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Truth Behind the ClearType/OpenSUSE FUD 123

Kennon writes "Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols over at Linux Watch clears up the FUD around Tuesday's Slashdot discussion concerning OpenSUSE, ClearType, and patent deals with Microsoft."
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Truth Behind the ClearType/OpenSUSE FUD

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  • by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <wgrother@oEINSTE ... minus physicist> on Thursday April 12, 2007 @08:59AM (#18701003) Journal

    However, Lowry continued, "In this specific case, the ClearType font is supplied as part of the freetype2 package; last summer the upstream maintainer changed the package's default settings to disable Clear Type and thereby avoid possibly relevant Microsoft patents. So, consistent with Novell's preexisting practices and current policy, Novell is using the default settings established by the upstream maintainer. Distributions such as Fedora made the same choice. This issue only came up in the summer of 2006 and therefore older distributions are using the previous default (enabled ClearType)."

    So it would seem that the disabling of FreeType is more coincident than anything else. It's possible for parallel processes to affect the same thing but have no overt connection.

  • by 10scjed ( 695280 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @09:00AM (#18701011) Homepage
    According to Microsoft's attorney, software patents are invalid in the US as well []:

    MR. OLSON [For Microsoft]: The '580 patent is a program, as I understand it, that's married to a computer, has to be married to a computer in order to be patented.
    JUSTICE SCALIA: You can't patent, you know, on-off, on-off code in the abstract, can you? MR. OLSON: That's correct, Justice Scalia.
    JUSTICE SCALIA: There needs to be a device.
    MR. OLSON: An idea or a principle, two plus two equals four can't be patented. It has to be put together with a machine and made into a usable device.
  • by F-3582 ( 996772 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @09:06AM (#18701075)
    The problem isn't sub-pixel rendering in general (if it was, any anti-aliasing feature would be covered by these patents). ClearType [] is taking avantake of the way of drawing pixels LCDs use (red, green, blue standing next to each other instead of being mixed together) to increase anti-aliasing even further. This technology is LCD-specific and patented by Microsoft.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @09:35AM (#18701429) Homepage Journal

    There seems to be a confusion of terminology in the above, but I admit I may be misreading it.

    Anti-aliasing is not the same thing as sub-pixel rendering, which is orthogonal to anti-aliasing and can be (and almost always is) combined with it.

    Anti-aliasing is merely the use of different shades to adjust the sharpness of object boundaries, where the shade is based upon the amount of a pixel the objects covering that pixel would intersect. While this sounds like something that would be describable by the term "sub-pixel rendering" if, for a moment, you assume you would divide the pixel into smaller virtual pixels to calculate the end result, that's not what sub-pixel rendering refers to. The term "sub-pixel" is not being used to describe these smaller "virtual pixels".

    In an LCD a pixel is made up of three "sub-pixels": real, discrete, lighting elements that together illuminate one complete pixel. The sub-pixels are the three primary colours and are almost always mounted side by side as three thin strips. Sub-pixel rendering is the technique of using the separate red, green, and blue sub-pixels of an LCD "pixel" in isolation to improve the sharpness of object boundaries. When used, the screen effectively has an increased horizonal resolution of 3x the regular resolution, so a 1400x1050 screen effectively becomes 4200x1050.

    It is usually, if not always, used in conjunction with regular anti-aliasing (though technically it doesn't need to be.)

    Microsoft's patents, as I understand it, cover the latter, and in particular focus on preventing "colour fringing" that is otherwise a major downside of using sub-pixel rendering.

  • by JavaBear ( 9872 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @09:55AM (#18701619)
    Gibson have a "Who Did It First?" text regarding sub-pixel rendering as well: []
  • by kripkenstein ( 913150 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @09:55AM (#18701629) Homepage

    This change was last summer, pre-microvell, so the news actually would have been if OpenSUSE was enabling it and taking advantage of MS' patent covenant for Novell customers and OpenSUSE contributors while other distros couldn't.
    Yes. I submitted the previous story about this matter, and I stand corrected. I didn't know everything about the issue; I relied on the sources reporting on it, and mainly, the whole matter seemed suspicious, and I thought posting it to Slashdot would shine some light on it. Not 100% sure if doing so had an influence, but what matters in the end is that things are now clarified.

    From my standpoint, the interesting issue that remains is what I mentioned in the little comment at the end of my submission for the previous story: ok, assuming there are MS patents on this technology, isn't Novell licensed to use them now (even if it "isn't a patent license", but it just acts like one)? Apparently the Microsoft-Novell deal doesn't help openSUSE out much with regard to MS patents. Is the same true for SUSE?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2007 @10:04AM (#18701737)
    You really should re-read the quotes from MS lawyers. What they say exactly follows the legal precedent of software patents. You cannot patent software without including the machine. They clearly state you patent the combination of the software and the computer on which it runs. Read any software patent and you will see it talks about "a device" or "a computer system" in the claims. The computer does something that has been deemed patentable by law. The software makes the machine patentable. I think the nerds who hate patents, but do not understand them, like to use that quote to spread their own version of FUD among the internet.

    Really, I recommend if you are going to bash anything, whether patents, copyrights, or some large corporation of your choice that you do a little research into what it is you are saying, before spewing total non-sense and spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt of your own.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2007 @10:21AM (#18701931)
    There's more to sub-pixel font rendering than just manipulating individual color values to add detail. An image processing filter is involved (just read the GRC article for an example of one), which may be patentable, even if the basic idea is not.

    Microsoft's ClearType seems to combine the old Truetype bytecode hinting instructions with sub-pixel detail, filtering the results to remove color fringing. IMHO this results in the most readable text I've ever seen on a computer monitor.
  • by G Money ( 12364 ) * on Thursday April 12, 2007 @11:10AM (#18702395) Homepage
    This wasn't a cross patent license between them, just an agreement not to sue each others customers. They can still sue the hell out of each other for patent infringement. Both Novell and Microsoft have large patent portfolios so it's a bit like the cold war where either side could drop a patent litigation bomb on the other but they both have a huge arsenal to counterattack with. The agreement they made was more of a form of detentes than anything else. Novell can't use any of Microsoft's patents and Microsoft can't use any of Novell's without fear of litigation. They can't sue end customers though so it gives customers a nice safe feeling that long before a lawyer ever shows up at their door, either Novell or Microsoft will be long gone.
  • If you know the positioning of each of the three dots, you can still do a certain amount of sub-pixel rendering, just not in quite the same way. Doing some more research, I think this was just on the Apple II, which may well have used a trinitron tube and thus used the same style of subpixel rendering as ClearType/CoolType/etc.

    c.f. []
  • by juiceCake ( 772608 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @11:57AM (#18703177)
    ClearType works wonderfully on my LCDs, much better with it enable than without it enabled. Worked wonderfully on my CRTs, when I used them, as well. Others report different results. Results, therefore, may vary.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday April 12, 2007 @11:58AM (#18703199) Journal
    You can still do sub-pixel AA on a CRT, you just can't use the same algorithm as on an LCD. The trick behind sub-pixel AA is to realise that any adjacent group of red green and blue emitters can be regarded as a pixel, not just those that are exposed as a pixel by the hardware. On an LCD, it's easy because you have a nice regular RGBRGBRGB pattern. You can trea a GBR, BRG or RGB run as a pixel, and just alter the colours for the hardware pixels to turn on the individual emitters as required. For CRTs, it's a little bit more difficult, but it's still possible.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court