March 21, 2005

Typographic Glass Ceiling

Last week Microsoft announced six new typefaces which will start being bundled with Windows next year. The new faces are specially designed for screen usage; meaning an emphasis on readability at small sizes and the ability to scale up and not look like death (Verdana, I’m looking in your direction). The new collection is made up of two serifs: Cambria and Constantina, three sans-serifs: Calibri, Candara, Corbel, and one monospaced: Consolas. Sometimes I think Microsoft gets its kicks trying to confuse people, but aside from the idiocy of giving them all such similar names, these are some really attractive typefaces. What’s more, some of the new faces are nice enough to make the transition to print work as well, an option that really isn’t a desirable way to go in the current screen font pool.

While at SXSW I had the pleasure of attending the “Typography for the Screen” panel headed up by designers Shaun Inman and Mike Davidson, and typographer Joshua Darden. Most of the discussion centered around the development of type, licensing, and our options, or lack thereof, for on screen display. Since we are all limited to fonts that we can guarantee with some sense of reason reside on everyone’s computers, movements like sIFR become very appealing very quickly. But, as much as I enjoy the idea of sIFR, I would love it even more if there were a better way to tap into the wealth of fonts available. sIFR is great in small doses (like headlines), but it can’t comfortably substitute an entire page’s copy. That’s fine because no one is really asking it to. Josh brought up some good points about this as well, noting that the world has such a rich typographic history which has been virtually excluded from the online medium. Even a hundred years ago there were more typefaces from any given printer compared to the selection of usable screen fonts you can practically count on one hand now.

It’s a shame that we have taken such a giant step backwards. Much of this now resides in waiting for technology and, even more realistically, businesses to catch up. Where does this leave us with the new Microsoft sponsored fonts? If I want to use and view them on my Apple, does Apple need to license these fonts? Or do I need to license them? During the panel I brought up the idea of having a central hosting service of fonts for usage on screen. It could benefit from the ability to maintain current and constantly evolving character sets with instantaneous implementation (not unlike the central hosting model of something like Basecamp). Ah, but what new factors arise? What if someone doesn’t have an internet connection? And in the end, someone has to pay for the licensing of the fonts. Does that get passed on to web site hosts? Would we choose web hosts depending on what fonts packages they have licensed?

As you can see, this brings up plenty of new questions besides the handful it may temporarily answer. I can’t help but think we are going about this the wrong way though. We know this method doesn’t work very well; browser rollouts have proven this to us. All reports on the new IE 7 hint that it’s not even worthy of a full point release. We are left with scattered and varied support for features and standards and an atmosphere of developers waiting for that magical day when everything catches up. Everyone wants to be the guy at the top who has control of the technology so that they can sway things in the direction they see fit. I know that’s how businesses work, but what about taking a step towards making it better for everyone? It may be too much to ask that these companies meet each other halfway on this matter because so much is at stake.

I am curious to see what happens when these promising new Microsoft fonts get released. It will be easy to specify these new fonts for usage thanks to CSS, but it will be another matter for me to actually see them in effect since I don’t own a PC. This is not because they won’t work on Macs, OpenType takes care of that, but because they will unlikely be available due to licensing. By that time we should be pretty well on our way (as Mac users) to losing Verdana and Georgia pre-installed on OS X. They come bundled with Mac IE 5, which is no longer being maintained, and soon enough, will no longer come preloaded on Macs. Maybe the loss of Verdana and Georgia will cause people to specify some of the other fonts that come bundled on Macs. Perhaps Apple will come out with a new combative suite of their own screen fonts. It seems like there is an opportunity here to level things off a bit. Why must we fight so hard to obtain the level of font depth online that we’ve already enjoyed for so many years offline?

Commentary (63):

1. Dan Mall says… mar 21, 2005 | 12:19 am

Maybe limiting the amount of typefaces is there for the greater good. After all, aren’t you glad that people can’t specify Curlz MT or something similar as the body copy of their pages?

2. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 21, 2005 | 12:37 am

Well, let’s get it straight, Dan. First, we aren’t really talking about display faces; the six new ones from Microsoft were designed with on screen legibility in mind and at first look seem suitable for body copy and headline usage. Second, it doesn’t matter how few fonts you limit people to, this won’t automatically imbue them with the sense to create a decent design. The same goes for giving people all the fonts in the world. What we are talking about here are choices and options for screen fonts, and some sort of reliable means to using them.

