Skip to main content

The more I read about embedded web fonts, the more I crystalize my thinking. Take, for example, this latest "A List Apart" article where Jeffrey Zeldman interviews David Berlow:

Zeldman: Let me put it another way. I want to use your ITC Franklin in a site I'm designing, but I'm not willing to violate my end user licensing agreement. How do we resolve this impasse, from your perspective?

Berlow: The next step is for those who control the font format(s) to define and document a permissions table to be added with all due haste to the OpenType, CoolType, TrueType, and FreeType formats. ...

Zeldman: How can type designers and web designers work together to persuade the engineers who control the formats to modify the code to include a permissions table?

Berlow: [W]eb designers flat-out refused to part with real type, which has filled the web with type as graphic files, scaring the bejesus out of a lot of engineering people. ... How important dynamically rendered type is to design and use on the web must now be clear. In addition, the only other option -- that the type industry cede its intellectual property to the public without permission -- is not going to happen. With no upgrade penalty to any applications, or change in usage by the public, the permissions table is the only invisible (type-like) solution.

I like how he focuses on the publisher's end of the problem -- "gee, all we have to do is define this permissions table, that sounds easy." What he fails to mention is that every font-consuming application on every platform on every computer on Earth will need to be "upgraded" to "respect" this permissions table. Because otherwise they're not really permissions, are they? They're just useless bits taking valuable chunks out of my metered bandwidth plan. Like the bozo bit without the bozo.

This, then, is my current thinking about embedded web fonts:


Seriously. Fuck them. They still think they're in the business of shuffling little bits of metal around. You want to use a super-cool ultra-awesome totally-not-one-of-the-11-web-safe-fonts? Pick an open source font and get on with your life.

I know what you're going to say. I can hear it in my head already. It sounds like the voice of the comic book guy from The Simpsons. You're going to say, "Typography is by professionals, for professionals. Free fonts are worth less than you pay for them. They don't have good hinting. They don't come in different weights. They don't have anything near complete Unicode coverage. They don't, they don't, they don't..."

And you're right. You're absolutely, completely, totally, 100% right. "Your Fonts" are professionally designed, traditionally licensed, aggressively marketed, and bought by professional designers who know a professional typeface when they see it. "Our Fonts" are nothing more than toys, and I'm the guy showing up at the Philadelphia Orchestra auditions with a tin drum and a kazoo. "Ha ha, look at the freetard with his little toy fonts, that he wants to put on his little toy web page, where they can be seen by 2 billion people ha h... wait, what?"

Let me put it another way. Your Fonts are superior to Our Fonts in every conceivable way, except one:


Soon -- and I mean really fucking soon, like "this year" soon -- there will be enough different browsers in the hands of enough different people that can use any possible font on any possible web page. And then a whole lotta people will start noticing fonts again -- not just Your People, just also Our People. People who couldn't tell a serif from a hole in their head, but they're gonna be looking for new fonts. People who are just savvy enough to be tired of Comic Sans will be looking for a new font to "spruce up" their elementary school newsletter, which, in an effort to Love Our Mother (Earth), they now publish exclusively online.

And maybe, just maybe, they'll stumble across Jeffrey Zeldman's excellent interview with highly talented David Berlow and think, "Wow, this guy has over 300 fonts! That's awesome! Where can I download them?" And boy, won't they be surprised to learn that those 300 fonts can only be used offline. Epic fail.

Dynamic web fonts are coming. Actually they're already here, but most of Our People haven't noticed yet. But they will, and that's going to be a huge boon to somebody. I see you've decided that it won't be you. Well, have fun shuffling your little bits of metal around. The rest of us will be over here, using the only fonts we're allowed to use: Everything But Yours.


For the second year in a row, we vacationed in Springs Towers in North Myrtle Beach. It's an oceanfront condo with a pool and a hot tub. The beach was wonderful, the pool was wonderful, the weather was wonderful (except for a little one-day hurricane). There was only one problem: it was a typographical disaster.

