Scott Hanselman

Living a High-DPI desktop lifestyle can be painful

January 15, 2014 Comment on this post [108] Posted in Musings
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I've been using this Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro for the last few weeks, and lemme tell you, it's lovely. It's the perfect size, it weighs nothing, touch screen, fast SSD, it's thinner than the X1 Carbon Touch that is my primary machine, and it just feels right.

It also has about the nicest screen I've ever seen on a Windows Laptop.

Except. This thing runs at 3200x1800. That's FOUR of my 1600x900 ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch screens.

Yes, 3200x1800

To be clear, full screen apps (Windows Store apps) almost universally look great. The text is clear, there's nary a pixel in sight. The whole full-screen Windows Store ecosystem seems to work nicely with high-DPI displays. And that makes sense, as it appears they've put a LOT of thought into high-dpi with Windows 8.1. I've changed a few settings on my 1080p Surface 2 in order to take better advantage of High-DPI and run a more apps simultaneously, in fact.

Also, note the checkbox that lets you set different scaling levels for different displays, so you can keep your laptop at high-res and an external monitor at another for example.


It's the Desktop where I get into trouble. First, let's look at the display at "small fonts."

NOTE: This is NOT the Default setting. The default is smart about the size of your screen and DPI and always tries to get the fonts looking the right size. I've changed the default to 100% to illustrate the massive number of pixels here.

3200x1800 is SO high res, that when you're running it at Small Fonts, well, a picture is worth a million pixels, right? Go ahead, click it, I'll wait. And you will also, it's 3 megs.

Holy Crap that's a lot of Pixels

Many, if not most apps work fine in the High-DPI desktop world. It's a little hard to get the point across in a blog post of screenshots because you, Dear Reader, are going to be reading this on a variety of displays. But I'll try.

Problems happen when applications either totally don't think about High-DPI displays, or more commonly, they kind of think about them.

You can say all this talk of High-DPI is a problem with Windows, but I think it's a problem with the app developers. The documentation is clear on High-DPI and developers need to test, include appropriate resources or don't claim to support high-dpi. I have a number of older Windows apps that look great on this display. They are simply scaled at 2x. Sure, they may be a little blurry (they have been scaled 2x) but they are all 100% useable.

NOTE: There's a very technical session on getting high-dpi to look good in Windows Desktop apps at BUILD. The Video is here.

Here's a few examples that have caused me pain in just the last week, as well as some Good Citizen apps that look great at High-DPI.

Examples of Poor High-DPI behavior

Let's start with Windows Live Writer, one of my favorite apps and the app I'm using to write this post. It almost looks great, presumably because it's a WPF application and WPF is pretty good about DPI things. However, note the pictures. They are exactly half the size of reality. Well, let me be more clear. They are exactly pixel-sized. They are the size they are, rather than scaled to 200%. This has caused me to upload either giant pics or too-small pics because WLW scales text at one size and images at another, within the same document!


Adobe everything. I am shocked at how bad Adobe stuff looks on a high-dpi display. Just flip a coin, chances are it's gonna be a mix of small and large. Here's Adobe Reader.


Here's the Flash installer.

Screenshot (16)

Here's a great example - Dropbox.


Dropbox gets worse the deeper you get into the menus.


SQL Server Management Studio is a bad example.


Here's an easy fix, just add high-res arrow resources, or draw them with a vector.


Examples of Good High-DPI behavior

Visual Studio 2013 looks great. Fonts are well-sized, and while the icons aren't high-res (retina) they still look ok. All the Dialog boxes and menus work as they should.


Word 2013 and all of Office look great at High-DPI. They've got great icons, great fonts and generally are awesome.


Paint.NET 4.0 Alpha also looks great. There's some scaled icons, but the app is smart and there's pixel perfect editing.


GitHub for Windows looks awesome at High-DPI.


Do you have any examples of high-DPI frustration on the Desktop? Upload them to and link to them in the comments!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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January 15, 2014 10:32
The wonkiness of far too many desktop apps is exactly why I returned my Yoga 2 Pro to Lenovo last week. It's a fairly great laptop, but I couldn't get over how poorly most desktop apps behaved in high DPI. :(
January 15, 2014 10:38
Eclipse is awful (shown on top of Firefox for comparison):

As is playing any Flash video. Good luck clicking on any of the controls!

I'm using a Dell XPS 15 with the 3200x1800 display. I can't imagine some of this on a 13" screen. I almost bought the Yoga 2, and went with this beast of a machine instead.
January 15, 2014 10:42
Fujitsu ScanSnap Manager fails at High DPI - I know there are buttons that are blown outside of the window. :|

Google Chrome also has a real problem with tab rendering at high DPI. It keeps blocking them to half of the width of the window. Really surprised to see Firefox get this one right.

Internet Explorer 11 fails in the opposite way - it renders TOO big on high DPI.

January 15, 2014 10:51
Thanks @Colin Bowern for pointing out that *Web Browsers* are some of the *worst* offenders when it comes of HiDPI support. Oddly enough, IE 11 is right there with them :(.

And like @Brian Peek pointed out, it makes the experience on HiDPI laptops pretty sucky and pointless.

