Proposal: reduce base font size from 10pt to 9pt for Karmic Koala release

Conn subpsyke at
Sat Oct 10 06:20:19 UTC 2009

Hey folks,

I am proposing that for the Karmic Koala release, we set all font sizes
(application, document, desktop, window title and fixed width) to 9pts, for
the following reasons:

- Fonts currently look over-sized on the default configuration (96dpi, 10pt,
subpixel smoothing & slight hinting) if you compare to competing operating
- Larger fonts mean larger GTK widgets, causing excessive padding in
applications and wasting screen real-estate [2]. This is an issue for
everybody - ranging from netbook users to widescreen users (who have limited
screen space / vertical screen space).
- In previous releases, 10pt fonts looked smaller due to a difference
smoothing/hinting method used (prior to Jaunty, it was grayscale smoothing &
medium hinting). The new method used since Jaunty (subpixel smoothing &
slight hinting) has improved the quality of font rendering, but at the cost
of inflating the perceived size of fonts [3].

Rather than myself going into a lot of detail with arguments for and against
this change, I would appreciate any feedback from the rest of the community.
All that I would ask is that you give this proposal a fair chance - change
the font sizes on your system to 9pt, and evaluate it for a day or so. We
have become accustomed to - and perhaps comfortable with - a default 10pt
font, but it is not necessarily optimal.


[1] Comparison screenshots, showing default font sizes:
Windows 7 (9pt, proprietary ClearType smoothing):
Windows XP (9pt, no ClearType smoothing):

[2] Before anyone suggests otherwise, this is not a problem with the GTK
theme's padding. I am the co-author of the Human theme, and I can assure you
that widget padding is already minimal; reducing the padding any further
would compromise the consistency of widgets.

[3] Font rendering comparison:
Jaunty alpha 1 (10pt, greyscale & medium):
Jaunty alpha 6 (10pt, subpixel & slight - identical to Karmic):

Go to System -> Preferences -> Appearance, Fonts tab. Click on "Details..."
button, and you can verify the difference in perceived size differences. A
10pt font look quite large with subpixel smoothing & slight hinting (Jaunty
& later default), whereas a 10pt font using greyscale smoothing & medium
hinting (Intrepid & earlier) looks more compact. A 9pt font looks compact
using any type of font smoothing/hinting.
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