The argument for free fonts

The argument for free fonts

Summary: Bring up free fonts around typeface designers, and you'll probably get an earful about the relative quality of free and open source designs against the professionally designed fonts. Mark Pilgrim, over on Dive into Mark gives an earful back.


Bring up free fonts around typeface designers, and you'll probably get an earful about the relative quality of free and open source designs against the professionally designed fonts. Mark Pilgrim, over on Dive into Mark gives an earful back.

The context here is a discussion of using dynamic Web fonts (a typeface, to be more accurate) in site design, where the publishers are insisting that applications (like the Web browser you're using right now) be upgraded to allow for a permission table that can allow (or deny) you to use a specific font.

Back to the quality issue. When you bring up open source fonts, professional designers will tell you how horrible they are, how they're not well-designed, they lack full support for all characters, etc. Much of this, unfortunately, is true. Pilgrim concedes the quality issue, but points out the major disadvantage to professionally designed (and proprietary) fonts -- because of licensing, we can't use them.

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.

Pilgrim gets a wee bit worked up about this, but he's right: Proprietary fonts are a problem for designers as well as free software projects.

The openSUSE community has run into this on several fronts. We used to ship Agfa fonts with openSUSE, but they had a restrictive license and had to go out the door when we reworked our distribution license. Instead, we're using the Liberation fonts now for openSUSE.

Our "official" font for marketing materials and the like is Cholla, but that's a proprietary font as well -- meaning that if we want the community to be able to create artwork to promote the project, they have to have a copy of Cholla or they won't be able to replicate the "official" look and feel. (Which is why Jakub Steiner started the Fifth Leg font, which is meant to be a drop-in replacement at some point for Cholla.)

It's a roadblock, but one the community will eventually work around. As Pilgrim says, "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."

Topic: Operating Systems

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  • Microsoft True Type core fonts

    One of the first things I do after installing a Linux distro, is installing the msttcorefonts.

    Non-free, OK, but good stuff you can't very well do without. Yet, anyway. Sorry, but that's how it is. In real life, ideology aside.

    Tip: (I know you don't need this info, Joe, but this may be interesting for other readers....) An alternative is creating a hidden sub-map in your personal map, called .fonts, and copying all fonts from your Windows installation into it. They are in Windows/System/Fonts or thereabouts (look for .ttf files).

    You have paid for them anyway, when you bought your Windows license. So you might as well use them in a *better* operating system. :-)
    • The world would be better without Comic Sans and Papyrus.[nt]

      • Word...

        I am so sick of Papyrus being used for something that has nothing to do with ancient egyptian or hebrew, etc.

        It's a novelty font based on egyptian writing, and not appropriate for your upscale subdivision.

        And TRAJAN PRO does NOT need to be on every movie poster! I saw the most appropriate use of Trajan Pro the other day... on a History channel documentary ON TRAJAN.
    • Public Domain

      The MS TT Core Fonts are in the Public Domain--I use Tahoma, Verdana, and Courier New with Subpixel hinting and 96dpi and driven by Nvidia, you wind up having the clearest font.

      My eyes can't take the stock fonts in SUSE, Ubuntu.

      If you can't find a set of TT fonts go over to the excellent SUSE build service and download:

      Twitter @dtschmitz
      • Agreed... Ubuntu stock fonts are awful! Commercial fonts not going away.

        That's one of the things that put me off using Ubuntu. I'm probably going to wait for 10.04 LTS now before trying it again - might install some of my new commercial fonts when I do, and fiddle around with the settings to make them the OS defaults for display.
        I just discovered commercial fonts... The Helveticas. Would you believe that my invoices get paid quicker when I print them smartly in Neue Helvetica rather than any of the free fonts out there? It sounds like I'm making it up, doesn't it? For some reason, people take my invoices more seriously, maybe they look more professional and subconsciously more convincing.
        Bottom line - we may use letters a LOT, but that doesn't make them inherently easy to make, especially when there are thousands of letters and glyphs. It's early Degree-level mathematics - not stuff for monkey-coders to be messing about with. Someone with experience and intelligence has to do it.

        Unless some philanthropic millionaire stars employing the best typeface designers and giving their work away free, commercial fonts aren't going to go away...
  • Liberation font

    I would like to promote the use of the Liberation fonts from Red Hat, I use those all the time under linux. They're free and very professional. There's 1 fixed font, 1 sans serif-like font, and 1 arial-like font, so it covers all my needs, and replaces easily the default fonts from Ubuntu.

    I'm also designing a hardware product where I might use these instead of paying for fonts that look as professional.
    • Package name: ttf-liberation

      Try it out!
  • And you believe this ... why?

    Interesting claim you so glibly make, that "the community will
    eventually work around" the free-font problem. I assume this
    means the community will eventually come up with fonts
    presentable enough, complete enough, and free enough to use
    for these purposes, was that your thought? Alternatively,
    perhaps you expect the community eventually to give up on
    looking quite so nice, including quite so many languages and
    miscellaneous glyphs: to lower standards to meet the available

    It seems to me that polish and completeness are unusually
    difficult for communities, and these are exactly the features
    presently missing from the free fonts. It would be great if we
    could find some well-spring of energy to apply, here, but color
    me pessimistic.

    Maybe the Firefox community could set up a "Font Store," with
    fonts in $.99 increments from "free" to "exorbitant," and then
    let the market forces operate directly on the providers.
  • Free media...

    Music deals with digital piracy: new business model - power back in the hands of artists, artists give free music away, make money of shows, merch, and physical collector editions for hardcore fans.

    Newspapers deal with free web news: sell adverts... not as lucrative as selling subscriptions and adverts, but to survive in a world where ANYONE can publish specialized news to millions, for free, in the blink of an eye, newspapers are less necessary (unnecessary?)and have to compensate.

    How will typeface designers deal with giving away free fonts? Make money off of selling Helvetica t-shirts? Sell millions of $45 dollar tickets on a FF Meta world tour? Maybe you can have the font for free, but advertising comes with it? Whats the proposed business strategy to keep our type designers in business? We want great typefaces... but they don't grow on trees...

    The other day I was talking about buying Adobe;s font library to my supervisor, and she said, "I just can't fathom the idea of people BUYING fonts." Not being in a creative industry herself, it is typrical of the idea that people have about fonts... people think they JUST ARE... noone made them, no work goes into them... but they are SOFTWARE... you can steal them and not get caught , but you're still a software thief, just as if you stole Halo 3 or Microsoft Office.
    • edtited section

      that bleeped section was "h*rdcore"... not a cuss.