Note that the issue presented below seems to only exist when connecting from a Windows 8 machine to a Windows 7 machine.

I admit that this post will probably not be applicable to everyone for reasons not necessarily stated below. Having said that, if you are the type of person who seriously appreciates velvety-smooth, non-jagged fonts or think you might be, continue reading.

I will explain how to get ClearType settings to persist on a remote desktop connection, but first...

A small history of something you never realized you hated

Years ago, when LCD monitors started becoming the standard, the fine detail and resolution of those screens were some of the best selling points. Pictures were more crisp, refresh rates were refreshing, and typing was visually jagged and imprecise, with awful kerning. – Wait, what? (Trust me. You hate bad kerning too.)

The short version is that because of the finely-tuned construction of LCD panels, the pixels are well-defined. On something that generally takes up a small amount of room on a screen and have lots of curves and other nuances, this pixel clarity can cause issues for people looking at them, especially given text's importance to message conveyance. This can be distracting or even slow your reading and comprehension.

We are used to words being printed in a smooth fashion in books, magazines, TV, etc. On old CRT monitors, the pixels weren't as clean, so a natural "fuzzing" of the text edges made that a non-issue. With the explosion of the new technology, Microsoft realized they needed a fix.

ClearType (CT) or font smoothing is what they came up with to fix this annoying problem. ClearType essentially cleans up the rough edges of your on-screen fonts to show a more literal view of what that would look like if printed on a real page.

Here we see an exaggerated example of the difference: On the left, the non-ClearType "A," looking like a close-up of an Egyptian pyramid, all rocky and serrated. On the right is the smooth, clean-edged, ClearType "A" that's easier on the eyes, like the pyramid from far away.

OMG I want that

This setting should default to "On" in post-Windows XP iterations, but just in case this is how to check:

In Windows 7, click Start and type "cleartype" in the search box and then click on "Adjust ClearType text." Click "Turn on" and then "Next." The following screens will check each monitor you have and give you the option to pick the best settings for you and your screen. Pick your favorites and move on. Don't worry about picking the wrong one, since you can simply go back and redo the settings afterwards. Even if you don't pick the best, the difference should still be quite noticeable.

In Windows 8, if you're on the Start screen, simply start typing "cleartype" and click on the "Settings" area. Click on "Adjust ClearType text." The rest of the steps are the same as for Windows 7.

After changing this setting, some of your programs may need to be restarted. Chrome definitely does (for me), at least. If you're worried about losing your tabs, see our post on this.

The ClearType imperfection correction

Now, the readers who are using virtual machines (VM) or Microsoft Windows Remote Desktop may have noticed that the CT settings on the host computer are not passed on to the VM when logging in. You may have also noticed that when you set CT on the VM and log off that session, it may not still be on when you log in the next time. Sure, you can set it every time you log in, but that is possibly the most tedious thing ever. The secret all comes down to a small setting in Windows 8 Remote Desktop Connection (RDC).

I'll assume you've opened RDC to log into a VM and that you have opened the "Show Options" dialog expansion. After setting up the initial options for your particular situation, you may have noticed the term "Font smoothing" under the "Experience" tab. This is pretty much equivalent to CT, and, in fact, is directly referencing it. I will also assume that you have the drop-down box there set to "Detect connection quality automatically," because it's the default. So if you're like me, you are also thinking that because your connection speed is crazy fast that the automatic setting figures that out, as well. Not exactly. After testing, this turned out to be the culprit.

The automatic connection detection seems to ignore the font smoothing and sets ClearType off when you log in when connecting to a Windows 7 machine. Why that is may have something to do with Windows 7 not having this same setting option.

Please tell me how to fix this!

The fix is easy: change the connection speed in the drop-down to "WAN (10Mbps or higher)" or "LAN (10 Mbps or higher)" depending on your connection type and make sure that font smoothing is checked. The other settings there you may keep or discard based on your own preference. Then go back to the "General" tab and click "Save" to make sure you don't have to do this again for that computer.

From this point on, your type should be clear and your fonts smoothed. Your eyes will thank you immediately.

Nerd is the New Jock

Tech Industry News and Blog
View All Posts