3. Ryan Nichols says… mar 21, 2005 | 12:39 am

I agree. I’m really surpised this state of web type has gone on this long. There needs to be a new technology that acts like sIFR. Something where the font can be downloaded for a website, but it is not in any usable form to the average user. No licensing issues for us as site vsititors, only for the site publisher. We can use any and all fonts we want, and it doesn’t matter what’s installed on the users’ computer.

*bring bring* sorry my alarm just went off, time to get up and quit dreamin’.

4. Dustin Diaz says… mar 21, 2005 | 12:46 am

Hey. I just think it’s a cool thing that we can count on having six more fonts to plug into content area’s. As for headline writing, I suppose we can count on Mike’s sIFR for now.

5. Mike D. says… mar 21, 2005 | 12:47 am

Oh god, if I hear one more “don’t let designers ruin my pages with all their fonts” rant, I’m going to scream. I can do just as much damage, if not more, with every other technology that is available to me. HTML, DHTML, javascript, Flash, whatever. You name the technology and I can figure out a way to use it poorly.

Good typography in the hands of good designers makes the web a better place… period. We just need to work out the business issues behind it, as Jason says.

6. William Doyle says… mar 21, 2005 | 1:42 am

i like to find creativity in using the limited fonts available to me in the small palette that is web fonts, but has anyone explored embedding fonts? i haven’t read too much about it, but i know there is a webmonkey article on it. Just a thought.

7. Justin P. says… mar 21, 2005 | 2:05 am

I would love the idea of being able to specify the font of choice, just like sFIR. Why we cannot simply put the font we want in some directory on our site and then call that font through CSS is simply amazing! Licensing issues aside, it would be very easy to implement.

While the idea of the six new fonts (really five, what are you going to do with Consolas?) was interesting to me at first, that was about it. There should be a lot more fonts available on Windows machines, not just six new fonts. I remember the first time I used Photoshop on a Mac, I was utterly shocked at the wide range of fonts available (on a brand new iBook!). That was when I first became aware of yet another effort by Microsoft to control their users. It’s not really much of a suprise though and six *new* fonts is nothing more than a carrot dangling in front of web designers. Not unlike the supposed IE7, which I am surely not holding my breath for.

I know that’s how businesses work, but what about taking a step towards making it better for everyone

Taken out of context, that sounds like the plea of leftists (like myself) everywhere ;)

I know Mike D. made it famous, but didn’t Shaun Inman come up with sFIR (hence the “s”)?

8. Dustin Diaz says… mar 21, 2005 | 2:26 am

Mike. I think you should yell and scream anyway.

9. mattymcg says… mar 21, 2005 | 2:27 am

s stands for scalable Justin. I stands for Inman. So, yes, the Wolf gets naming rights. Just with a different letter, that’s all.

10. Justin P. says… mar 21, 2005 | 2:51 am

Ahhh. Thank you matty.
I was actually talking with the designer at my work last week and we kept jumping back and forth between Mike and Shaun, couldn’t figure it out because Mike has all the “Release Candidate” stuff. That was until I read this.

Ok, Ok. Back to topic.

11. bearskinrug says… mar 21, 2005 | 6:21 am

One point about a limited type pool: Early printers might have owned only one font, in a handful of sizes. And if they could afford it, maybe an italic. But they still could put together a varied, beautiful selection of layouts. Even when you are just limited to one font, you have more options for styling that font than early typographers.

I understand the call for total freedom in font choice, but it’s not the most severe of handicaps…

12. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 21, 2005 | 7:06 am

Of course bearskin, but you are also talking about skilled artisans setting this stuff by hand. These and two distinct mediums, and different rules apply to both. Those guys had better fonts than Arial to use. And, in order to stay in business what did they have to do? Get more fonts to help insure that their business could make something even more unique. Give me one really good font, across all platforms, and I will be happy for a while. We will see how much you like your font selection when you are up late trying to get your layout to look tolerable in all browsers because of crappy type support. Ya know, aside from already having to stay up to make it look tolerable due to the usual crappy layout support. :D

13. Brian Warren says… mar 21, 2005 | 8:12 am

Font names, and even the designs they’re based off of, aren’t copyrightable. If Apple were to come out with fonts in their new OS X that looked the same and with the exact same names as the new Microsoft suite, I’m pretty sure MS wouldn’t be able to sue them and win. I’m not positive on that, but I believe I remember hearing something along those lines. As long as Apple didn’t actually steal the files and repackage them as Apple fonts, they’re in the clear.

