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NEWS, WEB FONTS · November 4, 2009

“Peace Has Broken Out”

That was the tweet at least — a tweet being a Twitter or Twitster writing a headline and delivering it globally at text size, accompanied by a big picture of themselves or something.

But what am I saying — I’m doing it again: Writing a blog. Writing a blog on web fonts. Writing a blog on web fonts for an audience so mixed that I have a choice of confusing some of you all the time, all of you some of the time, and time itself (which I lost a couple times this past week) all the time.

I tell people I went to “Mexico …,” and they say “Oh isn’t it Wonderful!,“ and then I finish with “.…City,” and they ask how I survived. It’s funny how little we actually think beyond the headlines, or the implications some media make up for us from those headlines. The video made for the ATypI conference is closer to the actual truth of Mexico than anything you will ever see on TV, as I see it.

Web font formats are what made me say that peace had broken out in web fonts. There was nothing but harmonic talk in Mexico City, and it sounds to me like the best of all possible solutions is actually possible -- that all browsers, regardless of their platform, eventually use a common web font format that can be packed with font information to better serve and protect web fonts from casual misuse and unknowing bad use.

WOFF, the Web Open Font Format built from scratch by type designers Tal Leming and Erik van Blokland with browser developer Jonathan Kew, is the only possible candidate for this format. Apple and Microsoft have some of the best reasons to make this happen, as this format not only perfectly encapsulates the .sfnt structure (the fundamental architecture of the OSes’ TrueType, OpenType, and Open Font Formats), but also, WOFF is the only format that can accept new and critical information about the fonts that will be useful for designers and users on the web.

You may think these guys are geniuses for inventing WOFF; but in my opinion WOFF is not even the best font format these guys have invented (Tal and Erik, that is).

Beginning with the first publication of the PostScript format, type designers and print publishers started using text-editing tools to manage and produce the kerning refinement tables in fonts. These tables in text format (as opposed to projecting out of the font data via a graphical user interface) are much easier to develop, as are some details of many other parts of the fonts, too.

Font tools don’t have such things as Search-and-Replace, much less Find. So, Tal and Erik created the Unified Font Object (UFO for short) in an extensible, plain-text format, which simplified a multitude of font tasks, stabilized font storage, and created an infinitely customizable format for founders.

In a way, these two formats -- UFO and WOFF -- bookend the process of bringing fonts from the type designer to the user. One is intended as useless to anyone but the type designer, and the other is intended as useless to anyone but the web user.


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