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An open letter to John Warnock
August 30, 2006 10:11 PM   Subscribe

An open letter to John Warnock. "Please consider releasing eight to twelve core fonts into the public domain. The amount of revenue lost from a small core set of fonts surely can’t have a significant impact on Adobe’s bottom line."
posted by DrJohnEvans (53 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suspect he's attacking the wrong problem - why would MS and Apple agree to standardised fonts now, if they never have in the past? The fonts they include with their operating systems are licensed, not free. Since they are already paying for the fonts they include, then it is clearly not the price of fonts that is preventing a core set in common.
(My guess is that marketers are using fonts as anaother way of "differentiating" their product, but I wouldn't really know)

That said, well, if that's what's important to this guy, by all means let him pursue it. If he succeeds, I'll buy him a beer, and give myself a slap on the wrist for being part of the problem.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:26 PM on August 30, 2006


I thought that typefaces weren't protected by any kind of IP law, but that the names of the fonts could be trademarked. So one could duplicate a font exactly and rename it something else, legally, which is why we have so many look-alikes out there. If this is the case, why does any type foundry need to release anything into the public domain?
posted by solid-one-love at 10:28 PM on August 30, 2006


solid-one-love, fonts are protected, just very poorly. A company with a lot of resources, like Adobe, can still sue someone enough to hurt. That’s why fonts are still for sale at all.
posted by vruba at 10:32 PM on August 30, 2006


I think it's a great idea, but the list of fonts he chose are likely Adobe Type's cash cows. Everyone I knew in college design classes coveted (and pirated) the entire Adobe Type Library just to get those core fonts. I still to this day set stuff in one of those fonts more often than any other face.

It's like asking Microsoft to make Excel and Word for free, since everyone uses them and likes them.
posted by mathowie at 11:07 PM on August 30, 2006


If specific fonts are so important to communication, what is it we're doing now? Information doesn't care what font it is displayed in, so long as it is legible in the medium in which it appears.

I have no idea what font I am seeing here and now, but I find it decent enough. What's the problem? I can read it easily. All other considerations seem, to me, to be centered on things like market appeal, which is commercial baloney unrelated to the information.

Can anyone explain this to a non-designer, without resorting to a pile of steaming snark?
posted by Goofyy at 11:41 PM on August 30, 2006


The common "free" fonts installed in Windows, Office, and OS X tend to become overused and abused to the point of nausea. To release some of Adobe's best, high-quality faces for free would ruin them for the next generation of designers.

I like the idea of creating new full-featured fonts and releasing them for free or as open-source. Gentium is an example of an attempt, but it needs to be finished off with all of the characters you'd normally find in Adobe's "Pro" series fonts.
posted by D.C. at 11:58 PM on August 30, 2006


What's the problem? I can read it easily.

Yes, you can, which is precisely the point of Verdana: it's a well-proportioned screen font. A world-renowned typesetter devoted months of thought and deliberation to its design. The result is: it looks decent, and you don't notice anything wrong with it.

Pretty and unreadable are but two values on the long gradient of usability. As it is right now, there are just a few decent fonts that can be used to display information on the web. True, we could be content with our current limited resources; they will, after all, get the job done. Designers, however, look to continually improve the way we perceive information--and are happiest when you find what you need without ever realizing that they played an essential role in guiding your way.
posted by deadfather at 12:16 AM on August 31, 2006


"I thought that typefaces weren't protected by any kind of IP law, but that the names of the fonts could be trademarked. So one could duplicate a font exactly and rename it something else, legally, which is why we have so many look-alikes out there. If this is the case, why does any type foundry need to release anything into the public domain?"

Correct on both points. However (3rd aspect of this), the implementation of a font in a truetype file, or a whatever-the-other-one-is file (there are 2 main types), is considered software for IP purposes and is copyrightable.

@Goofyy: Some people care more than others about fonts. Much more. Look around enough and you'll find people lamenting how Arial is such a terrible imitation of Helvetica or Geneva or whichever one it is an imitation of (it is so similar that most people have to look hard for any differences); and bemoaning the fact that they can't make their web pages look perfect because there's no assurance that users will have the right fonts installed; etc..

Well, I guess that did come out rather snarky but it's hard for me to avoid it. Trying for a more neutral take on it now: As a web author, all one can be confident that users have installed are generic types of fonts - monospace, serif and sans-serif. It's generally safe to call on a few by name, but they differ from Mac to Windows to Linux. The best are the Microsoft TrueType core fonts, including Courier New, Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana and Georgia, and a corresponding set on the Apple side. But these are all proprietary.

