Web Font Follies

Dec 9, 2010

I freely admit that typographic subtleties like Old-Style Numerals and Swashes don’t send a tickle up my leg. I’m not alone in that. Most web devs wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about those things even if they knew what they were. I asked one web developer if a font with just the Latin-1 characters was okay and he said, “I don’t think so, the site is for a Presbyterian organization.”
And kerning? Don’t get me started… text on the web got by without kerning for fifteen years and all it’s done is grow, grow, grow. Kerning could be bad mojo. Why take chances?

The Web Font Revolution Is Just Beginning

Stephen Coles, formerly of FontShop recently wrote a blog post titled The Webfont Revolution Is Over, Let the Evolution Begin that left me with the feeling that somebody I know needs a good kick in the rebuttal department. Now don’t get me wrong: I liked a lot of what Stephen had to say. And I’ve written similar stuff myself.
But I take issue with a few things. So here goes:

Like Simon Daniels said so prophetically over a year ago, the war (over formats
and security and delivery) is over.

The War Over Formats And Delivery Is Not Over

Microsoft doesn’t support Data URI’s except in its own IE Fourish, boorish way. And Microsoft is, so far, enforcing the DRM embedding bits within TTF files in an attempt to cling to its cake and eat it, too.

“See? We support raw fonts just like the other browsers!”
(Except in the way we don’t.)

Opera, Safari (on Mac and now iPhone and iPad), Firefox, and Chrome all support TTF without enforcing any DRM restrictions. But in IE9 it lurks as a hidden gotcha. It will waste incalculable hours of development time as web authors go around scratching their heads wondering, “Why isn’t the font showing up in IE?” (This happens to me all the time, still. Go download a fresh copy of the open source Liberation fonts from Red Hat and see how the embedding bits are set.)
IE9 will reject those fonts.
And when the web author finds out why, it’s only a kick in Microsoft’s pants, nobody else.

When will the king stop meddling with trifles? Just when, oh when, are we finally going to put to rest the phrase, “Fucking Internet Explorer”?

Things will get better. Display pixel density will improve. Windows users will upgrade, replacing GDI with DirectWrite. But this evolution will be slow, and we can’t do much to speed it up.

The Pace Of Change Will Speed Up, Not Slow Down

Nothing is going to move slowly where e-publishing with HTML5 is concerned. The promise of DirectWrite remains “of the future”. DirectWrite doesn’t get anybody off the hook for doing nothing about the visual quality of fonts and their usefulness to developers now, today. Why not just admit that the type industry – and I include me in that – was caught sleeping and stop making excuses?

Now, if by “evolution” it’s meant that the development and deployment of web fonts from here on in will proceed in a slow, steady, controlled, and measured pace, that will not happen. I know it’s hard to see from where and from whom the answers will come, but they will come. If there is a demand, someone will fill it. And it will be frantic. E-Publishing is about to explode and Flash as a text replacement technique is dead.

Demand comprehensive previews that show fonts in multiple sizes in all the most common rendering environments

Don’t get me started, I said.

Bah, Humbug!  ;)

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