As far as looking into the future with new ideas, if one could link to their font similar to linking to a CSS file that would be an interesting way to go about it while being pretty easy for the designer. Of course clever users would be able to find a way to download the actual font file, but maybe some server trickery could take care of that (.htaccess or something). Still, we’re several years from being able to do something like that by default, even if the browser technology were to arrive now.

14. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 21, 2005 | 8:36 am

Brian: Fonts are in fact copyrightable, as long as they are in scalable form (and virtually all current and new fonts are). They are considered software and can be protected under the same laws that protect things like Photoshop and Windows. Aside from that, taking the font names and outlines and repackaging them as Apple fonts doesn’t solve anything, it makes the problem worse… especially for the type designers.

15. David says… mar 21, 2005 | 9:13 am

I remember one client whose previous site had a “click here to download the fonts you need to display this website” message — which led to a zip file of Adobe fonts licensed for a single machine at their head office. They looked blankly at me when I started explaining the restrictions of web typography and said “oh, that’s all taken care of. We just distribute the fonts”. It’s amazing that Adobe never caught them — they’re a very high-traffic site.

Does anyone else remember that Microsoft used to have a ‘web fonts’ page where you could download their package of fonts like Verdana, Georgia etc? Surely that’s another option for their suite of eerily-similarly-named fonts now?

16. Greg says… mar 21, 2005 | 9:46 am

Do we have to wait until 2006 to kill Verdana? That font is in serious need of three taps to the head. Hulk turns greena and mean when he has Lucida Grande yet websites keep using Verdana.

Hulk smash!

17. David Bisset says… mar 21, 2005 | 9:55 am

I really think limiting fonts within reason is a good thing - although I have a problem with giving Microsoft the ability to make the decisions (and possibly effect Mac users). You’re opening up more of a can of worms and making it too tempting for some designers.

18. Dan Mall says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:11 am

I understand what you’re saying, Stan, but it’s unfair to compare the web to print. Each has its own set of unique characteristics that the other will never have. For instance, you will never be able to change the content on an individual piece of paper without reprinting it like you can do with dynamic web content. Conversely, the web will never be tactile enough for you to hold in your hands.

My point is that, first and foremost the web was invented and is still here to communicate information. Sure, we can try to make it look more legible and more appealing, but you didn’t have to use Helvetica Neue 67 Bold Condensed for us to get the point of this post. Georgia does it just fine.

19. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:30 am

David: I think the main reason MS offered those was because they were bundled with Mac IE 5. This would make one think that MS really has no motivation to license these out freely to Mac users.

David Bisset: Sorry man, that’s not a good enough argument for me. Offline users have had the luxury of loads of fonts for a very long time.

Dan: I disagree, Dan. Typography is not just about communication. It’s an art form in itself with a very long and distinguished history. The web and print are two different mediums that are part of a much large whole of design. The web may have been invented for one thing at first, but it has obviously evolved into something very different now (in the same way that print has evolved past just communication). So it’s not just about legibility anymore. And Georgia may not be around much longer anyway :D

The bigger picture here isn’t even so much about font files and licensing, it’s about the preservation and furthering of an art form.

20. Zelnox says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:34 am

If Apple does come up with their own set of fonts, can they shake hands with Microsoft and swap fonts so users on both platforms benefit?

Hehe, is there a neutral third-party group that watches over the font-ness of the Web? (a bit like spreadfirefox)

Speaking of Firefox, maybe some people can create some good fonts to be bundled with Mozilla or something (and that can be installed separately if one does not want Mozilla).

21. Ryan Nichols says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:37 am

Paper is made to communicate too, and branding is a type of communication. When a designer chooses a typeface for a brochure they are choosing a typeface that communicates a message along with their imagery, colors, ect. Conceptually, there is little difference between the mediums on that point, and type on-screen has the same effect on us as humans as it does in print.

That is why it is important to be able to choose a typeface. Unbeknownst to the masses, type is communicating about the piece, long before they read the words.

22. Dan Mall says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:44 am
. . . it’s about the preservation and furthering of an art form.