(I have some preferences but they're simple and against the trends - Courier and Times New Roman, please!)

What would be a more important benefit for communication would be liberating the bytecode hinting patent which Apple holds. This would enable Linux fonts to look as good as those on Apple or Windows, without the horrible kludge of anti-aliasing.
posted by jam_pony at 1:18 AM on August 31, 2006


What would be a more important benefit for communication would be liberating the bytecode hinting patent which Apple holds. This would enable Linux fonts to look as good as those on Apple or Windows, without the horrible kludge of anti-aliasing.

# apt-get msttcorefonts
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:06 AM on August 31, 2006


Font's can be copyrighted, so what's the point? He can design some lookalikes if he wants too, and give those away for free. In fact, those fonts look very similar to other fonts I've seen around.
posted by delmoi at 2:58 AM on August 31, 2006


solid-one-love, fonts are protected, just very poorly. A company with a lot of resources, like Adobe, can still sue someone enough to hurt. That’s why fonts are still for sale at all.

The names and the actual binary data that makes up the font file are protected, but the actual data itself is not protected.

Also arn't verdana and some of the other microsoft fonts open?
posted by delmoi at 3:00 AM on August 31, 2006


Because, delmoi, he has to get Apple and Microsoft on board to ship those fonts as well. Basically, there are only about six fonts you can use on the web and have a good chance of them being on a client's computer.

Imagine your Word font menu only had six fonts in it. Restrictions can be great for creativity -- look at all the webpages out there -- but sometimes it'd be nice just to have something different.

One of the big drawbacks of Apple Aperture's webpages is that they ignore this and use Mac-only fonts, so your gallery looks great on a Mac and a shitty helvetica mess on a PC. Universal fonts would get round that problem.
posted by bonaldi at 5:06 AM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think the families/estates of Gill, Frutiger, Miedinger, Renner and others might have something to say about this.
posted by scruss at 5:09 AM on August 31, 2006


Yup. Adobe itself licenses many of those fonts from Heidelberger, Monotype, etc.
posted by dmo at 5:22 AM on August 31, 2006


Speaking as a designer, this sounds like the certain something that seems to inflick all designers from time to time: The desire to remake the world in their imeage.

This isn't a bad desire, a lot of good things have come of it. But having core fonts on the web? Is he insane? Most peole will never recognize the subtle differences and even less will care. Plus this is totally against the idea of the web, which doesn't care what fonts you have installed.

Plus, if all these fonts were defaults, designers would soon tire of "them" and be asking for NEW default fonts to get rid of that drag looking and overused Franklin Gothic and Caslon Pro.

The only thing that designers should be worried about on the web is getting CSS to be a complete standard, where no browser can survive without implementing it fully. And improving CSS, so it gets better (I can't wait for multi column support).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 AM on August 31, 2006


Brandon, the web already has core fonts. The point of this is to expand that set. The web very much cares what fonts you have installed, it just falls back on "serif" or "sans serif" when it can't find the specified ones. Which makes pages look shittier than they need to, and designers despair.
posted by bonaldi at 6:16 AM on August 31, 2006


I knew Andrei tangentially, as he was a UI designed for PhotoShop and consulted with other groups as well. His words have a better chance of being heard by Warnock, but from a bottom line point of view are not likely to happen.

The business model of fonts at Adobe has traditionally been one of making them decently priced and easy to buy. This really started with the Type On Call program in the pre-web world. This was a highly successful source of revenue and if the web purchasing works better, I can't imagine them giving it up, even for those fonts.

Ironically enough, while I was there it was dang hard for anyone in engineering to get their hands on anything but the "LaserWriter 13" fonts. I always thought the LaserWriter 13 should've been an extremist political group, not a set of pedestrian fonts.
posted by plinth at 7:12 AM on August 31, 2006


Brandon, the web already has core fonts.

Good point, which I clearly had forgotten. I still think it's a poor idea and that CSS should be the focus.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:28 AM on August 31, 2006


One of the big drawbacks of Apple Aperture's webpages is that they ignore this and use Mac-only fonts, so your gallery looks great on a Mac and a shitty helvetica mess on a PC. Universal fonts would get round that problem.

Duh, so would fixing that bug in aperture. I mean, we should re-architect the web to fix one application?