I think providing consistent HiDPI support in Windows 8 was way more important than adding Metro.
January 15, 2014 11:02
Macs use a scaled resolution approach which scales everything equally. It works beautifully, it's simple and elegant. Windows on the other hand tries to over engineer it by letting you fix text and user element size. Which does not work. Windows metro apps work better, but not perfect.
January 15, 2014 11:02
TIP: You can disable display scaling on high DPI displays on a per-app basis via a compatibility doodad in Windows 8.1. (Screenshot:
January 15, 2014 11:04
And it's not like windows didn't solve this problem before. Remember printers in win32? Amazing that they screw up on such basic stuff.
January 15, 2014 11:05
I run Windows 8.1 on a MBP 13" Retina and I feel your pain.

I run a three screen setup at work and usually only one or two at home. When changing the number of screens I need to reboot in order for the DPI scaling to work properly :/

Also - the PowerShell prompt is horrible.
January 15, 2014 11:26

I just bought a Yoga 2 Pro and I love it too. Very nice ultrabook. I have the same problem with the screen which is fabulous but also very bad because of the high DPI support of Windows.
Finally, I use the 1600x900 resolution and 100% scale so all programs look fine.
January 15, 2014 11:29
Remote Desktop is unusable at hi-dpi. I'm very disappointed in Microsoft on that app. They should know better.
January 15, 2014 11:35
I have to agree with @Brian Peek. Far too many desktop apps totally fail on the Yoga 2 in High DPI. Other than that, it's a sweet machine. I was fairly surprised at Adobe. You would think an organization with such a great reputation in graphics would keep up. Who knew?
January 15, 2014 11:41
I blogged some thoughts on this issue.
January 15, 2014 11:44
I just bought a Sony VAIO Pro (13", 1920x1080), and realised I dodged a bullet by not going for one one the higher res laptops like the Lenovo or Samsung or Dell. It seems this res is about the limit of what's useable on that size screen, anything more and you HAVE to scale, which as a you say isn't an option with most apps. I have chrome zoomed to 125% in pages, but otherwise that's it and all is useable, albeit smaller than I'm used to looking at with my old laptop.
January 15, 2014 11:48
A whole other problem with High DPI is that remote desktop connections (which we use a lot for remote working) ususaly don't run smooth (because of the bandwith requirements).

That forces users to choose between an envelop sized window to work with, or a large view that literally takes seconds between keystrokes.
January 15, 2014 11:50
What about Skype on high resolution screen?
January 15, 2014 11:58
The few apps that aupport hiDPI well are not worth the tons that don't. It ends up looking worse in the end.
January 15, 2014 12:22
You can also add Metrotwit to the list with high-dpi friendly applications! I have had issues with regarding high-dpi, but those developers are really listening and fixing it!
January 15, 2014 12:23
cannot edit comment, so here is another one. What is your opinion about the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook?
January 15, 2014 12:53
I agree with Sahil Malik, the Windows approach is inferior to OS X scaling.

On Windows it seems to depend on the UI technology that is used by the application. WPF works quite fine out of the box, frameworks like QT and gtk+ don't work at all.

The scaling should happen on a lower layer in Windows. That way all applications would be treated equally. All you would've to do is providing high-dpi graphics.
January 15, 2014 13:05
I've gotten around a lot of my Hi DPI wows by adjusting applications. Right click the icon on the task bar, choose compatibility, disable scaling for hidpi. Then in the application adjust the font size to 26pt for menu's and any editors. Voila. Enjoy hi res apps that didn't play well before. Also in chrome type "about:flags" in address bar and set hidpi support to enabled rather than default.

To add I'm using the Ativ Book 9 Plus which has this same resolution. Sure it's not perfect. But it's damn close!
January 15, 2014 13:11
You say High DPI problem? I hear Skype desktop
January 15, 2014 13:27
And what about multi-monitor dpi scaling? It's really bad to me because I can't set 200% on the retina display and 100% on the second monitor. The system choose automatically a dpi higher than 100% and everyting looks blured. For example VS2013.
January 15, 2014 13:33
Non-native speaker here. Stumbled when I read 'pixel in site'. Sight? Or an expression I don't know?
January 15, 2014 14:14
Same problem, so much of my software doesnt work properly (i use a large tv monitor), i basicly had to drop the res just to keep my sanity between software that did acale and software that didnt.

Usefull example for me as a programmer though.
January 15, 2014 14:14
When you write desktop apps using .NET, you are likely using winforms or wpf. Both do scaling to higher DPI in most cases but not all cases: there are cases where you have to change settings on controls which ship with .net to get it look OK, and this is undocumented. And this is the problem: wpf and winforms were made by teams which aren't there anymore. No-one is interested in fixing it at Microsoft as all they talk about is either azure or windows store apps.

It's not an easy problem to solve, at least not in the windows world. I agree with Sahil, Apple has solved this much easier: simply scale _everything_ with the same factor, works always. On windows, text is scaled, but there's no setting for the rest. This is scaled as the apps goes along (controls gets wider due to the text areas gets prescaled, so the images on them, if properly anchored, scale as well).

However that doesn't make it a problem which lies for 100% with the developers. Microsoft has abandoned not one but two desktop UI frameworks in .NET, both are not ideal with respect to scaling to high DPI. But what to do? Abandon a large pile of knowledge about winforms and move to wpf, which is dead already too? Or move to windows store apps, but then have to deal with a very limited framework and at the same time a UI system which doesn't fit all desktop apps. Make everything a webapp then? Not everything can nor should be a webapp.

Your post clearly shows Microsoft should get their act together with respect to a solid desktop UI framework and provide a solid healthy future, so issues like this are solved automatically like they should. At the same time it shows that you, a web dev, is out of touch with what desktop devs have to (!) work with, sorry.

