Recently, I downloaded about 2,000 free fonts. Most of them are of high quality, but you can easily imagine my problem: There are just too many of them for one graphics designer. I don’t have time to browse through them all to find the one optimal for my needs.
Those filters in gtk-dialog help a little, do they? Well, the foundries help a little, and at least artwiz has some kind of style in all his fonts, but what we really need are descriptive categories to choose from. On the old themes.org, you could search for fonts by descriptions like “Bulky-wavy”, “Extreme”, “Funky”, and “Handwriting”. We need to be able to find fonts by these categories after they’re available to the font server.
Why not hack font-related software to use the path to the font file as a filter rule, so you could choose to display only the fonts in “/usr/share/fonts/bulky-wavy/”? Well, that gets ugly – really ugly, really quickly. A font that’s “Bulky-wavy” and “Funky” would have to be symlinked to the “funky” directory, and the more descriptions you apply to a font, the worse it gets.
Licensing is a further complication. I have to admit that not all the fonts I downloaded are free. Some are called “sharefonts” by the site that hosts them; I’m supposed to erase them after a certain number of days of use. I’d do that (I have enough fonts to choose from now), but I don’t know which those fonts are and how long I’m allowed to try them. The site does not provide any information regarding copyright, creator, or license. Even if it did, it’d be troublesome to get it. I didn’t download all those fonts manually, of course; I used wget. Such information should be stored in the font itself, so you don’t need to ask the creator “What was the license again?” (if you even know who the creator was).
The final problems relate to patents. Apple was granted three patents in the late 80s/early 90s concerning the optimization of TrueType rendering. These patents hinder most people from legally using the optimizations that are provided with the font file itself in the form of bytecode.
The clean solution for all these problems is straightforward: We need to define a patent-free format for font files. In ogg’s vein, there has to be an open, free sample implementation. The format should be flexible enough to store freeform tags, while some tags have to be provided for the file to be correct. These could be, for example, a copyright notice, a pointer to the license, and some categories the font fits into (with standard categories defined in the file format specification). The sample implementation should be plugged into Freetype, just as the Freetype people seem (to me) predestined to define the format itself.
Finally – as we get implementations for Mac and Win32 – this could solve the problem “I want to use that font for my site, but no one except me seems to have it installed”.