Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Anybody else frustrated with the state of fonts in Linux today?

It seems there are two distinct issues: the availability of high quality fonts under Free licenses, and the infrastructure for installing, managing and accessing those fonts.

There has been some progress on both fronts. Bitstream’s Vera, and the new Liberation font work (kudos to Red Hat for driving that effort) are steps to provide us with a clean, crisp set of high quality fonts with good hinting that can be installed by default. There is also good work being done by, amongst others, SIL International on a free font license framework, and fonts to go with it. I hope the community can build on these efforts to expand the font coverage to the full Unicode glyphset, preserving their essential character and metrics.

The second problem, the infrastructure and API’s to manage fonts on Linux systems, is more complicated. Here’s a mail to the ubuntu-devel list describing the situation and calling for leadership from the community in helping to address it.

We need a clean, clear way of:

  1. Packaging fonts, and knowing which packages to install to get which fonts.
  2. Cataloguing fonts, and allowing people to manage the fonts that are immediately accessible to them or loaded by default, everywhere.
  3. Making all of this sane in a world where you MIGHT want to read a document in Korean using a French desktop. In other words, where there need to be a lot of fonts available, even if most of those fonts are not used all the time.

Most of the long list of fonts I see in OpenOffice are lost on me, I don’t know when I would choose any of them.

Sounds like a mess, but then again it also sounds like the sort of Gordian knot that the flaming sword of free software can slice straight through, given strong leadership and a forum for the work. Who will step up?

64 Responses to “Font-ification”

  1. weblog » Blog Archive » links for 2007-06-07 Says:

    […] Mark Shuttleworth » Font-ification Mark Shuttleworth is looking for a few good FLOSS leaders to help with improving fonts and fonts management on free platforms. (tags: fonts linux floss) […]

  2. Zaine Ridling Says:

    Robert Scoble recently noted this weakness, too, and a good discussion follows:

  3. cosmix Says:

    While I agree on practically everything you’ve written on this post, I don’t think Ubuntu has done enough to remedy the situation. Let me explain myself: Contrary to the most other major players promoting linux in the industry, Ubuntu (and Canonical) have a vested interest to improve the situation with fonts and typography on linux, as its goal is ubiquity, a high quality linux solution for every need, not just the enterprise desktop. In this light, Ubuntu has done very little (if anything) to promote font handling, font support and font provision for the linux desktop.

    First of all, the provision of some high quality fonts (including non-roman) should become standard for all Ubuntu installations. This would create a healthy foundation for high-quality Linux typography upon which additional OFL or other free fonts can be added as they become available. Ubuntu should make it a priority to ship with quality Unicode fonts.

    High quality support for font-management (both at the development and end-user level) within the main platform environments is of critical importance: Both KDE and Gnome suffer tremendously from poor font-handling APIs and end-user utilities. Again, Ubuntu has not done much to improve this to date: I was very surprised to find out that the current version of Ubuntu (7.04) shipped with a broken pango library that mishandles ‘unconventionally’ named variants of some (typically commercial) fonts (such as Adobe’s Myriad Pro). Linux may lack the application base to support the professional needs of designers, yet, even if it did have enough applications to lure experienced amateurs or professionals away from their beloved (?) Macs and Windows machines, the fact that they wouldn’t be able to use their professional typefaces would probably be enough of a reason to keep ignoring the platform.

    The issues surrounding typography are many and I understand it will be difficult to solve straight away. Fonts are typically quite expensive and difficult to design (at least to acceptable standards) and their management depends on multiple subsystems of a system requiring proper coordination between authors of numerous libraries. Still, I believe that, contrary to Novell and Redhat (as some of the major vendors/communities supporting development of Linux solutions), Ubuntu/Canonical is in a unique position to significantly improve the situation for millions of Linux users and remove some of the main obstacles that make state of the art typography on linux highly improbable for the foreseeable future.

    In my opinion, Canonical should act in two ways: First, it should prioritise support for typography at the library level (see launchpad for the pango bug I mentioned earlier) and support the development/improvement of existing rendering libraries as well as font-management utilities that will enable world-class control of font installation, (de-)activation and use. Then it should attempt to ensure the provision of high-quality fonts for free in future Ubuntu releases. One way would probably be to actively engage with other vendors and font houses to ‘liberate’ a number of fonts (incl. some Unicode fonts) for inclusion in future Ubuntu (and other linux) distributions. Another would be to actually acquire the rights for some fonts, in the same way Apple or Microsoft have done in the past. Finally, Canonical could support the TUG DevFund in order to sponsor the design/development of new free fonts by the community.

    I’m happy that you seem to agree with me on the importance of good typography on linux and I am eager to see how future Ubuntu releases will improve upon what we’ve got today.

  4. Ray Privett Says:

    FreeSans, FreeSerif, and FreeMono are similar and, to my mind, better. However, the licensing seems a bit complicated. Unlike the Liberation fonts, these might be licensed without an exception, so that any document you write with them becomes GPL.

    I have been trying to sort this out by analyzing these pages, but am unsure about the status.

    To me, these are much more elegant than the Liberation fonts. However, the licensing issue is a big deal.

  5. Ray Privett Says:

    Wow, that was fast.

    A message from the Free Software Foundation is below.

    FreeSans, FreeSerif, FreeMono have the same font exception as the Liberation fonts.


