Jeffrey Zeldman Questions The “EOT Lite” Web Font Format

Jul 19, 2009

Atlanta, Georgia: In a recent blog post about font-maker David Berlow’s pro­posed inclusion of a permissions table within OTF font files, titled Web Fonts Now, For Real, web standards advocate Jeffrey Zeldman posed a question re­garding “EOT Lite”, the hastily named child of EOT (Embedded OpenType), the web font format that is currently supported in Microsoft’s In­tern­et Ex­plor­er browser.

Being pressed for time and eager to begin reporting on the Web Fonts sym­po­sium at TypeCon 2009, I’m tackling the questions as best I can, one at a time, in bite-sized chunks.

The first part of Jeffrey’s question was:

Jeffrey Zeldman: “I (perhaps wrongly) understand EOT Lite to be a form of DRM. Is it not?”

Richard Fink: This is best answered by explaining how EOT Lite came into existence and what it is. Then I’d love to hear your opinion. You won’t need mine.
Last year, Microsoft published the EOT spec and submitted it as a proposal to the W3C. As it then existed, it met with strong objection on two grounds: 1) it bound the EOT file, through rootstrings, to the domain name; 2) it contained MTX compression under patent by Monotype Imaging, licensed by Microsoft for this use.
Now, very recently, Ascender Corp – the company that handles MSFT’s font licensing, asked them if the rootstrings requirement could be removed. On a technical level, nobody knew offhand. Tests were done, and as it turned out – surprise, surprise – the code allowed for “no rootstring”. This meant that EOT files, with support in IE6, IE7, and IE8 could be made without this DRM-like requirement. Dubbed, for better or for worse, “EOT Lite”, these files could be moved around from web server to web server, no rootstrings attached, one might say. The EOT file for a particular font, whether licensed by you or by me, would be the same, whether for Zeldman.com or Readableweb.com. One objection gone.

As for the MTX compression, even though Monotype Imaging has pledged to forgo patent protection and bring MTX either into the public domain or something functionally equivalent, it is still under patent and so, until Monotype makes good on its pledge, it has simply been removed from EOT Lite. Another of the initial objections gone.

[Correction: as it turns out, even the XOR scrambling that was a part of the original EOT can and has now been removed. The following paragraph is obsolete.] What’s left is a TTF file with a little legacy: there’s a simple XOR scrambling which can’t be gotten rid of. Remember, however, the spec is published. Having been revealed, the XOR scrambling is now nothing more than a useless and toothless feature, easily undone by anyone who so desires, a holdover from an era where expectations regarding licensing restrictions were far different from what they are today.
And so, as I see it, an EOT Lite file is nothing more than a TTF file with a different file extension.
Is a file format like this; a format that’s “web-specific” in the sense that it was conceived with compression and sub-setting in mind and therefore cannot (currently) be installed in the operating system, DRM?

Anybody?

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