What's up with Office 2013's context menu and tooltip shadows?

Update (2015-04-22): Somewhat surprisingly, a recent Office 2013 patch appears to have fixed this issue.

Update (2015-03-04): Office 2016 fixes this.

Update (2014-10-03): Office 2013 running on the Windows 10 Technical Preview (build 9841) exhibits the same issue 🙁

At some point in the not-too-distant past, Office 2013 started rendering strange shadow artefacts in the four corners of all context menus and tooltips:

Screenshot of Word 2013 Context Menu Shadow Artefacts

This didn’t always happen, as a quick search for ‘Word 2013 screenshots’ will reveal lots of images of glitch-free floating windows. I’m too lazy to check, but I’ll hazard a guess that this started happening with Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Being Office, they’ve re-implemented every GUI element themselves instead of letting the OS handle them. One can sympathise with this approach, but it’s important to get the little details right. A bit like how the IE team should finally spend the time to get their scrollbars right. Of course, it’s folly to ever expect UI consistency on Windows when even Microsoft can’t get it right.

A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

Office 2013: Further Evidence of the Demise of ClearType?

Poking around the Office 2013 Customer Preview, one thing that caught my eye immediately was the lack of ClearType font smoothing. Nearly all user interface elements use ‘greyscale’ font smoothing (as opposed to ClearType’s sub-pixel smoothing). I’ve highlighted the parts of Word 2013 that still use ClearType:

Screenshot of ClearType in Microsoft Word 2013Screenshot of ClearType in Microsoft Word 2013

The text in cells in Excel 2013 still respects the system’s ClearType setting, and Outlook 2013 is a real mess (about half-and-half). OneNote 2013 seems to have retained ClearType in most places (outside the ribbon control).

Long Zheng earlier noted the absence of ClearType from the Metro environment and there are several possible reasons for it falling out of favour at Microsoft. Sub-pixel anti-aliasing isn’t necessarily suited to tablets that need to support multiple orientations (unless different sub-pixel orderings are taken into account), and screens with high pixel densities can get away with greyscale font smoothing.

I fear that this is another case of the tablet tail wagging the Microsoft dog – desktop and laptop users of Office 2013 (and Metro-style apps in Windows 8) will have to deal with lower quality text due to the new hardware Microsoft is targeting with its upcoming releases.

The Office 2013 Customer Preview is, of course, just that, and things might change before RTM. Regrettably this wasn’t fixed for the Office 2013 RTM.

Office 15: per application border colours?

Winreview.ru’s latest Office 15 screenshots reveal application-specific border colours and drop-shadows. Word gets a dark blue border and shadow, Excel gets a green border and shadow, etc.:

Office 15.0.2703.1000 Borders

Microsoft in fact applied for a patent for per-window glass colourisation in late 2005 (‘Glass appearance window frame colorization’; discovered by Long Zheng in 2007). While there isn’t any glass in the Office 15 windows shown here (despite the DWM being enabled), the idea is similar.

Outlook 15

Office 15 and Windows 8 seem to be moving in similar UI directions – it seems like square corners are in and transparency is out (at least for the ‘Aero Lite’ theme).