You provide great work, but your blame on the developers really struck a nerve. I've spent over a week to get everything working on high dpi displays some time ago, most time working around winforms issues regarding font scaling. (group controls in group controls which didn't get scaled properly while their outer group control is etc.). Am I to blame? Or are the developers at your company to blame? Or the managers who brilliantly decided to get rid of the winforms and wpf teams because we were not going to need them anymore as everyone would develop windows store apps from now on perhaps?
January 15, 2014 14:32
Microsoft's approach to scaling is when you go from 1080p to 4K, the lion becomes small and deer becomes big, but still the deer is still being chased by a tiny lion. Laughable.
January 15, 2014 15:28
Just another reason why I've already purchased my last Windows machine.

Return the Lenovo, get a Retina MacBook Pro and move on.
January 15, 2014 15:29
Visual studio looks good on the surface but there are still issues, take a look at the project properties -> Debug -> command line options entry box for instance.
January 15, 2014 15:39
Just noticed the problem with Outlook on hidpi that "add account Manually" was cut off is not there anymore at least not on Surface 2 @150% scaling. I noticed this on a 13.3" Laptop @125% some months ago. Maybe this is fixed now or just fixed on RT or 150%?

Other than all the complaints about hi dpi problems: Of course there are problems as until recently (this is years in desktop development ;) there basically were no hi-dpi devices to test/develop on.

Even on OSX it took months/years to fix programs like Adobe but AFAIK even now not all programs work perfectly.

I do agree Microsoft should improve the situation as much as they can (easier development, option of different manual scale on different screens, fix at least their own stuff like the Windows Device Manager which works but looks blurred, etc.) but I think complaining only does not help. Actually nice to have this article which I hope gets attention not just by Windows haters ;)
January 15, 2014 16:01

Microsoft's design choices in how they rasterize fonts is horribly broken, and makes the horizontal length of any given rasterized text wildly inconsistent and impossible to predict. Short version: they start each glyph rounded to whole-pixel boundaries, regardless of the width of the preceding glyphs. This is so they can do overly-aggressive hinting for the standard Arial 10pt/96ppi, but causes the horizontal distances to jump around in strange ways at any other size.

Adobe/Apple/Freetype/etc don't have this probelm because they properly align glyps to a 1/10 pixel or 1/256 pixel grid and antialias whatever that result is. It produces consistent word/line length, but does contribute slightly to that "blury" effect some people see in OSX fonts.
January 15, 2014 16:09
Aw, come one, having that many pixels in a 13.3" screen is not only ridiculous but you are asking for trouble...
January 15, 2014 16:17
Finally someone brings up this issue... I thought I was losing my mind.

I've had the Yoga 2 for a month and a half, and I have to give props to Lenovo. The hardware on this laptop is a wonderful experience. My experience with Windows 8.1 has been the exact opposite. The dpi issues make this whole OS look like a joke.

Blaming the app developers is missing the mark, as built-in applications like Remote Desktop have the worst problems.
January 15, 2014 16:33
The situation is even worse if you use any of the many programs that have fixed, tiny font sizes (I'm looking at you Ableton and ZBrush and Native Instruments). Totally unreadable, and nobody at the companies seems to give a damn.
January 15, 2014 17:00
I have a Retina MacBookPro and I can say it looks very good scaled. At first I thought why it won't let me reach the full resolution, but after I downloaded a tool to do that I understand why. It just looks too small, even if you scale text.

I can see that's exactly your problem. If you scale one part (text), menus won't scale, pics won't also, etc. So I see now that the best approach is to scale it all, but in order to do that you need to have the double amount of resolution on graphics or you need vectorized system.

I think Windows is still far away on that approach, so I guess it's better to keep on the tradicional resolutions. Unless you have a huge monitor (and I think that's what the big resolutions are intended to on Windows).

Anyway, have you tried to set a smaller resolution, proportional to that one? If the graphics doesn't look crappy, maybe it's a better option for now.
January 15, 2014 17:13
I think the hardest thing is working in VMs. Your fonts are fine in the host OS but then you connect to a guest with the Hyper-V client and everything in that window is tiny. (It'd be nice if there were a zoom option on the Hyper-V client.)

The second hardest is SnagIt + scaled fonts. Screenshots look normal on your screen because everything is scaled up relative to everything else. But then you paste that screenshot into Outlook or Word and you notice that your little screen grabs are actually GIGANTIC.
January 15, 2014 17:18
I used to have a 19" CRT monitor running at 120dpi. It was excellent, but the high (only just compared to your example) pixel density was handled very differently in different browsers:

IE (8?) just worked

Firefox was fine once the layout.css.devPixelsPerPx setting was changed

Chrome just couldn't hack it at all - it was quite common for various elements on a single web page to behave differently as the zoom level changed. Please see:
January 15, 2014 17:26
I agree completely with Frans Bouma.

The HiDPI story for Windows has been broken for ages - I was battling the same problem five years ago in getting a bitmap in an MSI installer to look well on normal, small and large font size scaling as I would be today (hint: that's not actually possible unless you write your own UI, which you might want to do anyway but for different reasons).

Windows Forms has a model for adjusting, but it is not coherent and it causes more problems than it solves. WPF has all the chances in the world to be good at this, but at the point of taking blood, sweat and tears to make ordinary images not be blurry or inscrutably scaled. (Pit of success, anyone? I love WPF's propensity for scalable art, but more often than not, you start 10 meters in the hole and have to climb out of it.)