Microsoft is actually releasing new core fonts every once in a while, as far as I know. If this guy really cared he could just come up with his own, make it public domain and try to get it installed on a lot of computers. It's not like the font's he's asking for are super origional.
posted by delmoi at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2006


You'd think a guy who cares so much about communicating would design a web site that is page scrollable with a wheel.
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 AM on August 31, 2006


Making your shit look good isn't really a bug, delmoi. There's no call to "re-architect the web", just one to increase the number of fonts that are reliably available.
posted by bonaldi at 7:51 AM on August 31, 2006


Simply creating a new package of core typefaces will only treat the symptoms, not cure the disease: the universally poor handling of type on the web. The Flash-based text replacement methods that are near-universally hated amongst certain crowds are used because they represent the cutting edge of typography on the web today8212;a sad affair considering how little people like the method and how inflexible it is to use. But then I won't be satisfied until text rendering on the web gets to InDesign/PDF quality, and I doubt that'll happen any time soon.
posted by chrominance at 8:23 AM on August 31, 2006


P.S. what, we can't use em dashes on Metafilter anymore? What did the HTML entity #8212 ever do to you?
posted by chrominance at 8:25 AM on August 31, 2006


This is a nice thought but IMHO misguided. Clearly the history of typography is rich & varied, and the advances in graphic technology (especially with Adobe's contributions) of the last 20 years have turned the world of design around, I agree with that much. However, when it comes to mass distribution of the files which allow browsers to display specific typefaces, releasing fonts into the public domain makes very little difference to the casual browser user. Case in point: there are many many high-quality public domain faces which have been painstakingly designed for legibility etc. such as Bitstream Vera, Gentium, and a few others from this fine list. Yet, designers cannot depend on having these available on a client machine and therefore must utilize "fallbacks" a la font: Gentium, Georgia, serif. The nature of the browser i.e., total user customizability prevents this.

The typical approach for the designer has been to create either image files of the graphics for display purposes, and more recently to use Flash SIFR to push the fonts you want to display to the client. But when it comes to text fonts, you are limited to whatever Microsoft has included with it's off-the-shelf installation of Windows. The so-called "core" fonts simply originated with the default installation of Windows 98, and the other operating systems followed along. Mac OSX includes a wider range of fonts with its default install (Didot for example) but without the blessing of the leading OS maker, these fonts will never be available for use in CSS or FONT tags.

Designers simply need to adapt to the tools that are available and quit whining.
posted by greensweater at 8:30 AM on August 31, 2006


"Free electricity for everyone!" - Meatball Fulton
posted by ZachsMind at 8:32 AM on August 31, 2006


Who needs Adobe's typefaces when these fonts are already free for the taking?
posted by Iridic at 8:34 AM on August 31, 2006


JESUS CHRIST. Is anybody understanding this? YES THERE ARE FREE FONTS. They DON'T MATTER. Greensweater: you come really close to the point then zoom past it.

What they're trying to do is get Adobe to give away some fonts for free so that both Microsoft and Apple will include them with their OSs.

This will increase the amount of default fonts available.

This will mean designers can rely on most people having them.

They'll use them.

The web will look a bit better.
posted by bonaldi at 8:38 AM on August 31, 2006


and chrominance: yes, some sort of embedded fonts that could be sent for the browser to render the page with would be great. But the font firms would go nuts. So you still need high quality free ones. This would be a step towards that.
posted by bonaldi at 8:48 AM on August 31, 2006


we tried that embedded fonts thing, it was annoying and foundries eventually hated it.
posted by perianwyr at 9:22 AM on August 31, 2006


I really don't follow. Why do we need more fonts? The ones we have aren't legible? What's the big deal?
posted by ZachsMind at 9:26 AM on August 31, 2006


[mmmppphhh] Zachsmind: there are only about four or five fonts you can count on almost every computer having -- the ones given away with Internet Explorer in the old days. Georgia, Verdana, etc.

If you use others in your webpages, they'll be replaced at the other end, and won't look as the designer intended. Plus, those same five are getting really tired.
posted by bonaldi at 9:27 AM on August 31, 2006


Zachsmind: You're right. All the good fonts have been designed already.

Also, all the good songs have been sung, the best movies have all been made, and all the best paintings already exist. So why make any new ones?
posted by O9scar at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2006


yes, some sort of embedded fonts that could be sent for the browser to render the page with would be great. But the font firms would go nuts.

