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<TrueDoc, font embedding that works>

By Daniel Will-Harris
April 2, 2001: Well, the font embedding wars are over, and everyone is the loser. TrueDoc hasn’t taken off, nor has Microsoft’s WEFT. The only real font embedding choices now are Flash (which is very efficient), and a new system that isn’t quite ready for prime time yet--I’ll write about it when it is.

July 20, 1998: If you’re viewing this page using Navigator 4 or IE4, you should see the type on this page in Bitstream’s Geometric Slabserif 712--using TrueDoc font embedding technology.

You may have noticed that most of the content of the web is text, and yet despite this, most web sites still display all their text in either Times or Arial/Helvetica. Pretty boring, and also pretty sad that this highest-tech text medium also has the distinction of being on the one with the least control over text.

Last year, two new technologies were released to help change this. The first was Bitstream’s TrueDoc font “recording” technology which was built into Netscape Navigator 4.0. Microsoft quickly followed with their “OpenType embedding” scheme. Despite the fact that both technologies have now been around for some time, neither one has really taken off, and perhaps it’s time for you to reconsider embedding fonts on your site.

When you do, my first piece of advice is to continue to avoid Microsoft’s solution. There are several reasons for this. The first is a serious lack of security for fonts embedded using this method--they’re simply too easy to steal, and it’s not fair to the type designers and vendors. I went into this in detail last November, click here to read that column. The second reason is because their embedding tool, called WEFT, is simply unreliable. I’ve had trouble getting it to work myself, and have received a slew of e-mail from other people who likewise couldn’t get it to work. The third reason is because it only supports TrueType, and while Microsoft said their final release would support Type1 fonts, and was supposed to be available sometime last year, they’ve still posted a beta version which isn’t very reliable. Finally, the Microsoft solution, not surprisingly, only works under Internet Explorer. That leaves out at least half the market.

Finally, typeface choice for the web,
and it could hardly be easier.

While the Microsoft solution started out weak and hasn’t improved, Bitstream’s TrueDoc started out strong and has gotten stronger. First, they’ve added an ActiveX component, so that TrueDoc fonts will now display using both Navigator and Internet Explorer--that’s pretty universal. The ActiveX for IE takes less than a minute to download, installs automatically, and then displays the embedded fonts quickly—first showing the text in the browser’s default typeface, then redrawing the page using the font of your choice once it’s been downloaded.

TrueDoc can also now be added to your pages with impressive ease, and for free. A new site, called Truedoc.com allows you to choose from over a dozen Bitstream typefaces you can embed on your pages for free. Adding them requires about four lines of HTML code--that’s all.

Once you add this code, people can see the web page in the font you chose--whether or not they have that font installed on their system.

If you want the ability to embed any typeface, then you need to buy a third-party program called HexMac Typograph which creates the “portable font resource” files used for embedding.

There are slight differences in how TrueDoc works under Navigator and IE. Under Navigator, fonts are automatically anti-aliased (smoothed). Some people like this (I do; I find it can make even difficult faces such as Garamond readable). Other people just think it makes type look “fuzzy.” It does make the screen redraw slower. Under IE, fonts are not anti-aliased unless you install the Microsoft Font Smoother and run your graphics at 16 bit or higher, and the fonts are a certain size. Without the anti-aliasing some people think the fonts look rough.

That said, both browsers let you turn off this feature. Under IE, choose View/Internet Options and click on the “Security” tab. Choose “Custom” as the level, then scroll down to the “download” section and set Font Download to either “Prompt” or “Disable.”

Under Navigator, choose Edit/Preferences then select Appearance/Fonts and select either “Use my default fonts, overriding all document fonts,” or “Use my document specified fonts but disable Dynamic Fonts.”

Tip: Here’s something I learned that can save you a lot of frustration. For security reasons, TrueDoc font’s don’t appear if you load HTML pages from your hard disk directly into your browser. They’ll only appear if the pages are loaded from a server. So when it comes time to test your pages, upload them to your web server, then view them in your browser.

>Free fonts for web viewing

Let’s say you’re still not convinced about font embedding technology. Is there something else you can do to improve the readability of your web pages? Yes--specify typefaces specifically designed for the screen, typefaces that are also freely downloadable.

While Microsoft may not have done a good job with their font embedding technology, no one has done a better job in producing or distributing fonts optimized for on-screen reading.

Microsoft hired noted type designer Matthew Carter (of Galliard, Charter and Bell Centennial, the phone book font fame) to design two typefaces for on-screen reading. The results are Verdana, a sans serif font that ships with and is automatically installed with IE4, and Georgia, a serif typeface you can download from the Microsoft site. Both faces are truly impressive in their readability. Not only is their design created for the screen, but their “hinting” (technical software instructions that tell the font how to look its best at specific sizes) is unsurpassed.

As amazing as the quality of these fonts is the fact that Microsoft is giving them away. You don’t even have to use Windows or IE to get them, PC and Mac users can download them (and other useful faces) at  http://www.microsoft.com/typography/fontpack/

While you’re there, download a copy of Trebuchet, another face designed for the screen. It has a bit more personality than Verdana, and yet still retains high-readability. Comic sans is another useful face, as is Arial Black and Impact. All these are TrueType fonts that can be used for print, as well as for the screen.

Mac users: I strongly recommend you download Microsoft’s Times New Roman and Arial. Both of these fonts are heavily hinted and look far better than the versions that come with the Mac. They also include true italics, so you can stop squinting at those unreadable slanted letters which the Mac generates from its bitmapped Times.

On my own site, I am authorized to offer copies of Bitstream’s Geometric Slabserif 703, which I’ve found to be excellent for on-screen reading. Mac users have written to me to say they find it works very well on the Mac, too. It’s the face I specify for all the text on my own site. You can download this font, and it’s matching italic, at http://www.will-harris.com/fonts/freefonts.htm

If you want to specify any of these free faces as the default for your web page, simply include a link so that your readers can easily download and install the fonts. I’ve had a lot of people e-mail to thank me for recommending these faces--they didn’t realize what a difference a typeface can make--but seeing is believing, and now they do.


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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved