You can choose compassion

My esteemed colleagues at Microsoft, assisted by a few luminaries of the type-design world (and Luc[as] de Groot!), have published an extensive body of work on the topic of the upcoming fonts custom-made for Windows Longhorn and the new version of ClearType, the anti-aliasing technology.

You can read all about them in the chapbook entitled Now Read This: The Microsoft ClearType Font Collection. You had to be at ATypI Prague to get a copy. (I wasn’t; Microsoft showed mercy and gave me a copy later.) There’s not much on the MS Typo Web site, but John Hudson has dropped his pants a little on one of those type sites that (don’t) do Web standards.

En tout cas, these six new fonts for Longhorn all start with the letter C, or K in Greek and Cyrillic. The nomenclature is a dyslexic’s nightmare.

  1. Constantia
  2. Corbel
  3. Cambria
  4. Calibri
  5. Candara
  6. Consolas

(The font names, in their apparent suitability to multiple languages, actually mean nothing and seem fake. There aren’t many languages in which all those syllables will actually seem native. “Candara” certainly isn’t a native-English word. By forcing generic and internationalized names on us, Microsoft actually offends specific and national pride.)

A sixth family, Meiryo, consists of two Japanese weights accompanied by a modification of Verdana that actually looks harmonious when typeset inside Japanese.

There’s a bit of overlap in the function or application of these fonts. For onscreen reading, you have the illusion of choice in selecting one vaguely interchangeable font over another, though Candara by Gary Munch, a humanist sansserif, is the only one that would be considered unusual in screenfont terms. Luc(as) again sets himself apart from the pack by designing the sole monospaced font of the bunch, Consolas, whose angled, barred, and wavy variants I desperately want. (He also designed the sansserif Calibri. Does that make 350 variations of Thesis now?)

So: A great deal of time, good taste, and subjective engineering went into these fonts. I’m sure they were reasonably expensive as well, but nobody outside Microsoft thinks that’s an important factor for so rich a company. In a year or so, or whenever Longhorn comes out, we’ll finally have an adequately large selection of custom-tuned screenfonts roaming the landscape of the computer, even if many of them are overly similar. (And even if Consolas is similar to TheSans Mono, which has been my monospaced font for lo this last decade.)

Who’s gonna be left out?

As it stands, everybody who doesn’t use Longhorn. If you already use Windows, you may have little choice but to upgrade. If you use Macintosh:

  1. Don’t Apple and Microsoft have an extensive business relationship?
  2. Isn’t Microsoft Office a standard software package for business use?
  3. Didn’t Microsoft actually buy VirtualPC from Connectix, indicating further commitment to cross-platform integration? (I don’t buy the theory that Bill will simply cancel Office for Mac and force everyone to run Windows Office under VirtualPC.)
  4. Isn’t it true that Apple does next to no original font development anymore? Don’t they just license from existing foundries and designers (viz. Gill Sans, Hoefler Text)?
  5. Doesn’t Apple have its own anti-aliasing technology, one that could not rationally be considered a ClearType competitor? (Apparently you can have both of them going at once if you run WinXP under VirtualPC on an LCD monitor. But ClearType does not replace Quartz or vice-versa.)
  6. Couldn’t Apple simply license the new fonts for a fee and include them with, say, Tiger or a system upgrade? Or sell them online and give Microsoft a cut?
  7. Couldn’t the left hand of Microsoft acknowledge what the right hand is doing and simply bundle the new fonts with Office for Mac, VirtualPC, and other software? An imaginable future version of VirtualPC would come with Longhorn, which installs the fonts on your Mac system anyway.
  8. Typo magazine tells us (PDF) that “Cambria is announced to be a new default font in next version of MS Word.” Given that Microsoft itself trumpets the fact that Word files can be used across “Word 98, Word 2001, and Word X for Mac… as well as Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2002 (XP) and Word 2003 for Windows,” we hardly want that kind of file transfer to be undone by font reformatting. You can’t take that to extremes, as there will always be significant and insurmountable font differences for certain combinations of Windows and Mac users, but if you change the default font for Word for Windows, don’t you at least have to license Mac users the same font?

Let’s get ahead of the game here and license them properly. It’s a legal and potentially lucrative method to ensure that more computer users than ever actually enjoy a “great reading experience.” Unless of course our motives are something else.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.01.21 17:49. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
http://blog.fawny.org/2005/01/21/ccccccm/

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