[Please do not feed seagulls...] 3 signs, 3 fonts (click to zoom, then look at the "G" in each sign)
[Springs Towers, Units 701-703 to the left, units 704-706 to the right]1 sign, 3 fonts
[Emergencies: In case of builder and water leaks, call...] 3 fonts, no waiting
[Carolina Resorts Realty Property Management, Keith Hellmer, Broker In Charge] Could it be... Helvetica Bold Condensed? No, looks like a knock-off.
[Daily Rentals] I write like this sometimes, scrunching the last few lines because I'm running out of room. You don't have to type like this, though.
[Notice: No furniture between rails and pool] I'm beginning to think that restricting the web to 6 fonts wasn't such a bad thing
[DHEC Prohibits the use of this spa to persons under the age of 14 years] It's not the only thing
Emergency fire alarm] Bad typography is free
[Caution: Elderly persons ... should consult their physician before using the spa] My blood pressure was lower before I watched "Helvetica, the movie"
[Enter 4 diget code, turn knob right] "diget"
[Maximum # of 8 people in spa] Fail on so many levels
[Please place all trash in dumpsters located on street] Please place all your fonts in dumpsters
Shallow water, no diving allowed] Shallow water, condensed font. There's a perverse logic here. Perhaps I'm overthinking it.
[Pool equipment room, authorized persons only] It's like typography bingo night
[Turn timer off after leaving jacuzzi] Make it stop
[In case of fire, do not use elevators, use stairways] Could it be... Helvetica?


Taking an idea from Use the Best Available Ampersand and a list of pre-installed fonts from the Complete Guide to Pre-Installed Fonts in Linux, Mac, and Windows, I present "The Ampersands of Linux":

[ampersands in 28 fonts]


Please try to contain your excitement.


Red Hat proposes to enhance Microsoft settlement offer. Red Hat offered to provide open-source software to every school district in the United States free of charge, encouraging Microsoft to redirect the money it would have spent on software into purchasing more hardware for the 14,000 poorest school districts. ... Unlike the Microsoft proposal, which has a five year time limit at which point schools would have to pay Microsoft to renew their licenses and upgrade the software, the Red Hat proposal has no time limit. Go Red Hat! Embrace and extend -- in a good way for once. I love it.

Wow, my book looks like shit on my Linux machine. It's a font thing. Many "standard" fonts don't exist on Linux, so browsers have to translate into fonts that do exist. Or they exist as free alternatives which look awful. I think that's what happened; Georgia doesn't exist but it gets translated into Palatino, which looks wretched. Unless I'm missing something really simple, fonts appear to be a big problem on Linux.

This weblog looks OK; I guess Tahoma translates into... looks like Helvetica, which looks pretty good at any size, at least on my machine. This is such an obvious problem, I have to assume that smart people have thought about it and are trying to solve it.

'Drive-by' hacking a real threat. Hacking wireless networks is ridiculously easy. According to [a recent] survey, 41 percent of 500 executives within multinational companies believe their company is susceptible to a serious security breach. Of this number, 60 percent believe that it can be solved with technology. Yes, throw even more technology at the problem. That'll solve it.

What's in a name? Even though real-world use of this hack (which is real -- most wireless networks are wide open, and the rest are easily crackable) will not involve actual cars, the term 'drive-by hacking' was obviously chosen to associate it with 'drive-by shooting' and therefore make it seem more dangerous. Of course, in a drive-by shooting, people actually get shot. So it's a little different. cracked, credit cards stolen. learned of the breach after a person claiming access to its systems and customer information began e-mailing customers Sunday night. Although did not say when the intruder first got into the site, the hacker in the e-mail claimed to have had access since 1998. is running Netscape Enterprise on Solaris, so all you Microsoft-bashers can just zip it this time.

