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 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”.

RSS Recent comments

04 May 2002 02:06 Avatar Ullerup

Make a font book
Make a font book. That's what you get when you buy commercial fonts. You look through the font book to see which one you want. They are organized by serif, sans-serif, decorative and symbol. Sometimes you'll see more categorization.

04 May 2002 03:47 koinu

Linux developers need more cooperation with experts
When You look at Linux, I have the impression, it's been only developed by simple hackers like we find them here on freshmeat.
I have already noticed that developing an OS needs cooperation with experts in other disciplines. Especially graphics designers should get to know how the development works on our beloved OS and should be encouraged to send their creations to developer, which mostly make only "dummy-pictures" (which look ugly) but work.
When a newbie takes a look at our window-managers, he is scared away by his first impression. And the first impression is important! (Yes, even Gnome and KDE with all their themes are still ugly, in my opinion. And this is the only reason why simple people, who just want to use the computer for fun don't like it.)

Now it comes out that more and more simple things are unstructred. Unix has got a fixed structure, but Linux is NOT Unix, we can change it. You can make many things more intuitive, so newbies like the OS more. The best way to do that is dialog with experts on a certain topic, before designing wrong architectures.

(Sorry for getting a bit off-topic here, but the problems are somehow related.)

04 May 2002 08:08 beatbuster

Re: Linux developers need more cooperation with experts
and i was wondering why people don't use linux...
thanks for telling us
:)

04 May 2002 08:28 ianezz

Just use font aliases. Works already.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel (and it has already been discussed on Freshmeat some times ago).

For the X Window System there is already a good way to organize fonts in groups: font aliases.

In other words, you can create aliases for font names, simply by editing the fonts.alias file in your font directory. If you want to organize them in families, just choose appropriate names. man mkfontdir for details.

Example: a fonts.aliases containing the following row

-Funky-Helvetica\ Narrow-medium-r-condensed--*-*-*-*-p-0-iso8859-1 -Adobe-Helvetica\ Narrow-medium-r-condensed--*-*-*-*-p-0-iso8859-1

creates an alias for the Adobe Helvetica (of any size). Btw, on my system, Adobe Helvetica in turn is itself an alias for another font (but that is not important).

Then, do a ``xset fp rehash'', so X re-reads font configuration files. After this, you can select the "Funky" foundry, and there are your fonts. Simple, isn't it? :-)

Btw, this works also when the fonts are served by a remote host, which is not the case using directory names...

04 May 2002 10:40 jjaeggli

Re: Make a font book
But wouldn't it be so much nicer if the font selection dialogue acted like your font book? This would be easier than a small font selection box with scroll bar made completely useless by the simple volume of items listed. What if you don't plan on using Frutiger Condensed or the entire ClearlyU fontset in your project? It would be much easier simply not to see these and only have to deal with the two fonts you are actually using.

> Make a font book. That's what you get
> when you buy commercial fonts. You look
> through the font book to see which one
> you want. They are organized by serif,
> sans-serif, decorative and symbol.
> Sometimes you'll see more
> categorization.

04 May 2002 11:04 annamerikin

Re: Linux developers need more cooperation with experts

> When You look at Linux, I have the
> impression, it's been only developed by
> simple hackers like we find them here on
> freshmeat. You can make
> many things more intuitive, so newbies
> like the OS more. The best way to do
> that is dialog with experts on a certain
> topic, before designing wrong
> architectures.
>

That's why WordPerfect still has the market for legal word-processing software to itself. That was their focus group, apparently, back in the DOS 4.x series, and their features for that profession continue to this day. The same holds true for the early Lotus spread, and I remember how long it took them to recognize managers needed to generate virtual `what if' scenarios that wouldn't change the saved results. (Duh!) I am a writer so I need a professional wp that does what a good editor does easily with pen on paper (copy editing markup). Some recommend LyX or even TeTex, but those are set up for university pubs, not for commercial presses and there are no features (del sentence, replace phrase, move paragraph down four, etc.) for editing, just for typesetting.

Programmers need to to know intimately how professionals do their jobs in order to make software that does things according to the customs and needs of the trade. Otherwise, computers will remain toys for hobbyists and university students.