I agree and disagree. I see it more as the development of a new art form. The web is not a transition from print. It’s an entirely new medium.

All new (and even established) media have their own limitations. Like bearskinrug said, the fact that typesetters only owned one typeface doesn’t restrict them from creating beautiful designs. Similarly, the web has limitations. Just because I’m forced to use Arial doesn’t mean I can’t make it a work of art.

23. hudson says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:50 am

Remember the promise of Dynamic Fonts from 1998? Any typeface the designer wanted could be made into a subset and placed on your server. The file was loaded by the browser and called into the font tag (pre-css for design) for use in your html designs.

The idea was that web pages could function like PDFs and have the required typefaces securely loaded onto machines that don’t have them. Any typeface the designer wanted to use, loaded in a small file— completely transparent to the end user.

The initial implementation had a heap of issues, but the concept made sense. It’s a shame it never got built into the modern browsers (ditching the required plugin would have been issue #1 to solve).

24. Jordan says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:54 am

I agree… the limited font selection now is horrible. You want serifs? Georgia and Times New Roman. Sans-serifs? Arial and Verdana. Of course, some of us specify extra fonts for the people lucky enough to have them (I know I do), but it’s still the same basic fonts that you’ve gotta depend on.

And in other news, Helvetica looks great in Win FireFox, but IE mangles it… the row-spacing is almost non-existant (bad me for stealing the beautiful Helv…)

25. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 21, 2005 | 10:57 am

Dan Mall: Ok, but if it’s a new art form as you say why would you want to try and stifle it’s growth by limiting resources? How about you can only use yellow from now on? No other colors but yellow. Sure it might be ok for awhile, but what happens when people get sick of yellow? What if clients see you as the “yellow guy” who can only provide them with yellow designs? Printers may have had a limited number of fonts way back when, but do you think that was always their choice? Because they were such staunch type purists? No, it was probably because they either didn’t have access to OR couldn’t afford new faces.

This is not to say you can’t make something beautiful with one font, I would never said that. But the fact still remains that in order for those printers, whose sole business was type layout and printed production, to stay in business and make money they had to keep evolving. Which meant new faces so that they could give people more options to distinguish their businesses and publications over others.

Granted, people are used to on screen fonts in practice today. BUT, just because we can specify Arial as a font, does that mean we should when we could have better, much more legible, options?

26. Ryan Nichols says… mar 21, 2005 | 11:00 am

Bearskin is right about typesetters, and yes there is an art within limitations.

But to say we shouldn’t stand up ask demand more from the market and instead stand by and accept limits, no way. As artists that’s completely against our nature! :)

Of course you can make a work of art, but as an artist you want freedom to create works of art that are unique. That’s more akin to making the best of a bad situation, not the ideal situation.

27. Mike D. says… mar 21, 2005 | 11:05 am

Alright two things —

Regarding sIFR: Here is the one paragraph history. I created a method for setting typography dynamically using custom fonts and Flash back in 2001 for ESPN. The method used scalable type and inline javascript. Shaun created a much better method to accomplish similar results in 2003 using javascript, Flash, and the DOM. The huge breakthrough here was that the method (which Shaun dubbed IFR, Inman Flash Replacement) didn’t touch your code. Shaun’s method shared no code with the previous method… it was a *lot* better. Then, last year, I created a multiline scalable method to display Flash text via the DOM for use on and other sites. Truth be told, it shares no code with IFR, but Shaun and I are great friends and in appreciation of his breakthrough concept with IFR, I simply added an “s” (for scalable) and kept the rest of the acronym the same. No need to create a totally new acronym.

Dan: I disagree on both your examples with print and web. You will be able to change individual content on a piece of paper without reprinting it eventually. See rollup displays. And eventually, the web will be tactile enough for you to hold in your hands. See rollup displays. I got into an argument on MetaFilter with some people about the whole “the web is about communication” angle and I still don’t understand it. What medium isn’t about communication? Even a canvas with oil slapped on it is about communication. So is print, so is radio, so is TV. This standpoint that the web is somehow only about plain text and that the rest of the adornments that go along with text in the rest of the world don’t apply is something I do not understand. I’m all for the “operating within constraints” thing, but this typographical constraint we have today on the web is the product of a business inefficiency… not a technological or artistic one.