It's good that Microsoft has taken steps to expose those problems with Windows 8 and 8.1. Now it comes down to taking the measures to let the problems that are exposed become solvable. All non-Windows computing devices I own have Retina displays so I get why HiDPI is desireable. But I'm not seeing all that much support from Microsoft to actually make their own stacks more competent except the repetitive calls to go build Metro apps. Your list shows that it's not impossible - but it is definitely the result of a lot of hard work and determination and a bit too much working against the grain.
January 15, 2014 17:31
Thanks for the pointer to Paint.NET 4.0 alpha :)
Installing right now.
January 15, 2014 17:37
I've not seen any issues with HiDPI yet. I have the Dell XPS 15. I can't believe how many of you people just bitch about it. I'd rather have apps looking bad at 1800p than laptops that still have 768p screens in 15 inches.
January 15, 2014 17:46
Just like Frans, my company develops Winforms+WPF apps and I can't agree more with what he says. Microsoft really dropped the ball on this. Still waiting for them to get their act together and show WinForms and WPF some love.
January 15, 2014 17:52
I increasingly appreciate the Y2P the more I use it. I've found the native resolution with DPI @ 200% (the default setting) to be good for most of my needs.

Good: VS 2013, Office, IE, Windows Store apps
Okay: SQL Mgmt Studio, Chrome
Bad: Remote Desktop, Live Writer
January 15, 2014 18:08
ReSharper is so dreadful it makes me cry. To be fair I'm using it on VS2012, in Windows 8.1, in Parallels, in OSX on a MBP 15" Retina. However, I can only use it because my muscle-memory for the dialogs is so good I don't need to read them any more. Such a shame. They've promised to address it but I've yet to try R# 8 and I don't think all DPI-related issues made it into that release. (

Continuous Tests (a.k.a "MightY Moose") is another offender, but I can't complain because it's still a great tool (as is R#) but I didn't pay for it. :)
January 15, 2014 18:16
"Also, note the checkbox that lets you set different scaling levels for difference [sic] displays"

This is great! Windows 7 doesn't have this feature, and I wish it did: On my setup with a high-resolution laptop PC connected to three external monitors, things look good on the external monitors, but tiny on the laptop's display.

I've ended up using the laptop's own high res display only for Gmail, and using Ctrl+Plus several times on that browser window to make it readable.
January 15, 2014 18:17
I am living in this right now with the new Dell XPS 15 Touch I bought. Love the screen but getting it just right for viewing is a pain in the arse.

The issue I am having Scott is that many apps (like all Adobe apps) do not know how to behave in this hi-res environment. I am finding that I cannot use apps like Adobe Audition at all. I have not found a solution.

I am trying to get any Adobe app to work correctly. I guess until they update the apps I am stuck working on the older Dell laptop.
January 15, 2014 18:19
Windows is to blame for these scaling problems. In general, whole MS ecosystem and API's are based on tricks and patches, than elegant and clean solutions.
January 15, 2014 18:23
It took Adobe well over a year to address issues on the MBP retina. So good luck with that.
January 15, 2014 18:24
I recently bought the new Dell XPS 15 which also has a 3200x1800 display and have encountered quite a lot of the issues you highlight, Scott.

I've also noticed a couple of issues seemingly with the scaling setting being maintained or picked up:
1. Sometimes, coming out of standby, my machine reverts to 100% scaling and I have to switch it to external display and back to force it to pick the scaling back up again.
2. Some apps don't seem to pick up the scaling setting at all (e.g. PowerShell highlighted by Kenneth) and in these cases I've found that if I right-click the executable I have an option to run with a particular graphics adapter and that doing this rather than just double clicking actually forces the scaling to happen. Not sure whether this is a standard Windows feature or something the graphics drivers that came with the Dell do.

Both of these seem to have pretty trivial workarounds so maybe Microsoft will be able to provide a patch via Windows Update.

Also, regarding Remote Desktop - Remote Desktop Connection Manager, although old, seems to handle the scaling a bit better.
January 15, 2014 18:39
Oh my god that looks Godly. I need to get my hands on one of those. Just a quick question Scott. Do you feel that mostly you donot need a second screen with that high a resolution?
January 15, 2014 19:00
Even the definition of a point in Mac and Windows is incorrect.

A point should be aproximately 1/72 of an inch, PERIOD. There can be no other definition. The fact that there is another definition in software is simply WRONG. Any variation to great and we should reject the value of a point.

We have DPI settings in the OS, in part so that the OS can calculate how to display a font at certain points.

As soon as you display that PPT on a pluged in projector, that 20pt font in powerpoint is actually 1000pt when it is on the projector, or 10,000pt depending on the size of the projected display.

These really aren't easy problems to solve. I'm very glad someone is finally attempting to make some progress on this problem.
January 15, 2014 19:11
I'm running a MBP Retina in bootcamp. Before I ran Parallels and no screen issues. In bootcamp I feel it, and is now using the 200% dpi.

To solve the issue for some of the apps like powershell I wrap it inside ConEmu, which makes it scale very well. ALso worke for TotalCommander etc.

Try it out.
January 15, 2014 19:12
I can not understand how an intelligent and tech-loving guy like you is still using windows on his machines. I did the change some time ago and it is not only a really good feeling to run only open source software (this irrational feelgood effect counts big in the post-snowden era), but from a technical perspective Linux systems are much more advanced, especially regarding long-term usability.

Of course you will have to tweak a little bit - using LXDE and infinality font patches seem to be the most important advices for geeky beginners, but if you are running a Linux system for some months or years you will start to see how much life-time you wasted with nursing windows annoyances.

