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AnalysisAnalysis

There remain a lot of questions about both systems, questions that won't be fully answered until both systems and their authoring tools are fully implemented.

Security

Security will be a big concern among foundries. Microsoft's font embedding has always allowed foundries to decide how the font is embedded (no embedding, print/preview, edit, or fully installable).

TrueDoc uses "direct rendering" that never puts a working font file on the user's disk--just their compressed and encrypted "Portable Font Resource" which can only be played back by the browser. Microsoft's system specially compresses and encrypts files that only work in the browser. TrueDoc is therefore more secure because it does not create font files.

Bitstream "DocLock"

At the moment, Bitstream TrueDoc has the most aggressive security feature. Called "DocLock," this feature ties a Portable Font Resource to a domain name. This means that if I embed a font on my site, you can't add a tag to your site that calls my font (as you can do with text or graphics). This immediately makes fonts more secure than text or graphics--and ensures that a site can only display fonts that the designer owns.

Jim Welch, Director, Emerging Technologies at Bitstream states, "What this allows: publishers can create documents and PFRs for a whole range of files on their servers without having to worry too much about PFR management on a micro-level. Most fonts are licensed to people or companies at pretty much the same level as domains are.

"If Gillette has a corporate font site license from Bitstream, they can use PFRs of those fonts anywhere on their Internet Domain as well as their paper documents.

"What this prevents: someone looking at your HTML code, thinking that he likes the look of what you've done, seeing where your PFRs are stored, and then linking his HTML documents (via the LINK tag) to your PFRs on your server.

"So, now TD provides two layers of security:

  1. TD is a non-public font format that allows for the remote viewing and printing of character shapes; but, does not allow document recipients to extract the font data from the document and install it for their own use.
  2. TD (with DocLock) prevents the indirect usage of stored PFRs by other parties.

Stefan Wennick, Bitstream's Manager of Marketing & Communications, says that "Protecting intellectual property is a critical goal for us, and keeping PFRs proprietary make them very difficult for the average person to crack. There is no Operating System or authoring tool that allows end users to format text with font data from a PFR. And, there is no font utility that allows you to convert PFRs to TT or T1.

"Since Netscape prints in graphics mode, there is no TT or T1 font sent to the printer. Interrupting the print stream would only get you a mass of bitmap data.

"Finally, DocLock goes the extra step of encrypting PFRs so that they can only be used to view documents on one Domain. No other embedding scheme contains as many safeguards."

Microsoft's security

Microsoft's Director of Typography, Bill Hill says that the "font objects" created using Microsoft's system, "...are not actually embedded in the HTML; the font object is created on the server machine, and a link to that object is placed in the HTML. The font objects on the server are not TTFs. They are not even TrueType. They are in MicroType Express compressed format, which gets converted back to TrueType by the embedding services DLL when they are downloaded to the client."

"The only thing stored in the cache is a font object, which is either compressed (and thus not installable except by the embedding DLL) or encrypted. We also do some other stuff to it which prevents it from being installed, but we are not giving any details."

IE4 also implemented a "DocLock"-like system that ensures .eot (Embedded Opentype) files are only usable on the domain they were created for.

"In addition to this, the OS will soon support process-private fonts. NT 5 has a new AddFontResource API which can install a font so that it can only be used by a specific process."

So except for the fact that Microsoft's system acknowledges a foundry's own embedding decisions, the resulting "font objects" don't sound that much different from TrueDoc in terms of security. Both download font objects, neither of which are in a usable font format, both of which require that the browser convert them at viewing time. But TrueDoc does not keep any kind of font on the user's disk, so it appeares to be more secure.

Font quality

In my experience with several programs that already use TrueDoc, the type quality has never been a problem, and with its built-in anti-aliasing, it can be excellent. Since Microsoft claims that their converted Type1 fonts actually look better on-screen than the originals, why can the same thing not be said about TrueDoc?

TrueDoc also offers the additional feature of built-in anti-aliasing (also called "Font Smoothing") on all platforms, Windows, Mac and Unix, with as little as 4-bit graphics.

