Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Many web pages are designed to a minimum width which is often wider than some older screens or settings. There are a few alternatives.

I am a very hesitant user of e-mail and the internet; but for bank stuff and keeping in touch with things I have to. My eyes are not good, so I have to make things larger. So far I have been able to visit most of the desired web pages without scrolling to the right - my laptop has an almost square screen (800 x 600) - now lots of sites are so wide, that I can't read the contents without scrolling to the right for ever and ever. I forget what it said at the beginning of the row. How can I make those pages narrower without making the letters smaller?

This is a real problem that more and more people are facing.

Some things can be adjusted, while others cannot. I've touched on some of these concepts before, but your scenario is interesting because it presents perhaps the most inflexible of situations.

First, I have to point out that some websites are simply designed to a certain width, and they will not automatically resize to a smaller sized screen. Ask Leo! attempts to be flexible, resizing to whatever the window size happens to be. Even then there are limits where scrolling will kick in, and there are ways for comments to also break the ability to resize below a certain width.

More common lately are websites which are specifically designed to be displayed at a specific width. My own Taming Email is such a site. The content portion fits within an 800 pixel width screen, but the site actually assumes a 1024 pixel width, placing the navigation off to the right on smaller screens.

"... some websites are simply designed to a certain width ..."

The problem is two fold: web design is extremely difficult when you can't make assumptions about the width of the screen, and web designers can take all sorts of shortcuts if they do make the assumption. With 800 pixel wide screens representing around 6% of Ask Leo! visitors, and 93% being 1024 or wider, you can see that if an assumption is going to be made; it'll probably not be 800.

If you're stuck with hardware that only supports a maximum of 800x600, there's little that can be done.

On the other hand, one of the mistakes I see many people doing in situations such as yours is to attempt to enlarge things by selecting a resolution much smaller than their hardware could actually handle. For example I've seen people with hardware capable of 1280x1024 select 800x600 instead as a way to magnify what's displayed on the screen.

It works, but as you can imagine, there are problems. Like websites that assume you have a larger screen.

My preferred approach works like this:

  • Configure your display to the highest resolution possible. In the long run this will give you the most flexibility among the other options we have to increase the size.

  • Use your browser's magnify function to make websites bigger. Experiment with both IE7 and Firefox, as their approaches to magnification are different. There are also several zooming / magnification extensions for Firefox that may prove useful. The same applies to other applications that you might use, by the way. Many have zoom or font selection options.

  • If the text used by Windows itself is too small, then there are two options:

    1. Increase the DPI or "dots per inch" setting. This setting will make everything larger, including images (which may appear somewhat blurred as a result, depending on the exact setting used). This is perhaps the simplest and most complete approach.

    2. Change the Windows font size. Right click on an empty region on your desktop, click on Properties, then the Appearance tab, and select Large Fonts or Extra Large Fonts for "Font Size". This will affect only Windows fonts. Many if not most applications, like your browser, will be unaffected.

  • Use the Magnify utility. Most people aren't aware that Windows comes with a simple screen magnifying utility. Typically it's in All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility. When used, Magnifier displays a resizable and dockable window that contains a magnified image of wherever your cursor happens to be. Both mouse or keyboard editing cursor will be used depending on which was moved last. Here's an example using the magnifier to view a portion of the Ask Leo! homepage:

    Magnifier on the Ask Leo! homepage

    Magnifier is simple, yet it has several options to make it quick and easy to use. While it takes a little getting used to, the bottom line is that it works with everything.

Article C3217 - November 19, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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10 Comments
Shreyas
November 19, 2007 3:59 PM

Leo, you missed a very important point - browser. Some browsers allow you to fit the page to the window width, and the best one amongst them is Opera. (Firefox and IE do not support this feature). I have been enojying the 'fit to display width' feature in opera for a long time. Not to mention, opera is a full featured browser, comparable to firefox, and certainly better than IE.
If a page has a horizontal scrolbar (meaning it cannot fit to your display width), press Control + F11 and it would be resized to fit it properly. The font size stays the same, just there are less words on one line.
I certainly recommend giving it a try.