This effect comes slowly, at the beginning you will have some tweak-time, but when you found your optimal settings you just keep them in your home folder and copy them to new installations, setting up work environments on a new system comes down to one simple copy process and takes nearly no time, extremely simple and powerful.

And believe me, it is incredible how deep one can individualize a Linux system, this level of tweakability is simply phantastic and no commercial OS offers this today.

After your initial tweaking experience then there will happen this: month after month will pass by, and you will just do not have to think about your system, you will just be using it. This is not possible with Windows, the brilliant software distribution of all modern Linux distros is just lightyears ahead of the primtive installation nightmares windows urges you to use.

I try to emphasize one really important thing for every creative person: Linux just helps you keeping your focus on your actual task and saves you unbelievable amounts of life-time!

As every year I spent Xmas with helping friends and family with their windows computers - it feels totally absurd if you have not used Windows for some months or years on a regular basis - the confrontation with totally idiotic technical problems is simply not-acceptable any more for a user who is comfortable with the luxury of a computer system that just works. This would be all laughable, but in fact it is a desaster for our society how many talented people loose massive amounts of time with "installing a new windows" or "fixing windows problems" - we have too many problems to solve on this planet, we can not allow having creative people burn their time with BS. Unfortunately OSX does not look much better here.

I do not believe that MS can ever catch up. It is more than just technology, it is the philosophy. Elegancy, simplicity and openness created a system and an infrastructure that is much more advanced than any commercial OS today.

Most Linux distros made very important improvements to the desktop experience over the last years, lots of small things add up to finally beeing easily usable by average user and a fun ride for every experienced tweaker who wants to OWN his system and not be owned. :)

Additionaly as a programmer there is of course no way around using Linux systems as your primary environment if you want to really master your programming challenges and not only be an intellectual chicken in a MS cage.

There is more to Free Sofware than just the technical advantage - the commitment of thousands of developers to freedom and efficiency created some kind of magic, that can only be understood when you are using it yourself.

Come over and take a look, I predict that 2014 will be the year of the Linux desktop. After a few months I bet you will only unwillingly boot into your Windows desktop because of some software or job that is Windows-only. If you once have come out of the cage, you will wonder how great the world can be!

January 15, 2014 19:22
That's pretty goofy looking ... hope they find a way to fix it!
January 15, 2014 19:42
I worked as developer in an Adobe product four years back while I was part of the company and I hated that splash-screen looking page when it was introduced in our product. I cannot get how the core teams come with these odd GUI controls and want them to be enforces across all Adobe applications.
January 15, 2014 19:55
Using a Surface Pro 2 at the moment and never got the independent monitor scaling working. If I connect a second screen, it never allows me to scale fonts at 100% while keeping 125% on the surface itself. Anyone out there got this working?
January 15, 2014 20:38
I just got an Asus Zenbook 1920 x 1080 win 8 laptop. I don't want any resolution less than this. I was thinking about returning the laptop to get a Lenovo with 3200x1800, but now I don't think I will. I agree with Marcus, this is probably the highest resolution to go without having these issues. I was even thinking about MBP retina, just for the resolution.
January 15, 2014 20:56
I've been using a machine under 1.5x for almost one year. These programmers who made non-dpi-aware apps but still cleam they are should be illegal. They are cheating us. It's fraud.

Yes, I'm talking about YOU, adobe. I cannot even find a way to report this bug.

However MS should also do something to deal with situation. How about... release a C/C++ library like WPF?
January 15, 2014 20:57
Recently we discovered our well-entrenched application (name withheld) was wildly bad looking on high-DPI displays. With over 800 forms and dialogs in the app, it's a HUGE commitment of time and resources to go through and fix everything.

Unfortunately, unlike on mobile platforms, desktop developers tend to think of high DPI as an edge case not worth worrying too much about -- if it's thought about at all.

Awareness really needs to be raised over making them look good at that scale, especially with the rise of 4k/8k displays on the horizon.
January 15, 2014 21:21
and thats why it would be great to have an abstraction between logical dpi that the app uses and actual dpi that the monitor has (preferably with a user-configurable zoom factor thrown in the mix), at least for legacy apps that are not DPI-aware.

Seriously, thats not so hard to conceive and (at least naively) implement...
January 15, 2014 21:34
Packet Tracer
January 15, 2014 22:07
I believe that Vista (or maybe Windows 7) was supposed to allow application scaling (that's why we needed a 3D graphics card for drawing the desktop).

Why was that feature canceled after the first beta? That would have solved everything.
January 15, 2014 22:18
Sahil Malik: Macs use a scaled resolution approach which scales everything equally. It works beautifully, it's simple and elegant.

No, they don't. I just got a Macbook Air. My options for making the screen more readable are:
1) Run it at non-native resolution. i.e. Instead of 1440x900, use 1280x800. That's ugly, ugly, ugly. Windows has that non-option too.
2) Get a third-party utility like TinkerTool and fix 9 different system font sizes (title bar font, etc). Awkward, laborious, and not universal.

Windows solution of being able to set the DPI and having that DPI apply to everything is much better than any of the Mac options.
January 15, 2014 22:24
The Adobe failures don't at all surprise me, given the lack of sanity altogether in their software.
Take for instance that Creative Suite still breaks on case-sensitive filesystems(including the case-sensitive mode of HFS+)
January 15, 2014 22:36

I find my mac perfectly awesome to use without tinkertool. Can you elaborate, perhaps with screenshots on what exactly is the issue?

