Smoothing things over

Anti-aliasing icon
Working on hints this morning, my machine experienced an odd “soft crash.” Each application I had open was slowly, inexorably, beach-balling. Trying to stay a bit ahead of the curve, I quit those that I could, and force quit the others that were already spinning away. I was nearly done, and had just chosen Restart when the Finder took a hard tumble and just vanished. The machine then rebooted to the login screen.

After login, all seemed fine, except for the fact that text looked just slightly “wrong” to me. It took a while to put my finger on it, but finally I figured out it was the anti-aliasing. The aliasing was too weak, leading to some hard-to-read fonts, like line four in the small image above. I figured something got messed up in the Appearances preference panel, so I went to take a look. The font smoothing pop-up was still set to Automatic - Best for main display, so that seemed right.

Intrigued, I thought I’d play with the font smoothing settings for a few minutes; I hadn’t really even looked at these since the OS X 10.1 or 10.2 era. So I chose each setting, closed the System Prefs, and then restarted the Finder to make the settings take effect. (And yes, this last step is necessary. Running apps won’t see the new smoothing setting until the next time they’re launched.) I found the results interesting, if nothing else. My main screen is one of the original Apple 23-inch LCDs, and here’s a little look at how each setting affected smoothing--click on the small image below to see the full-size version:

As you can see, it seems that Automatic on my machine was picking the Standard (Best for CRT) setting, leading to the raggedly text I was seeing. I switched it over to Medium, and now things are back the way they were pre-crash. The real question is, though, what exactly does Automatic mean? I tried visiting Apple help, but all it had to offer was the ever-so-useful “Choose a style from the ‘Font smoothing style’ pop-up menu.”

If your text is looking a bit rough to your eyes, you might want to visit the Appearance panel and give the other choices a quick test drive. Just remember to relaunch the Finder between changes. (I find that easiest to do by holding Option and then clicking and holding on the Finder’s Dock icon. When the contextual menu appears, it will include a Relaunch item.)

  
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