This is what makes the Gimp, for example, so difficult for me to learn; it bears no similarity to the processes I am familiar with in commercial image processing. It is a bit like trying to draw in POVray! Although it is an exceptional tool, it will never replace Photoshop for exactly that reason -- it flies against professional convention.

For another example, I often use XV to crop images quickly. In an art department of an ad agency, we used two right-angled cardboard templates and put it over the image, adjusting its size and placement until we found what we liked. XV tries to simulate this by making an expanding box with the cursor through the mouse. Although this expands and contracts like the real-life cropper, it cannot be moved randomly over the image easily at the same time and it does not make the part of the image cropped disappear or be blocked by the edge of the cursor-box. Why?

As far as fonts are concerned, print them out a page for each and keep them in a hard-copy book. The test text can include the information you need to find the alias and location of what you decide to use. For now, that seems to be a workaround until some programmer teams up with a good, experienced graphics designer to make a program that is truly usable, not just a superb technical exercise.

PS: I have already made the macros I need for WP-5.1, which works fine under DOSemu. I refuse to learn to program Emacs macros or WP8 to do the same....so there is no need to suggest this option. Once I edit on DOS' WP, I make the page up (if needed) on Linux WP8 (Thanks, Corel.)

04 May 2002 12:35 inignoct

Re: Just use font aliases. Works already.
Well, this *works* and I suppose you could call it good from the standpoint of being the only functional way of achieving this as it stands... But isn't there something to be said for a solution which is both functional and easy?

If I have, say, 1000 fonts, it's a huge pain to go through each and every one to categorize them and make font aliases. Will it work? Sure, but it's a giant expenditure of time, especially considering that if I'm going to all that trouble I'm probly a professionial with better things to do. Now consider that people all over the world are going through that same process... talk about 'reinventing the wheel', here we've got thousands of designers, artists, etc., all over the world duplicating hours and hours of tedious grunt work, for what is still probably not the optimal solution to the problem.

I don't claim to be a great expert in the field, but I and most people I speak to seem to agree that Linux treats fonts in a very unintuitive way, especially from a user standpoint. I recall in macos, all i had to do was drop the font into my system folder and the rest was taken care of... That's probly not the best model for linux to aim for, but from a user standpoint it made life pretty easy.

The bottom line i guess is that, I don't have a program to point at and say "I fixed it" but I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing up the issue again, because I certainly don't think it's been solved yet. Aliases are a nice workaround, but a real solution has yet to be discussed. Perhaps we *do* need an RFC -- it doesn't hurt to bring it up.

04 May 2002 13:19 MarkoNo5

Re: Linux developers need more cooperation with experts
% presses and there are no features (del
> sentence, replace phrase, move paragraph
> down four, etc.) for editing, just for
> typesetting.

Ever heard about vim ? I seems horrible at first, but when you get to know it, it's a great editor.
It has all the features you name.

04 May 2002 15:40 DontTreadOnMe

Re: Just use font aliases. Works already.

> There is no need to reinvent the wheel
> (and it has already been discussed on
> Freshmeat some times ago).
>
> For the X Window System there is
> already a good way to organize fonts in
> groups: font aliases.

You've just outlined an excellent method whereby the Author's suggestion can be realized. However, it is really unrealistic to expect users to wade through 2000+ fonts categorizing each one in this fashion, and as it stands wading through fonts in the traditional method <i>is</i> cumbersome, sufficiently so that many people avoid changing around their fonts unless absolutely necessary simply because of the time involved in finding what one is looking for.

So I would suggest that those who know something about fonts, like graphics designers, begin collaborating on a fonts aliases file that could, perhaps someday, be distributed with XFree itself, but at least in the interim would be something one could download and install, thereby making fonts easier to manage and easier to find.

One of the real pleasantries of GNU/Linux and X is the frequency with which problems like this find simple, elegant solutions like the one you outlined to problems such as the author outlined. :)

04 May 2002 15:44 Snafoo

Where did you get said fonts?
I dabble in graphic design, and I'm getting tired of the 'sharefonts' and 'freefonts' packages available at sunsite.
Where did you get these 2000 fonts?

04 May 2002 19:28 annamerikin

Re: Linux developers need more cooperation with experts
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.

04 May 2002 19:44 Jebediah

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.

04 May 2002 21:42 yebyen

Re: Where did you get said fonts?