January 15, 2014 22:42
The Event viewer is also rather goofy looking with scaling turned on. Was trying to debug some Win 8 store app release package issues on a test machine and had a tough time reading some of the information
January 15, 2014 23:19
I've got a mac book pro 15 inch and I've been struggling with this. Not just between different applications but different contexts between working in bootcamp, or beware fusion with its few different relevant options then going into unity mode. Scaling and sizing between bootcamp, vmware and unity mode all behave different. Oh and then you think you have it good then you go and remote desktop into another machine and is tiny again.
January 15, 2014 23:47
I recently got a pair of the 24" Dell UHD displays and while they're beautiful (Retina quality on a desktop!), it's painfully obvious that many apps just don't have good defaults.

One annoying one is the Task Manager. In the details view, the default column widths are way too narrow.

I'll agree that VS 2013 generally does a good job, but even there, many of the default widths for columns (think TFS Source Control Explorer, Error List, etc), are too narrow when working at HiDPI.

Another annoyance are web images. While many websites have optimized for Retina displays using the -webkit approach of media queries, css, etc, most don't do the IE 11-supported way of using JS to switch out the images and keep the size. Seems like the IE team needs to at least understand the webkit approach to that as it's better than nothing.

January 15, 2014 23:49
To everyone with the XPS 15, how is it? Is the fan noisy? Does it run a lot? Has anyone used the new X1 Carbon with the software function keys? How are they?
January 16, 2014 2:38
The Windows DPI scaling control panel has DPI scaling bugs:
January 16, 2014 4:16
I've been having similar problems with my Yoga2. Glad to see I'm not the only one. This has been going on as long as there has been DPI scaling, at least since 2009.

Credit has to go to Remco, as NCrunch 2.2 works perfectly, and Resharper 8.1 seems fine too.

VS2010 is really bad (unlike VS2013), tortoise Hg struggles

Of course there is a solution to this, at least for anything open source, which is why I hope they accept the pull request I've sent for StyleCop.
January 16, 2014 6:06
Here are some of the issues I see on my Yoga2 if I run full res with 225% DPI scaling - I find that if I run with 1920x1080 res and 125% (medium) DPI scaling, all the desktop apps I've used so far look good. Although I did have to bump the default console font size to 20 (for cmd.exe & PowerShell.exe).
January 16, 2014 6:11
Forgot one other issue - RDP needs work as well. If I RDP from Yoga2 at full res into my machine at work (24" monitor running 1920x1080) I can't read/use anything - windows & text are way too small. So I have to bump the DPI scaling on the remote machine. Unfortunately that requires logging out and back in again - losing all my work "context". And then when I get back into work I find that everything on my 24" monitor is huge because I forgot to readjust the DPI scaling back to 100%. And of course, that requires logging out and back in *again* and losing my work "context" yet again.
January 16, 2014 7:56
I don't even have a very high res screen - using a Surface Pro, but I did have trouble with some apps. Photoshop, Spotify, Chrome, Steam all just don't support DPI scaling at all.

Plus a zoom feature for RDP would be nice.
January 16, 2014 9:24
@modeless re: "The Windows DPI scaling control panel has DPI scaling bugs"

January 16, 2014 11:41
I am enjoying my yoga 2 too, but Windows 8.1 is really bad at handling DPI. The relative "smart" scaling cannot be tweak pr. monitor, and the only other option is to manually lock all monitors at same DPI - but that's really bad for the 13" next to my 27".

But the worst part is when you start to RDC other machines (Win 8.1 and Server 2012 R2) - it randomly hangs the target in high or strange mixed awful high/low DPI, and to change it - you HAVE to log out!? I really hope MS will hotfix this soon.

The micro HDMI output seems to have a max resolution of only 1920x1080 - so to use a big external monitor, use USB 3 dock - and make sure it is the latest DisplayLink chip (i just got a Fujitsu), or else it won't run e.g. 2560x1440 (don't go Lenovos models).

Related to DPI: I hope that MS some day will consider that some mice has very high DPI. When i connect my Logitech G700 mouse, i have to lower the mouse sensitivity so much that the touchpad becomes useless - only options is to lower the mouse DPI (auto sensitivity programs don't work).

And I don't get why the Yoga don't turn of the the keyboard back-light when the screen turns off, and why it doesn't disable the keyboard when cranked half way around - it has to be completely wrapped around; This can cause key press in stand mode. Lenovo have a Thinkpad version to - lower res., with pen, dedicated dock plug etc., but it's not orange and it doesn't do 3200x1800 for good and bad.

VS.NET 2013 perf. test building a solution was 9.5 seconds on the Yoga (8GB RAM, i7) vs. 7.2 seconds for my PC OC@ 4.7Mhz (Sandy). Thats impressive!

But yes, it IS a nice machine! SUPER display, almost as good as Mac air touchpad (but the Synaptics software is still crap), good battery time (hopefully MS will give us some more one day), orange color is cooool - i like the rubbery finish, and it fits in my mans-bag :)

It's just as much a tablet as it's a workstation - and that makes it a useful tablet.
January 16, 2014 14:08
I feel the pain daily! Quite a few of the apps I use have interfaces which actually become totally unusable with scaling turned on. Also weirdly, I've found that more apps tend to misbehave when scaling is set to 125% rather than 150% or 200%. I guess this is a case of partial support for 125% and none at >125%.

