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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Minimal Screen Resolution for Application

Have you ever tested your application against uncommon screen resolutions? Let’s say 1024×576 which is quite popular among netbooks.

The answer is: no, you haven’t. You’ve already forgot there can be something worse than 1024×786. We all have. Screen resolutions went higher and higher. Unfortunately we’re switching from big machines to smaller ones. I’ve already written how important it is to have a website optimized for mobile phones. But the case is more general.

Now you need to consider a wide range of possible displays. Mobile phones have better resolutions than computers had 10 years ago and are capable to browse the web. On the other hand 1920×1200 became pretty common these days. And of course you can’t forget about those who don’t reach 786 pixels height on their small laptops.

I use Lenovo S10e for some time, which has 1024×576 screen resolution and believe me – people don’t think about these screens.

Let’s take Live Messenger. Try to change some options. All you can get is this:

Ouch. Where’s my OK button?

Maybe some web application. They should be more aware of what people use. I recently play with LiquidPlanner. A screen I get in my Firefox when I try to add a project in LiquidPlanner looks like that:

Double ouch. Hey, I think I see something down there. Let me guess which shadow-of-a-button confirms the action and which cancels it.

I know I can set my taskbar to auto-hide or even better work in browser full-screen mode, but I don’t want. I’ve tried both. And I won’t like any. I want to see my damn taskbar and I want to see my damn tabs in my damn browser. I’ve tried to move the taskbar to the left side but many pages are optimized for 1024 width and I get horizontal scroll which is a pain in the ass. I don’t have horizontal scroll wheel in my mouse and I wouldn’t use it even if you paid me. I prefer to blame application developers.

If you work on application, especially web application, take a while and do simple test: resize your browser and look how your app look like. Check where minimal size of working area is too big to be properly displayed in non-standard screens. Think what minimal screen resolution for your application is.

Then ask yourself a question: do you want to leave these with lower resolutions behind?

in: software design

7 comments… add one

  • Alex S. Brown, PMP IPMA-C March 18, 2009, 5:06 pm

    This is an ancient problem. I remember when screen resolutions first went from 640×480 up to 800×600 for some computers. Redesigning computer software for both resolutions was a nightmare.

    It still is.

    The web improved this situation a little. Web applications are often written to deal with flexible window sizes. Many web pages are designed for specific, fixed resolutions now, though.

    Part of the failure of web-on-the-cell-phone in the US is because web designers do not want to redesign their applications and web sites for those tiny screens. Smaller notebook screens will suffer for the same reason.


  • Anonymous March 18, 2009, 6:10 pm

    For the first case you mean need the Taekwindow utility.

  • Jesus Carlos Contreras March 18, 2009, 6:14 pm

    One of my favorite selling tools is prototyping. Your post made me realize I have to consider this issue. Great post.

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 19, 2009, 1:15 am


    Yes, this is an ancient problem, but all these years back we were constantly moving up with screen resolutions. Everyone knew that another step after 640×480 was 800×600.

    Now you just don’t know. There are standard 4/3 proportions but there are panoramic screens too which don’t necessarily keep the standard (vide netbooks). There are mobile phones vendors who don’t keep any standards – resolutions are driven by hardware design and size of the phone.

    Of course the source of the problem is lack of awareness during UI design but this time waiting for the better future with better screen resolutions resolutions won’t work. Especially for web applications.

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 19, 2009, 1:18 am


    Usually the most simple tricks allow us to avoid this kind of mistakes. You don’t need to polish all windows to verify whether they suit to specific screen resolution.

  • netghost March 19, 2009, 11:24 am

    Hey good point Pawel. I feel your pain, I used to have a 12″ Mac LC (can’t remember the resolution, but it was very low by today’s standards) and ran into this a lot. I’m actually one of the developers at LiquidPlanner.

    We tend to worry the most about the width of the standard screen, but netbooks with half height displays are changing this. Netbooks are fairly new, but becoming a lot more popular these days. I’ll take a look at our dialogs (I think that’s the largest one we have), and see what we can do in the next release or two.

    If you come across anything else that behaves poorly, send an email to support@liquidplanner.com

    Oh and I think you can usually hit enter to accept or esc to reject most dialogs.

  • Pawel Brodzinski March 19, 2009, 2:31 pm

    The only two places where I had problems with resolution while working with LiquidPlanner were new project screen and introduction videos/tutorials.

    I managed to add a project though. Either standard button accepted with Enter, or guessing which button is OK or changing settings in browser (in my Chrome setup the screen is OK) or full-screen mode works well. The problem is I don’t want to use any of these tricks since they’re additional effort for me as a user.

    Anyway, I always feel great when developers care enough to check what people write about their software. Thanks for the comment.

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