Microsoft settles. This is really a brilliant move on Microsoft's part: they "spend" a billion dollars helping the poorest schools, and they get to bully the rest of the states to go along because it sounds so irresistable. ("Think of the children!") Meanwhile, it won't really be a billion dollars because they'll no doubt get to claim a loss of full retail price for Windows and Office for each workstation they install, even though those installations cost them literally nothing since they wouldn't have been sales in the first place (and certainly wouldn't have been charged full retail price if they had been sales). Plus it gives Microsoft the incredible opportunity to inject Microsoft-only software into these schools, which gets them on the upgrade treadmill and will eventually cost these schools billions of dollars. Then there's the question of whether computers, free or not, is really what these schools need in the first place. As a friend of mine (who worked in one of the poorest schools in West Philadelphia) once said: We don't need free computers on every desk. We need desks.

Joel Spolsky: A Hard Drill Makes An Easy Battle. Joel uses VMWare to set up virtual environments to test tons of different software configurations. We did this at my previous job, not to test the same software in different configurations, but to be able to quickly set up different configurations for pilots, demos, and prototypes. VMWare rocks. I highly recommend it. It runs on Windows and Linux, and can even give you virtual environments of one on the other.

A Cryptanalysis of the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection System [via Slashdot] HDTV encryption thoroughly cracked. Decrypted film at 11.


Remotely Working [via Jim Mangan] I worked remotely for several months at my last job, and I can attest that it is difficult. We were fairly well wired: I have a fast cable modem connection; they already had a VPN for other people to work at home; I had web-based access to internal email; I got conferenced in for staff meetings. And everyone in the department was logged into Yahoo Messenger all day, so I could at least prove that I was awake whenever someone pinged me. But I always had the nagging sense that I had to prove that I was working -- which, with the exception of the days immediately following 9/11, I actually was -- and some days this was more difficult than others. Just the nature of the job -- I might spend an entire day reviewing a complex functional spec without producing anything that anyone could see or make sense of (besides some seemingly incoherent notes I had made to myself). Or I might spend 8 hours debugging a SQL script or coping with a complex query. Or I might go in one direction, only to realize at the end of the day (or the end of the week) that it was a dead end, and start over in a much simpler direction. I ended up keeping backups of the intermediate steps, notes, chicken scratch, etc. on the company servers. Not only was it extremely useful once or twice to be able to dig up old notes, it served as an electronic trail to be able to prove I really was working all day. (I laughed when I read the author talking about daytime TV. It never occurred to me to turn on the TV in all the time I worked at home.)

Google Expands File Type Search. In addition to PDF documents, Google now searches Microsoft Office, PostScript, Corel WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, and others. ... Google also offers the user the ability to "View as HTML", allowing users to examine the contents of these file formats even if the corresponding application is not installed. The "View as HTML" option also allows users to avoid viruses which are sometimes carried in certain file formats. I have mixed feeling about this. One of the tenets of web usability is that information should be accessible to everyone. This used to mean that we could vehemently complain about stupid companies that "locked away" valuable information in Word documents. Now those companies have even less incentive to mend their ways. The upside, of course, is that the information really is accessible now. Maybe I'm just being old-fashioned.

Typeface designed in memory of Mordecai Richler [via Textism"] Wow, his own font. A man, a plan, a font... Sounds like there should be a palindrome in there somewhere, but grep 'tnof' /usr/dict/words comes up empty. Of course, nobody can hold a candle to Prince, the artist formerly known as The Artist, formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, formerly known as Prince, the artist who formerly required his own font just to spell his name.

gnuTellaVision [via Slashdot] Sounds interesting. I have no time to play with Gnutella or any of the other P2P networks these days, but it caught my eye because it was written in Python.

Borland releases Kylix 2 [via Slashdot] Kylix is Delphi for Linux. They have Open Edition, which is a free download and has runtime libraries licensed under the GPL (meaning you can only distribute compiled Kylix programs under the GPL). They also have Professional and Enterprise Editions, which are dual-licensed for either GPL or proprietary distribution, similar to Sleepycat's DB library. I used Delphi professionally for three years (back in the Delphi 1/2/3 days) and it rocked. If Kylix is half the program Delphi was, it may take off like a rocket. Now that I have Linux on my laptop, I definitely want to check this out.