I don't see these issues going away any time soon - for most devs it's just not ever going to get high enough on the backlog. I can see the conversation going something like "Should we add that new feature our users are clamoring for, or should we essentially rebuild the entire UI to make things look prettier for a handful of users?"
January 16, 2014 15:56
To Andrew Denty's point above, here is the response from the SQL Server team in March of last year on High DPI failings:

"We triaged this issue and at this time do not plan to address this in a future version of SQL Server. -Walter A Jokiel, Program Manager, SQL Server "

That's an extremely shortsighted view. I think I would have left off the "future version" bit. I suspect that DPI variety is only starting to become an issue, and with mobile devices and various tablet sizes taking off, this will end up being much higher concern than people expect.

We've already gone through our application and modified it for high dpi. I would rather have my users getting their job done and telling all their friends to buy our service than silently annoyed at us daily because we were too busy doing valuable features to make the ones we already gave them work.
January 17, 2014 3:14
Woah... I am obviously out of the new laptop market too long. I don't know if I am more shocked at how bad some of those examples look, or how many pixels they managed to fit on a 13" screen.
January 17, 2014 15:13
I've just bullied my boss into buying me a shiny Yoga 2 Pro, and one of the primary justifications was to make sure our software is high dpi ready. We actually were better than I thought - a few static branding bitmaps looked half size, and that was easily changed with a flag in the resource editor.

I do have a few list controls with initial columns widths hardwired, so I'll need to change that. But I give me an 8/10. I expected far worse, as no effort had been put in either way.

As far as other applications go, chrome was quite poor - I had to really fiddle to get the tabs not being 0 width. Hyper-V is also disappointing - installing an OS, I say how small unscaled 640x480 was. I assumed that I just had not found the scaling setting for the window, but Ben Day above says such a setting does not exist. And there will be the same issue with RDP.

If applications from Microsoft itself don't work, what chance do the rest of us have?
January 17, 2014 17:58
Great article, just one question - what extension are you using on visual studio to show the memory usage?
January 17, 2014 23:36
PowerShell =>
January 17, 2014 23:37
Sybase Central =>
January 19, 2014 14:55
Scott, why don't you just use Word 2013 to write your blog posts???
The functionality of Live Writer is included into Word now.
January 19, 2014 23:55
Mindmanager Login form on a Yoga Pro 2.

One other annoying thing with the Yoga Pro 2 is lack of TPM module - this makes Bitlocker a hassle and I wonder why they called it "Pro" when this is probably not a machine targetted at business.

I also had alot of problems with the Lenovo USB3 Docking station not supporting Win 8.1 / Displaylink or even recognising the machine. There is a firmware patch on the Lenovo website which fixed those issues.

The machine itself is superb.
January 20, 2014 20:44
Quicken 2014 is horrible
January 21, 2014 16:42
I'm using a Dell Precision M3800 also running at 3200x1800 and Chrome is horrible, Adobe products are a joke and SQL Management Studio is unusable. The HiDPI issues bugged me so much I set my screen res to 1920x1080 (It's a sin I know...)
January 22, 2014 15:26
Adobe Illustrator CC was i nightmare on the 3200 screen until a recent update that took care of almost all high-DPI problems. Thumbs up on this one!
January 23, 2014 6:48
My company relies heavily on both Skype and GotoMeeting. As a distributed company we use them extensively for screen sharing. They are both horribly broken at anything beyond 100% scaling. I keep the Display control panel applet on my desktop so I can easily switch back to 100% when opening one of those apps.
January 31, 2014 20:02
Thanks for the blog post, Scott--helpful as always!

As Derek Fowler mentioned in the comments, Remote Desktop Connection Manager works much better than the standard Remote Desktop client on scaled high-DPI screens. I blogged about setting it up if anyone is interested in the step-by-step:
February 06, 2014 1:10
I recently got a Dell XPS 15 and the video issues have also been driving me batty. I've resigned myself to running the laptop in 1080p mode - especially in a multi-monitor setup - because at the end of the day the higher DPI added very little value. Running any higher pixel counts than 1080p on a 15 inch screen is silly - if you're seeing pixelation at that size you're sitting to close to the screen :-)

All this hype around high extreme DPI screens is silly, unless there are monitors that actually make it reasonable to drive all those pixels at native (100%) resolution and a reasonable size to match.
February 06, 2014 21:57
I have an issue with per-display DPI settings in Win 8.1 on Ativ 9 plus. Basically, windows "thinks" that external 24" display and the laptop's 13" display should be run at the same DPI. So I have to set everything to the largest setting in the scaling panel to see stuff on laptop screen, and it makes everything huge on the external monitor.

Nut I've seen Win 8.1 apply different DPI per monitor well enough, so it should be possible. Windows does not give me a clear enough way to tell it that one of the monitors is hidpi, and is unable to determine it automatically. Any suggestions on how to fix it?

February 08, 2014 0:44
Max - Right click the desktop, select Resolution, then "make text and other items larger" then *uncheck* "let me choose one scaling level" and set them manually per display.
February 14, 2014 8:43
Nice article! I've long thought that Windows' inability to scale the desktop well has to be one of the important underlying reasons driving the push to the Windows 8 Metro environment - and makes it necessary for that to continue regardless of consumer resistance during the transition. Workarounds will let us keep using desktop programs on high resolution displays but they'll just be workarounds because the Windows desktop simply wasn't designed to scale nicely.