    Dear Ray,

    Thank you for your question about the Free UCS Outline Fonts.

    These fonts are licensed with the font exception, and so you are not
    required to GPL your document merely because it uses these fonts.

    The exact terms for these fonts are available in the README file which
    is distributed with the font files; I checked against
    but any release of these fonts since about 2002 should contain the same



  6. Says:

    Mark Shuttleworth habla del estado de los fonts en linux…

    Mark Shuttleworth habla de las fonts en linux, licencias, problemas y demás…

  7. John Drinkwater Says:

    Have you bumped into this article on Windows, Mac, & Linux font rasterisation yet?

  8. Greg Says:

    John Drinkwater:

    Thanks for the link to the font article on antigrain. Some really wonderful stuff in there. One thing I noticed that he did not address perhaps due to just unfamiliarity with the latest freetype advances:

    As is often the case in free software projects, it seems patents, politics, and organization issues are involved. Getting top notch LCD filtering, auto-kerning, and fonts with proper (ie MS web fonts) metrics into the various libs/distros is very difficult. The new Liberation fonts from redhat/ascender are a step in getting proper metrics in fonts. More work is needed to get them properly hinted (they look decent with the autohinter).

    Oh and another link:

    Deals with getting the good filtering into feisty.

  9. Endolith Says:

    During your reorganization, don’t forget about GNOME’s meaningless font sizes:

  10. Henry Hollenberg Says:

    Nice Article. I have been working thru an ubuntu/OpenOffice font issue with several hundred documents my wife has created in OpenOffice 1.0.3 that are now
    “broken” due to missing fonts and layout issues in Ubuntu 7.04 / OpenOffice 2.2. I am working through these issues with Canonical (Ubuntu) support. From
    a users perspective what I would like to see is a HOWTO that explains “how to” not get snake bit. Most of the tutorials I have run across are geared toward installing
    and using lots and lots of fonts or various licensing. How about just one. One with very specific criteria:

    1) Free/OpenSource.
    2) High Quality-Proportional/Outline fonts that work well with: X, PS, PDF, Gnome, KDE, Mozilla, OpenOffice and mainline (PS) printers.
    3) Finally, and probably most important, fonts that are guaranteed by OpenOffice/Ubuntu/Linux/OpenSource to be:
    a) available
    b) installed
    c) seamless/transparent (mainline apps above know about them) to the user FOREVER!

    Note the Forever part. I assumed this would already be covered with all the articles I read about OpenOffice being
    adopted by goverment offices of various nations for official documents. It would seem to me to be important that
    these documents be “rendered” on screen or paper the same way they were created over long periods of time, ie
    10’s to 100’s of years. Pulling up a set of documents that you put alot of work into several years back using the same
    word processor just to find they have been electronically scrambled is MADDENING!

    So a list of “SAFE” fonts or “GUARANTEED” fonts would that meet the above criteria would be one feature I would be
    keenly interested in as a user. If you stick to these fonts your documents would have a degree of “immortality”. If you
    stray off this beaten path into the “font forrest”, let the buyer beware! If you are not creating a disposable document you
    may be very unhappy with the results. If not today, certainly down the road when you need to quickly print a few 100
    flyers, forms, posters…..for that rally, club meeting or business proposal.

    Personally I would be quite pleased with any such list and an explanation of it’s use even if it contained only a single font.
    Of course we could always add another once we got the first one right.

    just my 2 cents. Henry Hollenberg

  11. Stu M. Says:

    I have a question.
    Why are fonts so damn hard to install in Ubuntu?
    Even when logged in as root, it is the system will not let one cut and paste files into the fonts folder! This seems really silly and somewhat corrupt, as the whole point of linux is to be able to do whatever one wants with it. It seems rather strange that one cannot directly modify the fonts folder without running a bunch of obscure commands in the terminal. This is silly. The average user is not going to want to do that! I am an art student. I am not a left-brained person who takes to writing command line code. I like a visual interface because I am a visual person. I need more fonts for the work I do, but cannot install them as of yet, because my sytem won’t let me paste them into the folder!!! This is infuriating! It’s MY computer! Why should I not be able to mess with it as a Root User?? I have some good fonts to install too!!!
    Anybody know of a SIMPLE solution to this (like disabling the “safety” feature)?
    Thanks in advance!

  12. Suchawato Says:

    The funfonts pack is nice.
    I use those all the time.
    It’s got a lot of neat fonts for all kinds of uses.
    I did have to do some looking to find this pack though, it would be nice if it were easier to locate, and install in various distro’s.
    Maybe a website that included a section for linux-able fonts that were not necessarily available under the GPL but were an option non-theless.
    this could be an easy source site for distro vendors to get the up-to-date font information for their distro.
    The main question I have is why these aren’t available as part of Open Office? It seems a little odd to me that there wouldn’t be an easy link/feature/part-of-the-package option as a standard feature. As Mark said, the standard fonts are not really all that impressive.
    As far as Ubuntu is concerned, I suppose a step in the direction of ease of use would be to make packages like Funfonts available in the repositories.

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    […] o próprio Shutleworth em pessoa publicou em seu blog um artigo destacando os problemas que enfrentamos com o gerenciamento de fonts nos sistemas GNU/Linux atuais […]

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