IDG logo

Advertise with InfoWorld

SiteMap News Test Center Opinions Forums Careers Stock Quote Subject Indexes About Us Search Subscribe Home [Window Manager]

June 3, 1996

Mysterious zoom feature eludes users and coders

With all the new stuff in Windows 95, it shouldn't be surprising that a significant new feature has escaped the notice of many power users and quite a few Windows application developers.

This feature is the capability that Win95 gained to zoom the display to almost any size. Windows 3.1 had a very limited capability to globally change font sizes. But Windows 3.1's font options mainly affected only the size of menus -- not the size of the rest of Windows' many interface objects.

Today, many of these objects have a fairly obvious way to change their apparent size. Run the Control Panel's Display dialog box, click the Appearance tab, and you are presented with an exhaustive list of items -- such as scroll bars, minimize buttons, and on and on -- that you can customize not only the size of but also the color and, in some cases, the name of the font used to display messages.

The zoom feature of Windows 3.1, for some odd reason, however, doesn't show up in the Appearance tab. You have to somehow know that you should switch to the oddly named Settings tab. Once there, you are presented with boxes for colors, resolution, and font size. This latter choice actually contains Win95's zoom feature, which magnifies almost every aspect of the user interface.

To really take advantage of the zoom, or magnification, feature you need to click the Custom button in the Settings tab. This takes you to an unusual slider bar. The bar is marked like a ruler with 1-inch ticks. You slide the ruler's tick marks until the text on the ruler takes on the size you want the 10 point Ariel sample to be.

This is a hard concept to grasp. It's even harder to deal with because so few people have run into this corner of the Control Panel that almost no one other than the experts are familiar with this form of magnification.

The ruler is supposed to symbolize Windows' representation of a logical inch. A logical inch is the size of a box on the Windows screen that would print as a 1-inch square box if printed to a hard copy device.

Magnifying or shrinking this imaginary box can be of great benefit to Windows users who sit in front of very large or very small displays. I use a 1,280-by-1,024 display and set my zoom factor to 150 percent. This makes text and markings within applications large enough that I can read it easily.

People who work on a display limited to the old VGA resolution of 640 by 480 may benefit from decreasing the magnification. Setting the zoom level to 75 percent can be a real benefit to people stuck with low-resolution displays because text is much more compact and more of a page fills the screen.

Where application developers come in is making their programs work well at any degree of magnification. Not only are the fonts supposed to change in size, but also every dialog box must adjust, along with buttons, combination boxes, and whatever might be filled with type.

I still run into programs that can't properly handle a zoom factor other than 100 percent. Usually I can read everything, but dialog boxes look squashed and crowded. As more users buy high-resolution displays, changes in magnification will be more common, so developers need to adapt.

In fairness, Microsoft hasn't made it easy. There are different vertical and horizontal units of measure for almost every interface standard in Windows.

But the benefit far outweighs the risk. Users should try a change in zoom level and see what they've been missing. And developers should try it to see what their programs have been missing.

Brian Livingston is the coauthor of the new Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

Missed a column? Go back for more.

Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


Copyright © 2002. InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. is a member of complies with the ASME guidelines with IDG extensions For New media.