I know, and that's why it won't happen for a while, like I said. But note that a) foundries obviously have no problems with their typefaces being used in print work without express permission, as presumably that's covered under the initial license, and b) similarly there appears to be no kerfuffle about the way PDFs handle embedded typefaces. Of course, then we get into the nasty business of DRM, and my desire to use Gill Sans and Avenir on a webpage clashes with my desire for a DRM-free world. C'est la vie.
posted by chrominance at 9:50 AM on August 31, 2006


Chrominance: foundries have a *big* problem with that. You're not allowed to send fonts. PDFs are allowed because you can't extract a usable font.
posted by bonaldi at 9:58 AM on August 31, 2006


bonaldi - pssst - yes you can, as long as the font subset in the document matches the subset you need.
posted by plinth at 10:14 AM on August 31, 2006


Thank you bonaldi for trying to knock some sense into this thread. I'm slightly shocked by how many folks here are against releasing these faces into the public domain. This is MetaFilter right? I thought we wanted our big corporations to release their works to the public domain?

To reprise, Herasimchuk is suggestion two things, one -- that Adobe release a handful of fonts into the public domain; two -- that Apple and Microsoft package those fonts with their OSes. Then webdesigners can reliably use those fonts in their designs.

Many people are making lovely faces and giving them away. That is entirely beside the point. We have some web-tech that is currently able to 'push' fonts on a browser (using imgs or flash or pdf), but that too is beside the point that Herasimchuk is trying to make.

I'm really not understanding a lot of the attitudes here. Herasimchuk is asking Adobe to plant some flowers in the commons. Why wouldn't anyone want a slightly more beautiful internet?
posted by verysleeping at 10:37 AM on August 31, 2006


bonaldi writes "JESUS CHRIST. Is anybody understanding this? YES THERE ARE FREE FONTS. They DON'T MATTER. Greensweater: you come really close to the point then zoom past it. "
bonaldi writes "What they're trying to do is get Adobe to give away some fonts for free so that both Microsoft and Apple will include them with their OSs. "

Why get Adobe involved at all? Why don't the free fonts matter? It would seem that if we can adhoc a complete and free operating system we should be able to design an acceptable font. The real problem isn't getting Adobe to release these fonts but getting Microsoft, Apple, and assorted flavours of Unix to include them in their default font libraries.

bonaldi writes "If you use others in your webpages, they'll be replaced at the other end, and won't look as the designer intended. "

I don't really see a problem with this. People who care about the asthetic look of the page can aquire the fonts and those who don't can see a nice clean page in the font of their choice.
posted by Mitheral at 10:44 AM on August 31, 2006


Why get Adobe involved at all? Why don't the free fonts matter?
Because they have the best fonts, and the cuttings suggested are popular and of excellent quality.

It would seem that if we can adhoc a complete and free operating system we should be able to design an acceptable font.
Yeh, a font that looked like Linux would be great. Ahem.

People who care about the asthetic look of the page can aquire the fonts and those who don't can see a nice clean page in the font of their choice.
People don't care. they don't understand why one page looks groody and the other classy, they just understand that it does.
posted by bonaldi at 10:54 AM on August 31, 2006


bonaldi: I'll ask again - does anyone have any reason to think that MS and Apple are the slightest bit interested in shipping these fonts, regardless of changes in their price? MS and Apple already pay for a set of fonts that includes some excellant faces that are right up there with the best on offer anywhere. (My version of XP included Perpetua, for example). If they wanted their faces to be the same ones as those offered by their competitors, money is not what's stopping them, so why is there an assumption that changing the price of a set of fonts will get them included? This seems like underpants gnomes to me.

Putting the fonts in the public domain would allow them to be standardised on most Linux distros, which would be great. However MS is not in business of making it easier for people to migrate away from windows and on to Linux, so it seems plausible that asking for the fonts to be public domain might even prevent them becoming a standard, rather than encourage it.

If I was adobe, at the very least I'd want it in writing from MS and Apple that the fonts would be made core before giving away all claim to them, forever.

Asking for them to be made free seems to going about it backwards.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2006


(Not that it's not worth at least asking though. Free stuff is nice. I won't stand in the way of this guys crusade :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:13 PM on August 31, 2006


The letter is CCd to Jobs and Ballmer, so I think the author is aware of that.

The reason the two companies would be into this while they're not into say free fonts, or buying each other's fonts (there's no way Apple is going to pay MS for every copy of OS X or vice-versa) is that they are into free value added.