28. Dan Mall says… mar 21, 2005 | 11:43 am

Mike, I’m not saying that the web is about communication and other media are not. You’re absolutely right; design is communication. Period. Can Futura communicate more effectively than Verdana? It’s very possible. Does that mean that Verdana is useless? Definitely not.

As designers, of course we strive to make anything as visually delicious as possible. I’m not suggesting that we embrace limitations, settle for what we have and be content, but I have a problem with bashing a system that’s not flawed. It’s only not as advanced as we would like

Without trying to kiss Stan’s ass, this site is a perfect example of a beautiful design within limitations. It wouldn’t be any less beautiful in a system where a myriad of typefaces can be chosen.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll fight just as hard as all of you to make the web more beautiful than it already is. I just think that it takes a higher level of constructive criticism as much as a willingness to work within the limitations without being disgruntled.

29. Mike D. says… mar 21, 2005 | 11:56 am

Dan: Ok, agreed. Sounds good to me. I do, however, think that the system can be considered a bit flawed at this point. It wasn’t flawed when we all had low resolution displays and the inability to see anti-aliased typography (because you really only *wanted* to see Verdana at that point), but now that the technology has come along far enough for us to render more typefaces more beautifully on screen, the “system” must keep up from a business model standpoint.

The parallels to the music industry are very close here. Widespread digital distribution of music wasn’t really possible until this decade. Hence, all music was distributed on CDs. But as soon as technology allowed us to all have broadband connections and a common digital format, what happened? People started sharing music, legal or not. The record labels shook their heads because they were all in disagreement about how to deal with this technological advance. The key moment, however, happened when Steve Jobs marched into all six major record labels with a “one size fits all” deal to license their property and distribute it online. A dollar a song… period. No special deals. It was so simple that it was impossible to refuse.

The same thing needs to happen with type. Give type designers a way to license web versions of their fonts (a subset of the entire font package) for distribution on the web for a flat fee of $40 per domain for low-traffic sites and maybe $200 per domain for high-traffic sites.

Stan, myself, and some notable others have been discussing such a proposal lately. We may put something together soon. Stay tuned.

30. Dan Mall says… mar 21, 2005 | 12:06 pm

Now that’s the type of proactiveness that I’d definitely get on board with. Definitely keep me (and everyone) informed.

31. Dustin Diaz says… mar 21, 2005 | 4:14 pm

That was a nice little bit of history Mike. You should throw that on your own website and link back to it whenever someone mentions it.

And gosh, is verdana really that bad? Overused? Yes. But it’s not the end of the world because someone chooses a verdana type face.

32. Joe Clay says… mar 21, 2005 | 5:06 pm

I would ad to that a student rate. Maybe $20? Or free as long as you’re enrolled in a university? Students won’t be able to shell out that $40 so easily to use a single font. Maybe you could also offer a few discounted packages in sets of three fonts?

I still like the idea of being able to put fonts you have the right to use on your own web server as well. These two things could be combined.

Also, while you may think it’s nice to be able to work within the limits we have remember that this is not a self imposed limit. Of course we should stick to a pool of about three fronts for most designs, however that limit should be self-imposed, not a limit of the technology imposed by people not getting off of their asses.

I do not agree that the web is an entirely new type of medium. It is like a conglomeration of many types of media, i.e. multimedia. It is also used in the same ways that all of those media are used. And I am glad that Mike D. pointed out that they are coming out with OLED paper. HP has also come out with paper that can have circuits, OLEDs, etc. on it. The latest projected time frame (which I find implausible) is 2007 for widespread distribution. Imagine newspapers with video content and you don’t have to own but a single sheet of paper!

33. niff says… mar 21, 2005 | 5:34 pm

Very smart men said this;

Thomas A. Edison:

Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.

Henry Steele Commager:

Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them.

thats all…

34. Peter Asquith says… mar 21, 2005 | 7:30 pm

Along the lines that Zelnox suggests, presumably there’s room for “open source” typefaces that would avoid the cross-platform and cross-domain licensing issues. Clearly that would bring with it the provisos that the typefaces would be competent enough to be embraced by designers and that there would be a mechanism (like bundling with a popular browser download, or some sort of automatic, dynamic fonts-like, seamless installation) to ensure they were spread far and wide with little end-user intervention.

