What’s Your Type?
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You may think all fonts are the same. Au contraire, mon frère. Fonts — and by that I mean font files — come in many flavors. Not just between Windows or Mac or Linux, but within the different releases of each operating system as well. However, I have little experience with Mac or Linux, so this focuses on Windows in all its various and sundry incarnations.
Prior to Windows 3.0, fonts were just part of the individual programs that used them. Works had its own fonts, WordPerfect had its own, everything had their own and there was no easy way to use fonts from one program in another.
Even worse, there was no way to see what a printed document would look like before you printed it. Before Windows 3.0, there was no such thing as screen fonts. Programs and even Windows itself used the standard system font, which is monospace. Printers could print a variety of fonts, but only in certain preset sizes.
It was sad. On screen, things looked typewritten; printed they looked nice — if you entered all the codes correctly. While there were expensive software suites available, they were out of the price-range of most casual users. So Microsoft and Apple started working on ways to make life easier.
In Windows 3.0, screen fonts were introduced. Microsoft used a proprietary font file format which only lasted through this release. While a vast improvement over previous displays, Apple was working on a better way. Apple developed a new font file format which was eventually licenced to Microsoft.
In Windows 3.1, the TrueType font was introduced and built-in as a standard part of Windows. This gave every Windows user true WYSIWYG — pronounced “wizzy-wig” — word processing. The screen and the printer finally used the exact same font file to draw the letters. “What is WYSIWYG?” you ask? “What You See Is What You Get.” Being able to type in the same font as you printed was revolutionary enough to get an acronym. A silly one, true, but an acronym, nonetheless.
TrueType fonts are not a collection of little pictures of letters as some might think. They actually contain a instructions for how the computer and printer should draw each individual letter. The directions are all in percentages and angles of lines and curves. The revolutionary part of this is that it allows characters to be printed or shown at virtually any size. From super teeny tiny to über-huge, they look the same. At least, on paper. The limitations of CRT pixels do tend to make smaller letters illegible, but your computer tries to make them all look the same.
TrueType lasted until Windows2000, when OpenType fonts were introduced. OpenType fonts are backwards compatable with TrueType, but that's a fill-in fall-back position. This is why the Microsoft Eurostile font looks better in XP than in Windows98: XP renders it as an OpenType font, which it really is; Win98 fakes it as a TrueType font, which it truly isn't. The Eurostile-Roman-DTC is a genuine TrueType font, so it looks better on my older machine. They look about equal on XP, which can handle both TrueType and OpenType. I assume the same is true of Vista.
Vista introduced ClearType which is designed specifically for LCD screens. They too are recognized by other operating systems as TrueType fonts, but they *really* aren't. They look even worse than OpenType fonts on machines that treat them as TrueType fonts. Machines that can handle OpenType still treat them as TrueType. Looks bad, all around. (Before installing the ClearType Tuner PowerToy for XP, the ClearType fonts looked *worse* on my XP laptop with its LCD screen than they did on my 98 box. After the PowerToy, they looked gorgeous! I removed them from the 98 machine. Ick.)
Your fellow ’shipper,
Grrr . . . Argh.
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