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Type Tech History


Bitstream

In April 1994, just as the web started to gain attention, Bitstream announced a system called TrueDoc which legally records font shapes, then compresses them into smaller compact electronic packages than was previously possible. It was a novel and unique approach to font embedding, and it solved the legal problems of embedding copyrighted font "programs" without permission from the copyright owner of the font.

Bitstream's system also includes a very compact rasterizer--much smaller than the rasterizers for TrueType or TypeOne fonts. This makes the system more portable.

Bitstream also has created special "Cyberbit" fonts. These contain an enlarged character set so that a single font (albeit large) can handle most languages on the web. One Cyberbit font is currently available for free download and any typeface from Bitstream's library can be "cyberbitted" by special order.

TrueDoc is finding favor with Java developers such as Corel and FutureTense who see it as extremely efficient code for embedding fonts.


Microsoft

In November 1995, Microsoft released their Internet Explorer 1.0 which included a new <FONT FACE> tag that allowed you to specify typefaces-but since you never knew what typefaces would be found on a reader's machine, and because it was only supported by the MS browser (this is still true, even with the Navigator 3 Preview release), it was far from universal.

Few web sites have adopted this tag, but that will surely change now that Netscape's latest beta also finally supports the tag. This site has supported the tag since 95, and you can download the fonts meant to be used on this site for free.

The newest version of the Internet Explorer also supports W3C "Style Sheets" which allow for much more advanced formatting than was previously possible. Not only do style sheets let web designers specify typefaces, but also point sizes, leading, spacing between paragraphs and more.

Style sheets, combined with OpenType, should give a great boost to type on the web.

Microsoft's web site has a TrueType section where you can freely download all the core fonts for Windows-including fonts with the complete Win95 character set of over 600 glyphs. Additional typefaces, including display faces in the Microsoft library, will also be made available for free downloading.

Microsoft had advocated simple TrueType font embedding (the kind currently used in their own Office Suite). TrueType fonts all have "embedding bits" that list the four levels of embedding possible: 1) don't embed, 2) Embed for print/preview only, 3) editable embedding (the document containing the font can be edited, but the font isn't available to other documents or programs), and 4) installable--so the font is automatically installed for use with the entire system and all programs. This allows foundries to decide how their fonts can be embedded. Most foundries choose Print/Preview, though a view, notably Emigre, allow no embedding whatsoever.

This solution is technologically simple (since all Mac and Windows users already have TrueType rasterizers), but currently only Windows and the Mac would be supported.

This system has been available in Microsoft apps for some time-it's a well conceived idea--but for some reason it never caught on with other software companies despite the fact that MS offered them freely distributable DLL's to handle embedding.

Microsoft then gave up on that idea and instead made an agreement with Adobe to support a new format called OpenType, which is similar to TrueType Open, but also includes support for Type 1 outlines.

It's back: I previously said on this page, "Don't be surprised if Microsoft resurrects simple TrueType embedding to compete with Netscape's TrueDoc deal," and now this is, in fact, what has happened. However, the new, improved TrueType embedding uses Agfa's MicroType Express compression for smaller, more secure files.


Adobe

In March 96 Adobe announced their new Compact Font Format which has been renamed Type1c. This format will be used in Acrobat, but for the web, Adobe will be supporting OpenType along with Microsoft.

Bill McCoy, Adobe's Director of Core Technologies, provided some answers to questions about the new technology.


Who will win? While it's too early to predict, it's short-sighted to assume that there can only be one winner. In the font market there are still two major font formats, TrueType and Type One, and they can co-exist, even in the same line of text.

The web has proven that open competition is a great stimulus to invention. With plug-ins and other browser extensions (including Java and OCX's) there's no reason why more than one font format can't work on the web, too.

The competition between Adobe's Type One and Apple/Microsoft's TrueType was one of the starting points of today's explosion of type-while nay-sayers said that it would kill the font market, in fact, there have never been as many new font designs, as many font designers, or as many fonts sold.

Similar competition in web font formats--as long as it is based on open standards that are easily supported by a variety of web browsers--can only be good for the people who create and read the web.

Unfortunately, in the mean time, web designers and visitors will have two embedding systems formats to contend with.


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Copyright 1996 Daniel Will-Harris, www.will-harris.com