35. Paul D says… mar 22, 2005 | 1:30 am

“The same thing needs to happen with type. Give type designers a way to license web versions of their fonts (a subset of the entire font package) for distribution on the web…”

I think this is the solution to the wrong problem. Even if we offered our website visitors great fonts for free, why would the average user bother downloading and installing them? I doubt most PC users even know how. The site will look “good enough” in Verdana or whatever the alternate is.

The real trick is to get the average user to install a basket of nice fonts. The only way I can think of accomplishing that is by bundling them with something else people will actually download and install, like a useful application.

For example, a high percentage of website visitors will have the fonts that come with Office.

Maybe if we could convince, say, Adobe to bundle fonts with Acrobat Reader, a web designer would have more reliable font choices. (Although many Mac users will not use Reader, since Preview is adequate.)

In summary, I think the key problem is getting fonts to people’s computers. It’s not licensing.

36. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 22, 2005 | 7:08 am

Paul, it’s a nice idea, but how do you think those fonts get bundled with programs? It IS a licensing issue. Someone needs to pay for the fonts at some point in the system.

37. Jason Pettitt says… mar 22, 2005 | 9:23 am

So traditional licensing arrangements for fonts are incompatible with internet. Perhaps open licences should be among the criteria considered for a good screen font. After all, the most elegant and legible font is rendered pointless if end users don’t get to see it. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that open standards, technology and licensing has made the web a workable concept.

I quite like Verdana too.

38. David Lee Hemphill says… mar 22, 2005 | 12:14 pm

I think a possible solution is to have the web design community create a set of license free fonts that will work well for both platforms and rally to have them released with Firefox and other browsers. New fonts could be added in later releases. Of course the problem with that is that we won’t be able to agree on what fonts get picked unless of course we all vote for our favorites.

39. Mike D. says… mar 22, 2005 | 1:57 pm

Paul D: That’s not what I’m suggesting. Here’s how it would work —

Developer specifies a full file path to a font in their CSS. Browser automatically downloads font outline file which is fingerprinted to originating domain (reduced outline shouldn’t be more than 20k or so). Browser displays content with specified font and stores outline file in special cache for later use. From that point on, browser can use cached outline file to render font. No user intervention necessary.

40. David Lee Hemphill says… mar 22, 2005 | 2:25 pm

Mike D: How would you get the browser developers to adopt a technology which would automatically download the font outlines when Internet Explorer isn’t even scheduled to fully support CSS and fix the bugs currently present?

41. Brian Warren says… mar 22, 2005 | 3:37 pm

Stan: My bad, i didn’t realize that judge ruling happened, sheesh, 7 years ago. Shows my age.

Moving on…

It IS a licensing issue. Someone needs to pay for the fonts at some point in the system.

And the distribution system is going to need to be extremely ubiquitous. If we say ok we’ll get free nice fonts and they will go in Firefox. We still need to get everybody to download and install firefox. As nice as that would be it would take time and energy. Even with the great FireFox marketing, there is still the Joe Windows user who is deathly afraid of installing something downloaded off the internet. Not to mention corporate machines that are locked down.

The sad thing is that until we get some fundamental change in the thinking of the way newbie users look at their computers, the distribution of good, web-ready fonts needs to come at the pre-installed OS level. Or, Browser technology and font licensing take a great leap and we can bundle fonts on the site.

Does anybody know what fonts come with Tiger? What do we do as designers if Tiger doesn’t come with IE 5 (and thus, Georgia and Verdana)? Do we have to resort to Times and Arial?

So, my question is, what do we do now?

42. Jay Reding says… mar 22, 2005 | 3:53 pm

I have a feeling we’re stuck in the typographical wilderness for a while yet. All the solutions for font embedding require pretty substantial improvements in browser technology, which aren’t going to happen so long as a certain 800lb gorilla keeps sitting around and taking up 90% of the room.

The best “solution” would be to develop an open-source typography system like David suggests. Bundle some basic fonts with Firefox and provide for graceful degredation in other browsers. After all, that’s what we all seem to be doing with nearly everything on the web these days…

43. Paul D says… mar 22, 2005 | 4:49 pm

“Developer specifies a full file path to a font in their CSS. Browser automatically downloads font outline file which is fingerprinted to originating domain (reduced outline shouldn’t be more than 20k or so).”

That’s a pretty good idea. It could work if both Firefox and Safari chose to support it. (IE users will always be out in the cold, there’s no helping that.)