Microsoft provides TrueType smoothing for Windows users who separately download a free font smoother . This requires that your graphics card be in 16-bit mode. (Hill says that the next version of Windows will include anti-aliasing at 8-bit, but that programs will have to turn it on specifically.

Windows and Mac users with ATM4 get font smoothing on Type1 fonts, with just 8-bit graphics. Apple will be releasing anti-aliasing as part of a future system (though there are some utilities that do this now). Or you can download a $5 shareware extension for PowerMac's.

Font Formats

Until Microsoft implements a way to handle fonts in Type 1 format directly, and not just in OpenType, many designers will almost certainly prefer Netscape's TrueDoc solution that handles Type 1 and TrueType equally well.

That's because while TrueType is the type format of choice among business users, Type 1 is the format of choice in the graphic arts industry. Designers are likely to have libraries of Type 1 fonts they can't use with the Microsoft System, but can use with TrueDoc. Since there are no longer any simple programs on the market to convert font formats (Ares FontMonger was bought by Adobe and has since been taken off the market), designers could balk at having to buy new fonts of the typefaces they already own.

Typeface choice

The truth of the matter is that some typefaces simply don't look good on-screen, no matter how great the hinting is. Anyone trying to use Bembo, or even traditional Garamond on-screen as body text needs to have their heads examined before they cause their readers to need to have their eyes examined.

This site uses GeoSlab703 (download the font now), Bitstream's version of Memphis, a slab-serif face that's very clear and easy-to-read on-screen.

Microsoft's Georgia (the font this paragraph should appear in, if you have that font on your system--if not, download it and try as your browser's default, your eyes will thank you for it) is even easier to read, it is, perhaps, the most legible on-screen face yet designed. But while highly legible, it doesn't have a great deal of charm, and I specifically wanted a typeface that people would not confuse with Times in terms of design.

If you want to read more about which typefaces are the most legible on-screen, click here.

Until screen resolutions are higher than the roughest fax (a rough fax is 100 dpi, Windows has a screen resolution of 96 dpi and the Mac's screen resolution is 72 dpi), designers taking advantage of font embedding need to take care in the typefaces they choose.

Platforms

Finally, Microsoft's TrueType embedding will work for Windows and Mac users. TrueDoc support both Windows, Mac, and also Unix. Its small program size means it could even be used in hand-helds, PDAs, and TV set-top boxes--it's already been licensed for Oracle's NCs (Network Computers).

Authoring

Bitstream has licensed TrueDoc to a number of name-brand web site authoring companies so that web designers should be able to embed fonts automatically. Currently, the only available tooks are from HexMac and are available for BBedit on the Mac, and FrontPage under Windows. Versions are also available that will work on any HTML files.

Microsoft is developing it's own embedding tool. The program is currently in beta for Windows computers. Microsoft has not stated what other authoring tools will handle their embedding system.

Current Conclusion

While it has seemed that we'd avoid a font war on the web, it's clear that one is coming. As with the TrueType/Type1 war, in the end there might well be two winners, but it's still far too early to tell.

Even though TrueDoc has the head start, Microsoft has the biggest guns, and its alliance with Adobe should ensure that OpenType is supported in Netscape when it's available--the same may not be true for TrueDoc in Explorer--unless someone develops a Java or ActiveX TrueDoc player to ensure compatibility.

It would be good to see IE support both forms of embedding, just so that developers could design a single site that would support both browsers, now, without having to wait for OpenType.

But with the competitive and proprietary path that browsers are taking it just looks like we're in for a fight.

While it's good to see type as the competitive issue that it really should be, it would be better for everyone if there wasn't a battle of technologies to wade through.

The good news is that as always in fights like this, the winner in the end should be the user--if they aren't too battered in the mean time.

Competition is good. But so is compatibility. It's important that the HTML codes required for these two systems are compatible, not mutually exclusive.

This means you can design your sites to use both TrueDoc and OpenType. It's a hassle, but doing so will ensure that all your visitors (at least the ones who use V4 browsers) will see the fonts as you intended.

Stay tuned--same bat time, same bat channel.

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