Microsoft chairman Bill Gates last week announced the development of ClearType, a new technology that will make portable electronic book screens up to three times sharper and easier to read. Gates demonstrated ClearType on a portable computer running a copy of his book, The Road Ahead, as the highlight of his keynote address to the Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas.

According to Microsoft officials, ClearType works best on liquid crystal diode (LCD) display screens, typical of the screens on portable computers and eBooks. Hard-to-read type has been one of the biggest roadblocks to acceptance of eBooks, such as the 3Com Palm Pilot or NuvoMedia's Rocket eBook. As Gates admitted in his speech, "Even I don't use a computer to read long articles. We just don't have the quality that matches the printed page."

Gates said ClearType will be commercially available "within months, not years," and will be included in Microsoft's small computer operating systems, such as Windows 98 and Windows CE in 1999. He suggested that this will lead to greater acceptance of eBooks, and predicted that there will be 50,000 eBook titles in print by 2001.