps, and pointless Win10 additions for 12 months and concentrate solely on getting the core OS up to scratch. They are still too focused on adding things to the OS that are just a waste of time and effort. Win10 is already starting to die under its own weight. Three years in, and Win10 is just a feature bloated, overloaded, multi-faced mess. Did anyone ask for Fluent design? The flat UI is pig ugly - granted, but who came up the that idea? Control Panel/Settings - say no more. Cortana - total waste of time. Edge - ha, made me laugh. I'll say it again, at it's core, Win10 is a data collection system and conduit to MS services and nothing more. The rest is just eye candy to distract you from it's real reason for existing.

  5. RM

    The problem isn't the "nonsense functionality", the problem is not doing the important stuff with it. Such as finishing dark theme, finish updating UI elements to fluent design, finish replacing the control panel, and finishing the UI for Cortana, search, and action center. The apps should not be part of the OS team. Everything like Mail, Photos, Calculator, Notepad, etc. should be in a separate Windows App Team that works with the Windows Team.

  6. ulrichr

    You mention that this is one of the few reasons you can't use the Mail app. I like the simple nature of the Mail app, but have often been frustrated by the search in the Mail app. I can search for a specific word in an email, and I can search for a person (which gives me any email they have sent, received, or been CC'ed in). This is no where near good enough when you have a large number of emails to process, so I found myself going back to Outlook.


    Then today, the light dawned....

    You can actually use Exchange queries to search in the Windows 10 Mail App. Perhaps this was obvious to many, but it wasn't to me. So, you enter search terms like


    HasAttachments:true

    IsRead:false

    From:"Sam Smith"

    Subject:"All my passwords"

    Received:yesterday


    and of course you can add multiple query terms together separated by a space, e.g. HasAttachments:true IsRead: false


    Hope this helps.

  7. jwpear

    +10000!!!! So nice to see this return! It can screw things up if you go crazy, but it's nice to be able to fine tune text size on any display. Zoom is still needed for the overall UI on high DPI displays.


    I'm interested to see how this work on multiple displays when some are high DPI and some aren't. I have this exact configuration at home and at the office.

  8. JerryH

    One of the reasons Microsoft had removed the ability to zoom text independently from other display elements was that it made a terrible mess out of normal productivity software (what you are calling legacy apps). You'd get button text that was cut off and unreadable, dialog boxes with radio button text chopped off, etc. Unless they figured out some way to solve this (two years ago they posted a blog about how it was super hard to impossible to fix) it will just return. I notice in your screen shot you show only UWP apps or the shell itself - those were never a problem. How does that same thing look in a legacy app? Did they some how overcome the underlying issues with win32 GDI apps? (If so that's awesome!)

    • jwpear

      In reply to JerryH:

      I don't see how they can independently scale the font without scaling the region it sits within and not have some clipping of the text in Win32 apps. That said, devs need to be aware of this and adjust their apps to support it. One step is recognizing that text may need to wrap if horizontal space cannot grow to support the larger text. In my opinion, this is more of a bug in the apps than in Windows.


      Agree with IanYates82 that HTML (and UWP) just make this so much easier. I'm frankly glad I'm not doing native Win32 development these days. This kind of thing is such a PITA.

    • IanYates82

      In reply to JerryH:

      Agreed. Devs in win32 land usually need to specifically accommodate this. It's one of the nice things I've found since switching to HTML.


      I wonder if this will just be for UWP apps? If so, that's probably good enough. Or, at least make win32 apps opt-in to flag they're aware of the text scaling again, much like how they can opt-in to say they're DPI-aware and avoid the system-provided DPI scaling.

  9. Bdsrev

    Paul I also have a Surface Book and another great thing about this text scaling feature for us is, 200% scaling is "pixel perfect", there are no scaling artifacts or flaws/errors at 200% scaling. I currently have mine set to 225% because text is just too small at 200%, so I can't wait for this. Also, a great tip I saw on reddit related to this stuff: in Edge (it doesn't work accurately in Chrome or Firefox) do a google search for 'what is my resolution' when your Surface book is at 200% scaling, and do it again when you scaling is at 225%, you can now see the effective resolution of your surface book at these different scalings

  10. chrishilton1

    Interesting, as I recently used a 32" AOC display connected to Surface Laptop, and I'd like to go the other way, by scaling the larger display to a (smaller text) higher resolution. But Windows does not let me do this, the only resolution that looks any good on the AOC is when Windows scales the display to 150%, which makes everything look huge (exactly the opposite reason to buy a large display). At 100% the screen display looks blurred and fuzzy. Microsoft needs to fix this, and I don't think these text improvements go far enough.

  11. NT6.1

    Windows 10 looks so ugly and clueless. Scrap everything and start over. Windows 10 failed.

  12. MikeGalos

    A timing clarification. Windows Live Essentials wasn't new utilities with Windows 7. It was a bundling of what had been available in the Windows Live product line after it was merged back into the Windows division.

    I worked on one of the Windows Live branded products and we shipped with Windows XP SP1. I remember that well because we had features coded and tested but kept on the shelf since they couldn't be released until Windows XP SP2 shipped.

  13. truerock2

    1985: I was using 640x480 on a 13 inch monitor

    1990: 800x600 on 15 inch

    1995: 1024x768 on 17 inch

    2002: 1280x1024 on 21 inch (Windows XP for ever and ever)

    2012: 1920x1080p 27" (Hello Windows 7)

    2018: still 1920x1080p on the same old 60Hz 27" Samsung monitor and 2012 PC (upgraded to Windows 10).


    So, I want to upgrade. Intel and Microsoft slooooowly roll out new technology... so, no need to upgrade in the last 6 years.


    When I can get 4k UHD at 120Hz... I'm ready to finally upgrade my 2012 PC. I totally understand why Apple does not upgrade their PCs. Tiny minuscule upgrades are a waste of time and money.


    Our living room was being refurbished last year so I ran the family's 49" Samsung 4k TV at 60Hz as my Windows 10 monitor for about 2 months. 49" was about right for 4K. I don't think 4k on a 27" or 32" (or even 42") monitor makes any sense. If you are going to use a 27" monitor then run at 1080p.


    Blowing up the monitor zoom on a tiny screen is a stupid idea. Run 1080p

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