My article with a guess about what this means for the long-term future of the desktop: A Look At The Future Of The Desktop.
February 19, 2014 1:24
echo the issues with many app on High Res display (and connected "just" Full HD monitors)
To comment on the Linux guy above, unfortunately most Linux is not yet ready for Hi DPI/ HiDPI / High resolution
February 22, 2014 2:15
I bought 2014 Lenovo X1 and noticed the same problem. The desktop applications behave bad on we are using Hi-DPI screens. I hope they can fix the problem because more people are buying laptops with screens that can display more than Full HD content.
February 24, 2014 5:45
Second generation X1 Carbon Touch is better.
February 24, 2014 16:59
Hi, Scott,
I was just wondering why did you choose IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro, and not ThinkPad Yoga? I saw a Lenovo hangout with you, so I was wondering, how these machines compare from the developer point of view.

March 06, 2014 16:03
I have a Samsung Book 9 Plus with Quad HD and LOVE it. But, yeah, so many apps don't look right on it.

I had one situation where I had to switch back to 1920x1080 just to install an app because the Install Shield would not resize and wouldn't show the Next button. No scroll bars, no resize but the content had been scaled out of view.

The problem is due to Quad HD not being everywhere. We're bleeding edge adopters.

March 06, 2014 23:00
If you blame the developers or users off a usability problem, you have failed as a platform provider.

Apple managed to make it work great, Microsoft has not, and it is no one but Microsoft's fault.

Whatever technical reason apologists come up with, from a users perspective Microsoft is the one that blew it.

So fix it without resorting to fingerpointing because your paycheck depends on playing defense for a shitty technology stack.
March 18, 2014 12:26
"Max - Right click the desktop, select Resolution, then "make text and other items larger" then *uncheck* "let me choose one scaling level" and set them manually per display."
Scott I didnt get the "per display"
How to choose the Display for scale Setting?
March 19, 2014 22:03
Found a usable workaround for RDP on my second generation X1 Carbon High DPI display using Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Manger( Add your remote computer, go to properties and then under Remote Desktop Settings, select "Same as client area" for Remote Desktop size.
March 22, 2014 14:29
Even Internet Explorer on the desktop, which supports monitor-aware scaling, doesn't get it right on Windows 8.1. It renders the title bar and address bar using the system DPI, rather than the monitor's DPI. There's no blurriness, but the size is wrong for any monitor whose DPI differs from the system DPI.

IE does render page content correctly, but when you lose a sixth of your screen to huge overhead, you're not much better off than non-power users naively running a pile of junkware toolbars.

Considering how Windows has to fall back to fuzzy scaling by default, that a non-legacy flagship browser gets it wrong, and the complexity of the high DPI white papers, it seems likely that the legacy of the Win32 API will make proper DPI support a huge challenge for desktop apps for a long time to come.
March 24, 2014 19:16
One of my coworkers has a display like that and doesn't scale. Somehow he can read all the tiny things without eye strain. Not sure how.
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April 03, 2014 10:32
Firefox has the benefit of running on multiple systems (Enabling "HiDPI" support on OS X was what lead to the Windows version gaining it) and because they use their web engine to render the UI (Which uses CSS pixels for everything, so they had resolution independence from the start because CSS pixels are defined to be virtual). So all it took for Firefox to gain proper support was making sure they used CSS pixels instead of device pixels for sizing windows and rendering buffers, and it just worked.

Strange thing is, people were relying on the bad behaviour where Firefox ignored the system DPI, so enabling it lead to complaints that Firefox was suddenly "too large" (Because people were running their systems at 150% scale and expecting apps to ignore it). So you'll find more people complaining about Firefox on HiDPI systems, than people praising it for working right.
April 05, 2014 21:29
I have a Surface Pro 2, and have similar problems. What continues to surprise me, though, is which apps get it right and which get it wrong. For example, Chrome is one of the worst (it does pixel doubling, etc, instead of using higher res founts, and many other goofy things). What's particularly frustrating about this, though, is that Chrome _does_ have good HiDPI support and all the right settings. It just ... doesn't work. Except, it does work on, say, the Chromebook Pixel with it's 2560x1700 display. No issues there.

You could probably do an entire parallel post about touch support in apps, too. (Chrome touch works on Chromebooks, Android, and iOS), but has entirely too many issues on Windows touch screen devices.)

Usability-wise, though, I rank Eclipse right up there with trying to wear ski gloves while writing with a pencil.
April 08, 2014 15:52
Maybe you're using XP style scaling so some apps such as adobe reader above have different text sizes. Since windows 8.1 MS has completely disable XP style scaling and scale all apps uniformly. That way DPI unaware apps look blur on scale ratios that is not an integer but it's big enough and usable
April 10, 2014 6:42
Started today using Dell UP3214Q at 3840x2160 and set the easy to read text at 150%. IE works great. Eclipse Kepler looks great. SQL Server Mgmt Studio looks fine. Libre Office looks fine. Visual Studio 2010 and 2012 code editors look good enough with some variation on the documentation pages, except for the binary editor, which I use heavily ... the font is very small and there is no way to magnify it so hard to read and develop. For remote desktop connections, before connecting I set the screen size options to 1920x1200, which allows me to open view multiple windows on the big screen, but the fonts are small and grainy on the remote desktops; definitely not usable for heavy development unless you like to read 6 point font. It looks like if the remote screen is 12pt font the big screen shows 6 point. Google Chrome is fuzzy everywhere and does not scale correctly. I don't use Firefox because it has some memory leaks that cause it to fill my RAM over time.
April 13, 2014 16:55
I want to use wireless mouse as tracker for displaying of robots motion track (2-5 meters) on my PC screen (in Paintbrush ).

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.