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Re: Downloadable fonts and image replacement

From: Joshua RANDALL FTRD/DIH/BOS <joshua.randall@francetelecom.com>
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 19:07:42 -0400
Message-Id: <DD165689-66E5-4B4A-9CE0-1E28F83772C1@francetelecom.com>
Cc: Joshua RANDALL FTRD/DIH/BOS <joshua.randall@francetelecom.com>, David Woolley <david@djwhome.demon.co.uk>, www-style@w3.org
To: Håkon Wium Lie <howcome@opera.com>

> Now that descigners are using
> advanced CSS, I think the time is right try getting webfonts started
> again. And simple downloads of existing, currently available, zipped
> truetype files is a pragmatic way to start.

I agree that it would definitely be good to reincorporate webfonts  
into current CSS work, but I'm not sure how a standard supporting  
webfonts would specify required font type support for conformance  
purposes.  While truetype is certainly an industry standard, is it  
standardized by any actual standards body in a public document that  
could be referenced by a W3C recommendation?  Perhaps SVG fonts could  
be considered as an alternative, not necessarily instead of truetype,  
but as a format that could be required for baseline conformance in  
addition to other formats that may be supported?

Major points in favor of using the truetype format for webfonts are  
that fonts are widely available, that some form of truetype support  
is already present on most desktop operating systems, and that  
hinting can be used to provide high-quality rendering at arbitrary  
pixel sizes.

However, one of the goals of the style effort, moving forward, should  
be to make it possible to render pages on a much wider variety of  
devices; including PDAs, mobile phones, and set-top boxes.  In many  
cases these devices do not contain built-in support for truetype, so  
it would be up to user-agent manufacturers to provide such support.   
Since these devices often have a very limited set of built-in fonts  
(sometimes only one or two faces), they arguably have the most to  
gain from webfonts work.  It would be unfortunate to embark on a new  
standardization effort for webfonts that alienates those users who  
would benefit the most.

As for hinting support, this portion of truetype is potentially  
encumbered by patents and therefore support for hinting may not be  
able to be provided by an unlicensed system (such as open source/free  
software).  Given this, I don't see how a W3C recommendation could  
_require_ a full truetype rendering system.  Perhaps a recommendation  
could require a level of truetype support that does not include  
hinting, but that nullifies one of the major benefits of the format.   
It seems to me that having a webfont system that only supported  
truetype would be much like the early days of HTML, when the primary  
image format supported was GIF.  Years later, the W3C finally created  
the PNG recommendation, I presume at least in part so that the other  
W3C recommendations could refer to a format that was an open standard  
and unencumbered by patents.

Luckily, the situation today with webfonts is not completely  
analogous to that of the early web and GIF images.  In the absence of  
an open raster format such as PNG, it made sense to support GIF --  
but we _do_ have an open standard for specifying fonts (albeit rather  
underutilized) in SVG.  I can't imagine how webfonts could be done  
without at least including support for fonts defined as SVG fonts.   
They could provide a baseline conformance level that all visual user- 
agents could be expected to implement, are defined in an open  
standard that can easily be referenced, can potentially be included  
directly in compound documents in addition to being separately  
downloadable, and should be able to be implemented as a component of  
the user-agent rather than of the underlying operating system.

Many (most?) browser manufacturers have either announced or have  
already shipped initial support for native SVG.  However, very few  
SVG implementations include support for SVG fonts.  This may well be  
a chicken-and-egg problem, as I believe one of the primary use case  
for SVG fonts would be webfonts.  Making SVG fonts the only  
_required_ format for compliance would avoid issues associated with  
favoring a particular vendor's patented technology, may reduce  
concerns related to DRM (since there are not thousands of proprietary  
SVG fonts out there to steal), and would limit referenced standards  
to those that are open and well-defined.


Joshua RANDALL <joshua.randall@francetelecom.com>
Senior Research Specialist
France Telecom R&D, Boston
Received on Wednesday, 26 April 2006 00:11:06 GMT

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