Safari, font rendering, and why it's not likely to change

also known as: stating the obvious thing that no-one seems to have said yet.

I’m famous for that. Apparently some people grow up learning about things like “tact” and “secrets”, things my parents forgot to tell me about.

Anyway.

I’ve seen lots of stories about how Apple releasing Safari on Windows has nothing to do with end users, nothing to do with taking market share from Mozilla or IE. Rather, it’s about letting Windows-based developers test their sites in Safari – and more importantly, letting them test their iPhone apps – without needing to run a Mac.

I can’t find the article that best expresses this, but Ars Technica does a decent job of summing it up:

Even if the Windows versions of Safari don’t gain any significant traction, [it] should at least offer developers a chance to test their wares without having to invest in a Mac.

There have also been a slew of articles about Safari’s rendering of fonts: everything from Joel Spolsky’s detailed look to Michael S. Kaplan’s musings about whether they’ll switch to using Uniscribe/ClearType. Most of these articles seem to imply that, given it’s running on Windows, Safari ought to conform to Windows standards – ie, use Uniscribe/ClearType.

What I haven’t seen is an article that links both of these thoughts:

* Apple chose to have Safari do its own font rendering

* Apple want Safari to be a test-bed for iPhone apps.

I don’t think Apple are going to be switching to using Windows standard rendering methods any time soon. If they wanted to make a serious pitch at stealing market share from the dominant browsers, they would. However, that doesn’t seem to be their intent: they seem to be much more focussed on providing a test platform. If they provide a test platform that renders differently from the iPhone, it becomes a useless test platform. Who wants to use an app that’s 15 pixels wider than the iPhone screen? Who wants to hear the developer saying “But it rendered just perfectly on Windows, the iPhone must be broken!”

No. Apple are going to stick with their own rendering in Safari, so that they can ensure apps tested in Safari on Windows look identical to the same app running on the iPhone.

Well, that’s my theory, anyway.

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