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(While both Netscape and Microsoft are calling their systems "font embedding," in fact, the fonts are not embedded in the HTML files, they're called using a tag, the way images are now.)

Netscape 4 is shipping with Bitstream TrueDoc font embedding. This means that web designers can, at last, embed fonts in web pages so that viewers will see web pages as designed--complete with typefaces. To see a screen shot of what a web page can look like using the new technology, click here.

TrueDoc legally "records" font shapes and stores them in a highly compact "Portable Font Resource" file. This file is called much the same way an image file currently. This file is "played back" at the receiving end. For security reasons, TrueDoc now uses "direct rendering" so that a font file is never created on the viewer's computer. This should help calm some font designer's fears that embedded fonts will be pirated.

While pirating is a major problem (many sites claiming to offer shareware and public domain fonts are illegally offering commercial fonts), secure font embedding should be safe.

Two questions remain: The first is, "What web site authoring software will support TrueDoc?" The authoring software will have to recognize which fonts are used in a document (and even which characters, since TrueDoc can send only the characters used to save space), and send it to TrueDoc to record shapes and create a PFR. Currently HexMac has software for Mac users, PC users, and FrontPage users. Most major HTML editors will support the system later this year.

Another questions is whether Microsoft will adopt TrueDoc so that it's compatible with all pages designed for Netscape. This seems unlikely, though it's possible that Bitstream or some other company may produce an ActiveX control that could support TrueDoc in IE.

Microsoft's Response

Microsoft IE4 is shipping with "Embedded OpenType," a version of its TrueType font embedding.

Microsoft's browser has been font-savvy longer than Netscape's, and Microsoft has long taken a keen interest in fonts on the web and on-screen. For example, they commissioned the typefaces Verdana and Georgia for on-screen readability--and let anyone download them for free).

Microsoft originally announced that IE would have TrueType embedding in 96, long before the Netscape/TrueDoc announcement. But later in the year Microsoft announced that all previous announcements were superceded by their joint OpenType announcement with Adobe.

OpenType was supposed to be in browsers by the end of 96, but sources at Microsoft later said that OpenType wouldn't be in browsers until the OS's supported it, which didn't sound remotely like "soon."

So it's not surprising (in fact, I predicted it) that Microsoft's response to Netscape/TrueDoc is to announce that it's including Microsoft's TrueType font embedding (a system that has been in use for years--mostly in Microsoft's own Office applications) into Internet Explorer 4, after all.The new version os called OpenType embedding, but the embedded files are really still TrueType and don't have all the additional features to be found in the full version OpenType when it makes it's first appearance in Windows NT5.

The main differences between Microsoft's old TrueType embedding system and this new one are two-fold. First, the fonts are not actually embedded into HTML, they're contained in a separate "font object" that is called much the same way images are now. The second difference is font compression and file size.

Microsoft's Director of Typography, Bill Hill says, "The embedding DLL (written in the Microsoft Typography group), also supports subsetting, and incorporates the MicroType Express lossless compression technology we licensed from Agfa. Our tests showed that this reduces the size of typical fonts used in a Web page by anywhere from 75 percent to 99 percent (in the case of Far East fonts)."

Microsoft claims their solution is better because it preserves hinting information (for better on-screen appearance).

Hill continues "It's key to understand that OpenType is really TrueType Open version 2 with additional support for T1 outline data and some other things. So OpenType fonts which contain TrueType glyph data will just work in Win95 and NT4."

"We're looking at how we can support this in Win95 and NT4, where it's unlikely that a T1 rasterizer (ATM) will be present. One solution is to convert the T1 data to TT glyph data at font install time; we have a converter that does this - in fact, our results with this so far show that the fonts are better quality on screen than the originals, since we add some diagonal control, etc. in the conversion process."

Microsoft has software that converts Type1 fonts into TrueType format on-the-fly because until very recently, ATM as not available for WindowsNT. That same code could be used here.

Hill says, "I'd also like to say publicly that Microsoft and Adobe have mended a lot of fences in the past few months. We have been working closely with Adobe on the OpenType specification and the font embedding submission to the W3C. Other groups in MS have been working with them on ActiveX development, and on font and driver technologies for Windows NT5. Speaking for Microsoft Typography, we're enjoying the relationship that's building between us and the type folks at Adobe. We think it can do nothing but good for users of both companies' products."

Indeed, the agreement between Microsoft and Adobe is good news for font users.

(For its part, Adobe had promised a freely downloadable version of ATM on their site over six months ago. Now they say they'll sell it on-line for $19.95 instead. This is not a smart move on Adobe's part, if they want people to use their Type1 fonts and their rasterizer.)

Now the questions are: Will the two standards converge? Will designer have to support both formats as they often do with TrueType and Type1? Will OpenType take over when it's finally available, or will TrueDoc's compact footprint make it more popular in small devices and TV-for-the-web?


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