Apple And Microsoft’s ClearType Fonts: A Leading Typographer Asks A Question

Jun 13, 2009

[Note: In Part 1 of my previous post Apple And Microsoft In Talks… it was noted that while Apple does license from Microsoft a handful of basic fonts normally referred to as the “web safe” fonts, it does not license the newer ClearType fonts. And it would be of great benefit to web designers and the web browsing public if they did. In reaction to this, well-known typ­ograph­er David Berlow of The Font Bureau posed a good question on Typophile.
His question is paraphrased here for clarity.]

David Berlow: How would Apple’s licensing of the Microsoft ClearType fonts help web designers?

Richard Fink: Right now, when you specify a font-family using CSS in a web page, you play a game of probabilities. The question being, how prob­able is it that a particular font-family exists on the user’s machine?

In fact, on another thread on Typophile named CSS Font Stacks Article, de­sign­er Frode Hellend has put together a very comprehensive table de­tail­ing these prob­abilities.

Today, web designers can comfortably rely on a handful of “Web Safe” fonts that approach 100% penetration on both Windows and Mac. They can spec­ify these font-families with confidence, knowing that what they design will be pret­ty much what the user sees. These fonts also provide a safety net of “fallback” choices in lengthier “font stacks”. (There is much info on the web a­bout this.)

Apple licenses the “web safe” fonts from Microsoft because having a base­line like this seems to work out as a good thing for all concerned. Apple’s cus­tom­ers certainly benefit.

Licensing the ClearType fonts is just an extension of the idea. The CT fonts are excellent. They are present in the majority of Windows ma­chines and will in­evitably approach 100% propagation among Windows in­stallations as older Windows XP installations without Office 2007, are a­band­oned. (It’s a game of attrition, like waiting for certain browser ver­sions to dis­ap­pear so you can begin to take advantage of newer features — a game that’s become among web designers, the professional pastime.)

With Apple on board, it wouldn’t be long before the ClearType fonts could be counted on by web designers with the same degree of confidence as fonts like Georgia or Tahoma. Result: A more readable web.

I’m not alone in this opinion. Joe Clark posted on the subject four years ago. Joe had it right on the money from the start. IMHO.

Is it that costly for Apple to give us this, I wonder?

Or is support for @font-face in Safari an attempted end-run around it, and EULA’s be damned?

Maybe Mac users will be able to download these fonts for a buck apiece soon, on iTunes.

Memo to Mac users: Demand The ClearType Fonts For The Mac OS!

Richard Fink

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