Microsoft has decided to enable ClearType by default in Internet Explorer 7 (Beta 2), independent of whatever the user has selected as his/her OS setting. Its not clear if this will remain the case when they finally release IE 7, but the decision seems to have caused a bit of confusion.
For what its worth, I agree with Bill Hill about the value of good antialias text rendering. Some argue it just makes text blurry, and that it is strictly a benefit ONLY for visual appearance (i.e. it looks better, but is harder to read, AKA "form over function"). I don't agree, though I think that you indeed sacrifice letter quality to improve word quality, and therefore, increase readability.
We went through almost exactly the same thing with Boxely, inside AOL. For a variety of technology driven reasons (historical, patent-issues, alpha channel problems, etc.) we ended up with our own text display engine in Boxely - in which we do our own font rendering, at a pixel level. It is antialiased, always, regardless of OS setting, and the Boxely team caught a lot of flack for it, but it hasn't been a big deal in the real world.
I think it improves both the form and function of our OCP apps. Or maybe Bill and I just drank too much of the same cool-aid...
Still, it DOES kind of suck to not respect the OS setting. More and more it makes you wonder about the value of the no-longer-very-unified user experiences that modern GUIs were supposed to provide.
Just perusing the look and feel of the latest AIM Triton, MSN Messenger 8, Microsoft Office 12, Picasa 2, Adobe Lightroom, IE 7, Google Talk...
Hmm - so much for a consistent "look and feel"...
There's a trend here clearly - I think we're at a major inflection point with regard to user interfaces for applications that Vista will accelerate.
Part of the question is: Is this a good thing? Does it matter anymore?
I'm not sure it does - exposition forthcoming in part 2.