Articles / Those Messy TrueTypes

Those Messy TrueTypes

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, 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”.

Recent comments

19 Jul 2004 04:15 Avatar Basurero

Re: Make a font book


> I uses gfontview to generate my Font

> Books.


It's a nice program, but sooooo outdated. I don't have the necessary programming skills to hack on it myself. I tried it out, but it doesn't print the pages correctly, after the first half page it prints random chars.

27 Jun 2003 03:00 Avatar mark_t

Re: Make a font book

> There's a solution:
> There you find my GPL-Software for
> sorting, previewing, renaming,
> organizing,... TrueType _and_
> PostScript-Fonts.
> It uses perl and MySQL for creating
> databases, apache and php for a webbased
> gui and ImageMagick for generating
> previews.

An interesting idea, but I don't think I'll be installing MySQL, Apache and php just to see my fonts. If you can come up with another interface and storage idea this may be a viable idea for the masses. The required software load is a bit to heavy IMHO.


24 Oct 2002 18:43 Avatar ecloud

Re: SVG format?

> Would it be possible to use the SVG
> format for creating and using fonts? I
> imagine it would be a bit more CPU
> intensive, but it is already a defined
> format.

I think that's not a good idea for performance reasons. Well, unless you can compile the XML into a very fast in-memory description...

It doesn't gain much for font files to be human-readable.

03 Sep 2002 11:58 Avatar raettchen3

Re: Make a font book
There's a solution:

There you find my GPL-Software for sorting, previewing, renaming, organizing,... TrueType _and_ PostScript-Fonts.

It uses perl and MySQL for creating databases, apache and php for a webbased gui and ImageMagick for generating previews.

21 Jul 2002 22:58 Avatar gurensan

Re: Linux developers need more cooperation with experts

It sounds like you're looking for a new font selection
dialog box - this would come from the desktop environ
you'd be running. For example, the font selection box
under KDE wouldn't work if only twm were installed,
but it sounds doable. One could have a different tab
representing each of the char sets - symbol, serif, etc.
Too bad I'm a crappy programmer, but it's a good idea!

> Yeah, it came with my first Linux, SuSE
> 5.0. I'll keep wp51, which I already
> know. I just can't deal with a text
> editor like vim. I copyedit a
> 60-character line; wp breaks this line
> perfectly all the time on the screen. I
> can't imagine how to make vim do
> that...I didn't learn how to quit the
> damn program (keep hitting escape until
> it beeps, then type :q ?) for months.
> Every time it came up as the default
> editor, I had to go to another terminal
> to kill it! Then I figured out to use
> pico as an alias, and life was a little
> better.
> Note I am not a computer student nor a
> professional. I am a writer who now uses
> a computer instead of a typewriter,
> cause who ever heard of a typewriter
> that can copy and paste text from the
> internet or from reference and research
> tools on CD-ROM and then write original
> material from these sources, edit it,
> proof it, choose its page makeup,
> preview it, and repaginate everything
> automatically if an error is found in
> the first page of a final submission?
> Wordperfect for DOS is becoming a little
> like the old Royal iron typewriters of
> the thirties were for professional
> writers: irreplaceable and a badge of
> honor -- just like vim is for
> programmers, I'm sure.
> And that's my (and the OP's) point.
> There needs to be tools already made or
> home computers' will be limited to web
> surfing and those who do homework or who
> work at home.


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