Thursday, August 30, 2007
Debates about the fonts and colors that programmers use tend to get out of control very quickly. While studies on the readability and eye fatigue of various font and color schemes exist, it very much remains a matter of personal preference. However, one detail that many programmers seem to agree on is that the default scheme presented by Visual Studio is less than ideal. Standard 10 point Courier New is simply difficult for most people (at least most people that care about this sort of thing—except Rick Strahl) to look at all day.

VS 2005 Default with ClearType

A common solution—especially for high-resolution displays—is to increase the font size in the editor. Personally, I'm a big fan Microsoft's Consolas font, and as Scott Hanselman points out, I really feel that it looks best at 15 point.

VS 2005 with Consolas and ClearType

This is well-covered territory in the blogosphere, but I want to discuss a point that frequently is overlooked. While many of us strive for the perfect font and color scheme in the text editor, we neglect the opportunities for improvement in other windows. For example, I may feel good about using 15-point Consolas to decrease my eye strain, but I haven't done anything to improve my experience with IntelliSense.

VS 2005 Intellisense

(Public speakers are often the biggest culprits of this. Helpful presenters will increase the size of their editor font, but few will adjust other areas such as IntelliSense, debugging windows, etc.)

Fortunately, Visual Studio 2005 makes changing the fonts and colors of much of the IDE easy. The "Show settings for" combo box on the Fonts and Colors page of Visual Studio's Options dialog provides the ability to customize many areas of the IDE, in addition to the text editor. For example, the default font setting for the statement completion window is definitely too small when compared to the 15-point font size that I use in the text editor.

Statement Completion options

One simple trick to improve the readability of the statement completion window is to use exactly the same font and point size as the text editor. Logically, if I'm searching for a class or method name in IntelliSense, it might be easier to find if it looks exactly like it will when inserted into the text editor.

IntelliSense with Consolas

A similar effect can be achieved by adjusting the font of the editor tooltips. Compare the default setting...

Editor Tooltips

...to the adjusted one.

Editor Tooltips with Consolas

Other good candidates for similar adjustment are:

  • DataTips – These are the cool expandable tooltips that appear when identifiers are moused-over in debug mode. Making these easier to read is a must.
  • [All Text Tool Windows] – This is actually a font and color group that controls several settings. When selected, any adjustment made affects the Command, Disassembly, Find Results, Immediate, Memory, Output and Registers windows.
  • [Watch, Locals, and Autos Tool Windows] – As the name suggests, this group handles adjustments for the Watch, Locals and Autos windows.

Remember: when your goal is to improve readability and reduce eye fatigue, adjusting the font in the text editor isn't enough. Pay attention to the font in all areas of Visual Studio.

posted on Thursday, August 30, 2007 10:15:54 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6]

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