Re: Internationalization--Metric Typography

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Mon May 31 1999 - 18:46:30 EDT

Nelson Minar wrote on 1999-05-30 13:22 UTC:
> There's a Web disaster in using points in web page styles - Windows
> assumes 96dpi screens, X and Macs assume closer to 75. So a 10 point
> font looks fine on Windows, and tiny on X. See
> Using millimeters wouldn't fix this, though.

I do think that millimeters are at least a bit more likely to fix it,
because millimeters are a *much* more accessible unit than points. Most
people have millimeter rulers somewhere near their workstation, but very
few have a point reference. (And those who do call themself
"typographers" and conduct fancy magic dances after midnight, singing
"pica-em-quad-en-dpi-didot" towards the full moon). I believe users are
more likely to note that their screen size parameters are misconfigured
in their GUI environment when a more accessible unit (mm) is used
everywhere and will therefore fix it more likely. I have configured my X
server such that the screen size displayed by xdpyinfo actually matches
my real monitor. The calculation involved in doing this was made
unnecessarily more complicated by the fact that X servers expect it to
be provided in dpi. Dpi are an awful unit for two reasons: A) they are
not metric, and B) reciprocal length (one over inch) is quite
counter-intuitive for less numerate people, especially when unit
conversion is involved. The screen size (or pixel size) in millimeters
(or micrometers) would have been the obvious parameter, but as I noted
before, when units are concerned, US software developers seem to have
some strange traditionalistic mental block for seeing the obvious

Computers should adobt to people, and people should not have to adopt to
archaic lead-typesetting measurements such as the point.

(who formats his PhD thesis in Computer Modern Roman 4.5 mm)


- (Norm-Entwurf) DIN 16507-2, Ausgabe: 1998-04, Drucktechnik -
  Schriftgrößen - Teil 2: Digitaler Satz und verwandte Techniken
  (German draft standard on metric typography)

- Otl Aicher: Typographie. 2. Aufl, 1989. (bilingual: German/English)

- Friedrich L. Bauer: Der typographische Punkt. Informatik Spektrum,
  Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 41-42, February 1999. (German)

Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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