Getting in bed with type

tHERE IS FRESH word from Redmond that after all these years we may be able to get more typefaces onto web sites.

Microsoft is ready to propose to the World Wide Web Consortium (the W3C) that they adopt the MS Embedded Open Type format for all browsers and platforms. The EOT scheme, which seamlessly downloads fonts from a server and puts them into an invisible folder in the user's system, has been available since Internet Explorer 4. But it has never worked in Firefox or Safari, and was not widely used.

Another hitch was the reluctance of type designers to let their intellectual property be so widely redistributed. Many foundries, such as P22, turn the embedding digital switch off. Most got over their reluactance after several billion PDF files went out with embedded fonts. It's just too much work to hack fonts out of PDF files, or out of EOT downloads, to make it worth the pirate's while. At most major foundries now, a license is required for embedding, but the switch is left on.

An alternative idea puts the fonts in a Zip file that is downloaded from a URL in the HTML. That makes the fonts easy to copy and distribute without a license, and the foundries are more loudly against it.

Let's hope the Microsoft proposal is accepted. It will breathe new readability into the web, even if many developers and designers don't think it needs it.

One tweak I urge: A way to send a specific font to the platform that the call is coming from. This would cause a specially-tuned font (for, say, 12 pt. text on a Mac) to go to Mac browsers, and a ClearType version of the same font to go to Windows browsers. This would bring to life David Berlow's online text proposal (introduced on this site, and now amplified at the new Info blog on the Font Bureau's site.)

If branding is your main concern, there is still Flash. Part of the reason this client is so attractive is that you can move beyond the typographical limits of the web, where you can have font you want as long as it is Times or Arial. (Okay, I admit you also can have Matthew Carter's superb Verdana or Georgia, which Microsoft labored prodigiously on, and then gave away to the world—with every imaginable Unicode glyph!) But even Chopin gets boring played over and over again.

It'll be interesting to see what Adobe, which now owns Flash and which brought us the Type 1 PostScript font, does to catch up to the composition power of WPF—and ClearType. I have heard from a friend at Adobe that I didn't quite get right a recent description about font rendering in PDF and Flash, which is no big surprise, since I am just now wading into the subject. I am eager to hear how it works, and more eager to find out what their plans are for better type in Apollo.

Adobe, David Berlow used to say, is optimized for high resolution, meaning that their original products were aimed at 300-lines and up. Bill Gates has been saying for some time that it's all about the screen. Nevertheless, the first MS ClearType fonts are hinted for WYSIWYG spacing, and so letters sometimes are spaced unevenly in effort to match the higher-res geometry. Adobe just blurs the difference, although I am now told you can get sharper type in Acrobat.

Down the road, Adobe's and Microsoft's positions will merge as the screens become high-resolution.

So we do we do in the meantime? First, We can push the WC3 for the font embedding standard to be accepted (if you like the idea, let them know!), and then lobby Apple and Mozilla mob to support the standard.

Second, we can experiment with WPF, right now the best working platform for reading text on the screen, if not cross-platform. If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to install Vista on your Intel Mac and subscribe to The New York Times Reader. You can afford it. Seeing OpenType in a reading environment points out why this move is so important on the web. It's not just a question of getting the right fonts, it about the reading!

Third, we can learn more about what Adobe is up to.

Fourth, we can figure out a viable scheme for downloading gray-scale-hinted TrueType fonts to use with Silverlight, commission Berlow to make one for our online publication, buy a license . . . and give the fonts away! This will cost something, but, hey, if you have a big success, think what you'll save on printing and paper!

Your Thoughts (1 comment)

2009-07-01 by kioty

Gotta love that Firefox winning formula. See what Opera does...then do exactly that. For a moment I thought Firefox was innovating with its "awesome bar" and even read several books on this problem ( ) But upon inspection, I found that typing "awesome bar" in opera displays...this page.

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