Designers love those fonts, so including them in the OS is a plus. The web thing is an added bonus. And coming from Adobe means you neatly sidestep the politics of which firm's fonts and font type you use.

Hell, even if the OS companies don't play, Adobe could bundle their install with Flash or PDF Reader-- it'd have the same effect on the web. Adobe is key to this idea's success.
posted by bonaldi at 12:35 PM on August 31, 2006


designers should be banished from the web. and they can take thier stupid curly-quotes with them. gimme plain ascii, please.
posted by quonsar at 12:54 PM on August 31, 2006


Is there any reason why I shouldn't be the one who chooses what fonts are being used to show the text that I am going to read?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:18 PM on August 31, 2006


No, no reason whatsoever. If you like doing all the work, feel free.
posted by bonaldi at 8:23 PM on August 31, 2006


It's as easy as going Opera > Preferences > Advanced > Fonts.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:52 PM on August 31, 2006


Is there any reason why I shouldn't be the one who chooses what fonts are being used to show the text that I am going to read?


Because the designer said so, that's why!

This is MetaFilter right? I thought we wanted our big corporations to release their works to the public domain?


You're making a very general statement here and are implying that you expected a different reaction to this idea, which indicates you don't know your audience very well. Just saying.

And as someone else pointed out up thread, this is just a band-aid solution. If this is implemented, then 2 years from now, designers will be bemoaning the state of web fonts, with that horrible Franklin Gothic and Calson Pro.

Finally, it's nice that the original article liked that idea of giving away something for free that it didn't create. The arrogance of deciding that the amount of income loss isn't that much to Adobe is astounding. Why should Adobe have to lose any money, no matter how small it is?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:59 PM on August 31, 2006


It's as easy as going Opera > Preferences > Advanced > Fonts.
That's right. And because anyone can change the fonts, that means we all should have to do it? Take that 3 seconds and multiply it by the millions of web users. That's the amount of time we need to spend to make the web look good. Is it worth it to humanity? As compared to the short amount of time to specify an attractive font that 90% of browsers will like first.

Why should Adobe have to lose any money, no matter how small it is?
Because that's what giving shit away implies, my capitalist friend. Like charity, and donations for the public good.

As for it being a band-aid ... things aren't going too terribly with just four fonts. Raising that limit to 16 would be a pretty huge expansion of the web designers' scope. And there's nothing better on the horizon, is there?
posted by bonaldi at 3:19 AM on September 1, 2006


i dream of an all Courier New web. without curly-quotes.
posted by quonsar at 5:56 AM on September 1, 2006


Why should Adobe have to lose any money, no matter how small it is?

"In marketing, a loss leader is an item that is sold below cost in an effort to stimulate other profitable sales."
posted by kirkaracha at 6:41 AM on September 1, 2006


That's right. And because anyone can change the fonts, that means we all should have to do it? Take that 3 seconds and multiply it by the millions of web users. That's the amount of time we need to spend to make the web look good. Is it worth it to humanity? As compared to the short amount of time to specify an attractive font that 90% of browsers will like first.

[blink]

Sorry, what? All the browsers choose a default set of fonts anyway. All of them could be a bit more intelligent about it: when they're installing, they should check for the core web fonts before settling on the standard Times/Arial/Courier set. The user wouldn't have to worry about changing the fonts and the web designers could quit dicking around with typography and get on with other work.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:42 AM on September 1, 2006


That's not how it works at all, fff. The page designer specifies a specific font, like Georgia. The standard browser preferences only matter when a page specifies something like "serif".

The installation process has fuck-all to do with this. You can specify Zapfino as a page font today if you like, but it'll will only display properly on Mac OS X.

Designers are limited in the fonts they can choose because of the few fonts available on both Mac and Windows. And "dicking about with typography" is part of being a designer.
posted by bonaldi at 9:20 AM on September 1, 2006


bonaldi writes "That's not how it works at all, fff. The page designer specifies a specific font, like Georgia. The standard browser preferences only matter when a page specifies something like 'serif'. "

Actually I often setup my browsers to ignore web site fonts (and colour schemes, I hate when sites mess with the visited link colour or specify white or yellow text on a black background) and use what I specify.
posted by Mitheral at 10:28 AM on September 1, 2006


I actually though that's what FFF was referring to when he said about choosing your own fonts. And that's fine for people who want to do that, but nothing about expanding the core font set prevents it.
posted by bonaldi at 10:37 AM on September 1, 2006


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