Ed
December 1, 2007 7:22 AM

My 90 year old Mother has age related macular degeneration and, as a result, only has peripheral vision. I had upgraded her to a 19" monitor and continued at 600 x 800 resolution. She also encountered the "scrolling" problem and even with a 19" screen had great difficulty in reading email and using Quicken. These are tasks that are very important to her and ones that she is very proud of still being able to do.

She also had difficulty in using the magnifier in Windows as it took her time to locate and a great deal of time to manuver around the screen. We also tried a magnifying glass set up next to the computer but this was also a poor solution.

Ignoring all advice from knowledgeable people at a low-vision center, Costco, Best Buy, CompUSA and others I purchased a 37" Samsung LCD TV and set it up to alternate between being a TV and a PC monitor for her. Resolution is still set at 600 x 800. It has allowed her to continue with these important tasks and she can know read her emails, use Quicken and surf the web and read everything on the screen.

She was beginning to lose hope that she would be able to do these tasks.

Anyways for those with declining eyesight this solution should be tried. It has worked very well for on 90 year old Mom.

Nick Gimbrone
December 1, 2007 10:55 AM

Good write up.
I'd also add a reference to MS's ClearType tools. I've added it to what I do, and it does seem to help.

http://www.friedbeef.com/2006/10/26/how-to-save-your-eyes-from-your-screen-part-1/

http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearTypePowerToy.mspx

Stuart Holmes
December 2, 2007 7:03 AM

Congratulations to Shreyas - beat me to it!!

Leo, and everyone else:

I can't believe there are still people who think Firefox is the great and only new hope of an alternative to the dreadful browsers micro$oft keep supplying.

OPERA is a BETTER BROWSER and introduced many features Firefox and IE try to copy.

Ctrl+F11 = ''fit to width'' is but one of it's wonderful features - and it works like a dream!!

It used to get a bad press for not being free but now it is.

Opera.com

Waste no more time, get it now and never again worry about sideways scrolling.
There's even the facility to make 'fit to width' your default setting!!!

Check this: http://operalover.tntluoma.com/

Stuart Holmes
December 2, 2007 7:10 AM

I just remembered something else that should interest Ed:

If you're using Opera ( free from Opera.com !) then as well as being able to 'fit to width' you can enlarge or shrink anything the browser is showing simpy by tapping on + or - on the numeric keypad part of your keyboard, and * takes you back to 100% zooom level..
Even better, if you selected Ctrl+F11 everything still fits to width!!!
Amazing!
Try it....
Then thank me by making a big donation to an internationally recognised poverty relief charity.

Peter Scripture
December 2, 2007 2:04 PM

I use Firefox and a click on Ctrl (+)+ increases the type size (which I always need to do when reading "Ask Leo") A click on Ctrl (+)- takes it back to 100%. This also works on IE.

Stuart Holmes
December 13, 2007 5:28 PM

... and ''fit to width'' is where exactly in ms ie??
without combining it with that there's not much point in enlarging when we're talking about how to avoid sideways scrolling...

Hellen
September 3, 2008 11:04 PM

Thanks,Leo! I'm new to computing and your site gave me an easy fix. All I had to do was reconfigure my screen resolution. I went to the Microsoft Help site and didn't find anything about this solution. Thanks again. H.D.

TrophyJoe
February 15, 2009 11:17 AM

This is a large issue for me too. The Ctrl-+/- in Firefox helps but there are many pages which require h-scrolling no matter what size the font (My screen is 1500 px wide!)
Tried Opera as suggested and it works like a dream. Thanks to you and your readers.

Patricia Escamilla
September 17, 2009 7:44 AM

I get some emails, not all the time, where i have to scroll sideways to read them. What can i do to not have to scroll?

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