Some history of font sharing

Anecdotal history, anyway.

Way back in the 1980s Carnegie Mellon University
in conjunction with IBM and with support from
DEC, Sun, HP, and DARPA undertook an experiment
to heavily "wire" a university campus and populate
it with networked workstations.   The workstations
featured a graphical display and ran a window
system.   All machines on the network shared a 
common, remote file system, email system, and 
so forth.  Multi-media software was developed and
deployed to essentially all members of the campus
community (faculty, students, staff, hangers on,
bums off the street, etc.)

Early on a student wrote a font editor program.
To be sure, this was an editor for making 
bitmap fonts.  It was not a type design tool.
Nevertheless, the effect was similar.

It became *quite* popular, at that time, for
people to create fonts and share them with the
community at large.  There was something of a 
pastime of people copying these fonts around
and using them to customize their desktop appearance
(or even, sometimes, use them in printed documents 
- aesthetic standards were low :-).

I can not imagine that things will play
out differently on the web.  Given the opportunity,
people will "show off" by customizing their web
pages with fonts.  User demand will very quickly
make sure that it is trivially easy to download
web fonts and use them on the desktop or in printed
documents.  Fonts without restricted licenses will
be the main currency (judging by volumes of transactions).

So, once again, we are where we are:

EOT-lite is a plausible format because of its promise
for at least partial downward compatibility with IE.

.webfont and the mime wrapper are plausible for 
the new functionality they offer of conveying 
significant meta-data along with fonts (although
as consensus around something like .webfont develops
I think we will need to go back and compare more
seriously the relative advantages between these two).

And what is out, what should be understood by all
parties as out, is the fantasy of a format that
browsers will handle but that somehow makes installation
on the desktop non-automatic.  A distinct format
for the web is not a "garden wall" so much as it is
a spider web that users will surely pass through without
even knowing it.


Received on Wednesday, 29 July 2009 20:07:18 UTC