The idea of bundling fonts with Firefox isn’t bad either. I believe Bitstream has some fonts that anyone can distribute. With the rising popularity of Linux, I wouldn’t be surprised if more freely-distributable fonts appear.

44. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 22, 2005 | 5:01 pm

I am going to be the unpopular voice of reason and say that Firefox isn’t the answer. Though I love the browser to death, but it’s hardly reached a significant enough level where bundling fonts with it could be considered as an effective means of distribution. What’s more, who knows what will happen with MS’s new IE 7. Firefox holds a special place in the hearts of web professionals but I imagine it is little more than a tool to most people outside our microcosm.

I think that latching on to browser distribution at this point in the game is thinking too small. I’m not talking about necessarily using what is in place right now. This might mean a whole new initiative in the same way that standards support was. A better solution might be the autonomous font hosting or retrieval route because it could potentially be browser-independent and lay a better groundwork for future incarnations and spinoffs of the web and supplemental technologies.

45. Mike D. says… mar 22, 2005 | 5:08 pm

1. Yes, I agree that bundling fonts with browsers is too limiting. It would take too long, doesn’t solve the bigger issue, and only gives up a small handful more to choose from.

2. I don’t think it’s really necessary to cover 100% of the audience with any solution we come up with. If Browser X is still being used by Y percentage of the population and they are stuck with Verdana, fine. I don’t care. While typography is important, it’s not mission critical to getting the content. Think of it as a progressive enhancement.

3. The autonomous dynamic distribution route is still the best route in my opinion. FYI: IE 6 already allows this via their now defunct WEFT technology so it can definitely be done. If IE developers can make it happen, don’t you think Firefox and Safari developers can make it happen as well?

Again, the only thing missing here is a business covenant to make this happen. The technology is imminently buildable… and in fairly short order.

46. Andrew says… mar 22, 2005 | 6:33 pm

good topic jason.

it seems many people have become used to the limited set of fonts on the web and their own PC’s.

at work i put together stationery for small businesses - and the amount of times i read please use arial narrow bold almost brings a tear to my eye ;)

people are bombarded with a huge range of great typefaces in the print world - there should be no reason why this shouldn’t happen online.

47. Dan Mall says… mar 22, 2005 | 11:38 pm
While typography is important, it’s not mission critical to getting the content.
Whoa Mike, you’re starting to sound like me :) .

Seriously though, it sounds like you’re essentially talking about a non-Flash version of sIFR. Am I hearing this correctly?

48. G. I. says… mar 24, 2005 | 7:34 am

Such a few fonts, still the chance to vomit seeing sites with ComicSans text…

49. Peter G. says… mar 24, 2005 | 8:06 pm

Here’s a thought, Apple could do like every other normal company an actually pay the licensing fee in order to have these fonts on the Mac. So don’t blame Microsoft if these fonts don’t end up on the Mac. I for one think it’s great to see Microsoft taking the initiative on this one even if they don’t “share” with Apple. And no offense to all you Mac designers, but let’s not forget what percentage of users are on a Windows-based PC. Even if these fonts are only released for Windows, that will still mean you can use them for 90% of your visitors. I think that’s pretty good.

Sorry for the harsh tone (I just get tired of everyone always complaining about Microsoft).

50. Jason Santa Maria says… mar 24, 2005 | 8:17 pm

Peter G.: Thanks for the comment. But I have to say, please take a look at this thread again. You will find that the vast majority of sentiments here are not against MS. This is not a matter of Apple vs MS, this is a matter of options and growth. As I said earlier, I applaud Microsoft’s ambition to make these fonts happen. All I want as a designer is a more standardized framework for screen fonts (cross-platform). Just because the majority of people are on Windows does not mean that every new development needs to be skewed more towards them. Even at a 90% user base, you are still discounting millions of people on the flip side of that.

51. Brian Warren says… mar 25, 2005 | 3:30 pm

Apple’s licensing of those fonts could work fine, if MS is open to that. Apple has tons of nice fonts that come with MacOSX, and we could use those, if MS were to license the same ones. But we could go back and forth on this for ages. Even if both Apple and MS were to cooporate that - licensing each other’s fonts, we’d always be lagging behind by a system update or two each time one of them adds a new font to their offerings.

Stan’s right, I’d like to see a better, more systematic standard for using fonts on the web.

