The Microsoft Clear Type Fonts

I’m wondering how long will it take until the legions of low skilled Weekend Web Designers will start using the Microsoft ClearType Fonts en masse. I’m guessing it’s popularity will be largely dependent on proliferation of the 2007 edition of Front Page which doubtlessly use Calibri as the default font for the WYSIWYG editor. What does it mean for people without Office 2007 or Vista on our machines?

Probably not much. But we can probably expect tons of websites with layouts that don’t quite look right due to the subtle difference in a way browsers render Calibri and your default fallback sans-serif font. Is this a big problem? No, it’s not. But then again, some stuff might be font sensitive. For example our little chess game was based on font shapes present in Microsoft’s True Type font package that usually ships with office. Again – this is bad web design practice, inconsiderate for non-windows users, and etc. But chances are that at one point or another you will have some semi-legitimate need for one of the MS specific fonts. With the True Type set this was relatively easy – linux users could just download an appropriate package for their system – like the msttcorefonts package for Ubuntu. This is possible because the original EULA for the True Type fonts did not prohibit their repackaging and use on non-windows system.

Microsoft since then has revised their position, when it stopped distributing these fonts online back in 2005. They seem to be much more stingy with the new Clear Type fonts – they are not distributed online, and only shipped with software bundles. Windows users can still get them for free with a copy of the Powerpoint Viewer. But the fonts come with a nasty licensing restriction:

You may use the fonts that accompany the PowerPoint Viewer only to display and print content from a device running a Microsoft Windows operating system. Additionally, you may do the following:

  • Embed fonts in content as permitted by the embedding restrictions in the fonts
  • When printing content, temporarily download the fonts to a printer or other output device

You may not copy, install or use the fonts on other devices.

In other words, the use of these fonts on Mac and Linux is explicitly forbidden. You are not even allowed to run PowerPoint Viewer in Wine! This of course does not mean it is not laughingly easy to extract these fonts from the Powerpoint Viewer binary using cabextract tool and a simple bash script by Aristotle Pagaltzis. Still, it’s a breach of EULA – using them on a non-windows system is illegal, and you could be liable if caught. Sure, you are probably safe to have them on your home machine. But, if you install them on your Linux machine at work for the sake of testing layouts, and your company gets audited you could get in trouble.

If you want to go the legal route and get the ClearType fonts on a non-windows machine you will have to buy them from Ascender the hefty price of $299 for the whole bundle, or $35 per individual font. This does not include redistribution though – and the company does not disclose their licensing fees instead providing an online contact form for requesting a personalized proposal.

What I’m saying here is this: Microsoft is poising Calibri to replace Times New Roman by making it the default Office font. As such it is bound to become ubiquitous font for Word documents within the next few years. You’d think that one would want to widely distribute this font across platforms for the sake of integration, compatibility and building a broad user base. Especially with a set of fonts optimized for screen reading – and and by this virtue really sort-of destined to become dominant on the web.

But this is not the case – MS prohibits non-windows operating systems from legally obtaining this font without a hefty fee by restrictive EULA. So I ask you – isn’t that playing a little bit dirty? Doesn’t that seem a bit problematic?

The other obvious concern about these C-Fonts (have you noticed that all of them start with C? Constantia, Corbel, Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas and etc..) is that they trade off screen readability for print readability. Ask professional typesetters what do they think about printing text in the new sans-serif fonts. I can bet that most of them will probably agree that Calibri is marginally better than printing in Arial but nowhere near as readable in print as the good old Times. Serif fonts just look better on paper – that’s just how it is. Go and check your bookshelf – pull out any paperback or a textbook. 9 out of 10 of the books you pull out will be using Serif fonts.

And yet, in a strange twist most Office 2007 documents will probably print in Calibri – because let’s face it, if it looks pretty on their monitor a lot of people won’t bother changing it the way they changed Times to the more screen friendly Arial or Verdana. I could understand making this screen-font the default for, say Outlook as you don’t usually print all your emails. Most Word documents on the other hand will eventually get printed in one way or another. Thus, Sans-Serif fonts will become more and more widespread in paper publications inducing eye-strains all across the globe, and making my LaTex generated documents look beautiful and very professional by comparison.

[tags]cleartype, microsoft cleartype fonts, cleartype and linux, cleartype fonts, true type fonts, clear type, calibri, office 2007, sans-serif, serif, typesetting[/tags]

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One Response to The Microsoft Clear Type Fonts

  1. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Thus, Sans-Serif fonts will become more and more widespread in paper publications inducing eye-strains all across the globe, and making my LaTex generated documents look beautiful and very professional by comparison.

    Or any sane typist for that matter- no matter what they use.

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