> Where did you get these 2000 fonts?
>

I would also like to know... heh

04 May 2002 22:24 yazz

Re: Make a font book

> Make a font book. That's what you get when you buy %commercial fonts. You look through the font book to see %which one you want. They are organized by serif,
%sans-serif, decorative and symbol. Sometimes you'll see %more categorization.

I uses gfontview (gfontview.sourceforge....) to generate my Font Books. But it would be neat if you were able to rearange the listing to fit your needs right form the tool....

04 May 2002 22:39 Yaa101

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.

Yes it is posible...
Get batik at w3c... that will translate most ttf fonts perfectly into the right svg tagged xml files...
I have translated many of them...

The tool is a commandline tool...
Use a batch processor to automatcily translate a whole serie...

04 May 2002 22:40 Yaa101

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.
>
>
> Yes it is posible...
> Get batik at w3c... that will
> translate most ttf fonts perfectly into
> the right svg tagged xml files...
> I have translated many of them...
>
> The tool is a commandline tool...
> Use a batch processor to automatcily
> translate a whole serie...
>

opppppppppppsssssssss not at w3c but at apache... sorry...

04 May 2002 23:11 Jebediah

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.
>
>
> Yes it is posible...
> Get batik at w3c... that will
> translate most ttf fonts perfectly into
> the right svg tagged xml files...
> I have translated many of them...
>
> The tool is a commandline tool...
> Use a batch processor to automatcily
> translate a whole serie...
>

Excellant. Now if only X had the ability to use SVG fonts...

05 May 2002 05:37 ingmarschuster

Re: Where did you get said fonts?
fontz.de, though there are (as said) quite many of them

05 May 2002 06:15 ingmarschuster

Re: Just use font aliases. Works already.
While I really missed aliases here, they are, just as my ridiculous directorys, a non-permanent solution. While it's possible for X, fonts floating around in the internet usually don't come with aliases and aliases don't have much sense on Win32 (dunno about MacOsX).

05 May 2002 07:37 Yaa101

Re: SVG format?

>
> Excellant. Now if only X had the
> ability to use SVG fonts...
>

Probably wont... your best shot is Konqueror, the KDE browser...

05 May 2002 14:53 ingmarschuster

Re: Just use font aliases. Works already.

> Perhaps we
> *do* need an RFC -- it doesn't hurt to
> bring it up.

That's the way to go IMHO

06 May 2002 03:57 ssclift

METAFONT could be a starting point.

Donald Knuth (www-cs-faculty.stanfor...) has
commented (www.advogato.org/artic...)
on the differences between METAFONT and TrueType. Perhaps if the open source community is looking for a patent-free system for fonts, his work could be a basis. It is superb work, well documented, with the only noted disadvantage being that it uses slightly more complex mathematics and is somewhat slower.

An opportunity, perhaps, to further build on the work of a master...

06 May 2002 12:20 lubeboy

Re: SVG format?

>
> Excellant. Now if only X had the
> ability to use SVG fonts...
>

I wonder how hard this would be to implement as an X4.x font module. That's what modular design is for, right? Or may be a hack to FreeType?

06 May 2002 15:01 jokerbone

cddb style scripted solution?
The current alias-file solution seems most apt for your problem, it's just not easy enough to be practical.

Why not set up some sort of foundry database that would regognize fonts by set properties in the ttf format (or others) and respond with the alias lines needed to fully organize one's collection? Sure a new font format that does everything everyone needs would be wonderful but don't expect to see it any time soon - and I think the database would make an acceptible and adaptbible solution.

Making alias files is already scripted locally - how difficult would it be to get some more advanced font-recognition into said script?

07 May 2002 12:55 wettoad

What really irritates me about fonts in X
try installing a true type font that is very cryptic and hard to read, for instance a cursive font, with a name like "123..." Now start anyone of a plethora of prorgrams, my favorite being Xemacs, and you get this font on the program and you cant read anything or do anything

Someone please fix this

21 Jul 2002 22:58 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.

03 Sep 2002 11:58 raettchen3

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

www.gesindel.de

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.

24 Oct 2002 18:43 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.

27 Jun 2003 03:00 mark_t

Re: Make a font book

> There's a solution:
>
> www.gesindel.de
>
> 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.

cheers.

19 Jul 2004 04:15 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.

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