52. Aled Davies says… mar 25, 2005 | 10:24 pm

This is something I’d like to see as well, as pretty much being restricted to a dozen or so fonts sucks. While I’m sure that the new MS fonts will eventually make their way onto other platform, the whole fonts issue is something that the web community could take up.

What we (the web community) is take a leaf out of the MS playbook and come up with our own set of fonts for use.

Setup a central website with a DropCash or Paypal account that people can donate cash to fund the project. I’m sure that we could persuade the other browser makers such as Opera and Mozilla to chip in. Once there are enough funds, hire a couple of name designers to put together a couple of Font families.

License the whole thing under a creative commons license so that anybody can download and redistribute and we are away.

I’m sure it could work…

53. Peter G. says… mar 26, 2005 | 11:31 pm

Jason: You found me out, I didn’t read the whole thread (it was way too long). And I, of course, agree; I too want a more standardized framework for screen fonts. I think I stick up for Microsoft just because everyone else puts them down just because they are Microsoft. Maybe not.

Anyway, are there really “millions? of Mac users? I didn’t realize there were so many. I guess I just don’t think that not having a certain font available to them is “discounting them.? But then, what do I know?

54. dzd says… mar 29, 2005 | 12:29 pm

The closest thing we have to an open-source, cross-platform font family right now is Bitstream’s Vera family. But Vera Serif causes me to break out in hives.

55. Richard Earney says… mar 30, 2005 | 1:46 pm

Peter G: Of course there are “millions” of Mac users and the reason not to ignore them is similar to the whole case for web standards. If you are a business and you have the option to reach or become accessible to an extra 10% market share then you’d be stupid not to.

Jason: Verdana is distributed with Office as well as IE and may even be a default install font on the Mac - I can’t remember when I last checked!

56. Benson Low says… mar 30, 2005 | 8:03 pm

I believe the main issue here is not whether MS or Apple or whichever system have fonts available for web. Its really an issue with copyrights. Unless we have an “Open-Source” type organisation that develop copyright-free fonts for all systems, designers are pretty much stuck with what we’re given. Seriously, ask any decent typographer to give up their copyrighted fonts is like asking designers to give up creative rights.

MS paid typographers to develop these fonts. Matthew Carter designed Verdana and Georgia, both commissioned by MS. Without MS fronting up the money, I seriously believe there would be less web fonts. Copyright-free fonts made for web need standards and should be treated as open-source software. If and when this happens, distribution is the other problem. Maybe the next Firefox could help the distribution.

57. dh says… mar 31, 2005 | 9:27 am

I find using the gd to create headlines with custom fonts much easier,

<img src=”customimage.php?headline=Hey, This is headline”>

and have the server make an image whatever font you want much easier than any of the css methods, you can combine it with the css methods to make it usuable pretty easily.

of course it doesnt solve the problem of body text, which i think single license for the designers and font embedding is the way forward

58. Vitaly Friedman says… apr 4, 2005 | 4:19 am

Indeed, Calibri and Candara look quite distinctive from current fonts and at the same time readable and … enjoyable? Still it isn’t clear whether these fonts will be also used for web & print-design or will they be the property of Microsoft?

With best regards from Germany,
Vitaly Friedman,

59. woman’s shoes says… may 3, 2005 | 7:50 am

I a fortiori like sifr-2.0

60. jeff_we34 says… sep 18, 2005 | 10:48 pm

Oh god.I hated Microsoft,but I liked the new typefaces .

61. Joe Clark says… dec 11, 2005 | 2:28 pm

Typeface designs are not copyrightable in the United States (if we want to talk about that country). PostScript and similar executable programs for creating specific typefaces are. Typefaces can also be patented in the U.S.

But the design of typefaces cannot be copyrighted in that country. It just can’t. Neither can font names. Designers have severely restricted rights in this area.

62. Mike says… dec 20, 2005 | 8:32 am

Joe, you’re right and you’re wrong. Font names cannot be copyrighted in the U.S. - but trademark protection may certainly apply, just as with any other name, applied to a product and used as a source indicator. In the U.S., they need not even be registered to qualify for that trademark protection, but I’m sure Microsoft wouldn’t skip that step if they chose to protect the font names.

63. Al1C says… mar 21, 2006 | 2:44 pm

A bit late, but I was interested in this thread and thought I could contribute a little with old and new information I just came across.

Microsoft notice & OpenType information:

A new, free, typeface: