Font Wars

Web site developers would like their pages to look the same for all viewers. That is a difficult task when different browsers handle the page content differently. This is especially true of fonts (the style and appearance of letters and special characters). When a browser does not support the specified font it replaces it with another font. Even the same font style and size is displayed differently on different operating systems (e.g. Windows and Macintosh).

Fonts are included in a computer's operating system. Users can add more fonts by purchasing or obtaining free fonts on the web. Beginning with Netscape Navigator v. 4.0 and Microsoft Internet Explorer v. 4.0, fonts can be cached (downloaded with a web page to the user's temporary storage, where it can be used by all web pages). Microsoft calls this 'embedding' and Netscape uses the term 'dynamic fonts'.

There are many different formats for storing fonts. There are three basic forms of embedded fonts: TrueDoc, TrueType and OpenType.

TrueDoc was developed by Bitstream and was supported by Netscape. The font is defined in a Portable Font Resource (.PFR) file as an outline of the characters. In Netscape Explorer, preferences must be set to 'Use document specified fonts, including dynamic fonts' for dynamic fonts to be displayed, unless the same font is already available on the user's PC. The WebFont Player allows TrueDoc dynamic fonts to also be used in Internet Explorer. Current versions of Netscape, Firefox and Internet Explorer cannot support TrueDoc. TrueDoc lost the Font Wars!

TrueType was created by Apple Computer and is supported by Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It is also the standard for Microsoft Windows. TrueType fonts are stored as a mathematical representation of the lines forming the outline of the characters in TrueType Font files (.TTF).

A third form, OpenType, was jointly developed by Microsoft and Adobe. It is an extension of TrueType and is used in Windows 2000. Open Type supports TrueType and Adobe's Type 1 fonts. OpenType fonts are stored in Embeddable Open Type (.EOT) files.

ClearType font technology was developed by Microsoft to improve readability on LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays). It was first used in 2000.

Fonts used in printing often do not show up well on the web, especially in the smaller font sizes. Microsoft hired Matthew Carter (co-founder of Bitmap) to design the Verdana and Georgia font families for easy reading on the internet. Microsoft's Truetype Core Fonts are no longer available from Microsoft.

Security can be included in font formats. Different font formats offer varying levels of security. The purpose of this security is to protect the font's creator from font theft.

Glossary of font terms:

  • Anti-aliasing - blurring edges to compensate for jagged edges in enlarged bitmap images. Microsoft calls this 'font smoothing'.
  • Font - an assortment of type which is all one size and style
  • Glyph - the representation of a font character. Sometimes 2 letters are combined in one glyph as in a ligature (see below). If a glyph is missing for a specified character, the character will be displayed as an open box.
  • Kerning - adding or removing space between characters
  • Ligature - letters which are often joined together in printed type eg. fl, ff
  • Rasterizer - Software program that interprets font formats and generates a bitmap of the font.
  • Serif - short line added at the end of a stroke which forms a letter
  • Typography - the style or arrangement of type (letters and special characters)

In HTML fonts are specified in the Font tag or in style sheets.

For more information and collections of fonts visit the following sites.

Fonts & Things - Collection of freeware and shareware TrueType fonts and utilities.

Fontpool - Collection of over 45,000 categorized True Type Fonts

Frequently Asked Questions about Fonts - Compendium of information about fonts. Unfortunately it has not been updated since 1996.

Microsoft Typography - Free OpenType, TrueType and ClearType fonts and utilities. Also information for developers and links to other font sites.

My Fonts - World's largest font collection. Identify fonts you've seen at WhatTheFont.

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