The Business of Type

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m a great supporter of the people who make fonts getting properly paid for their work, and the protection of the Intellectual Property they and others create.

I know how much time, effort, skill – and yes, money – it takes to produce decent fonts for computers, especially if you add in the time and effort (and more money) it takes to put in the extra work to make them great onscreen. I’ve watched the whole process in awe – and I’ve often paid the bills on Microsoft’s behalf. We’ve invested millions of dollars over the years.

When we introduced font embedding technology for Microsoft Word back in the early 1990s – so that you could send a document to someone else and have it look the same because the fonts used traveled with it – we held talks with the font industry to come up with an agreed system to protect their IP. We even modified the TrueType (later OpenType) format to create a new set of bits in one of the tables to allow font designers to set the level of embedding they’d allow for their font.

The whole issue is about to get hot again, as the Embedded OpenType format becomes a lot more popular on the Web. Internet Explorer has supported it since 1996. But in those days, it was a proprietary Microsoft format; other browsers didn’t support it and took other routes.

Since there was no “standard” format, few people used font embedding. That’s about to change. Last year, I kicked off an effort inside Microsoft to turn EOT into an open format. We’ve opened up the format, documented it, created sample code and a simple tool for embedding fonts, and submitted the whole package to the W3C.

Your website or blog should look the way you want it, regardless of what browser someone is using, or what fonts they have on their system. Last year I wrote an internal paper calling for Internet Explorer to improve support for Web standards. We just announced that Internet Explorer 8 would use Web standards as its default rendering method. I can’t claim all the credit for that; but I wasn’t the only member of the Internet Explorer team making that call last year…

Back on the fonts issue. When we commissioned Verdana and Georgia and seeded the Web with them, back in 1996, our purpose was to make sure there were two highly-readable typefaces out there that all Web designers would know were available on every system.

Verdana changed the Web, pretty much all by itself. Back then, the idea that people would read onscreen for extended periods was ridiculed. People – even inside a geeky company like Microsoft – told me I was crazy to try making it possible.

How many hours a day do you now read on screen?

Verdana was as screen-readable as we could make a font back in 1996. The font in which you’re reading this – Trebuchet, designed by Vincent Connare when he worked at Microsoft – is another font of similar onscreen quality. But when we invented ClearType, we raised the bar for what was possible.

My favorite font for reading onscreen is now Calibri, one of the set of ClearType-optimized fonts we built and shipped with Microsoft Office 2007.

Unfortunately, I can’t use it because not everyone has it on their system yet. But if Embedded OpenType becomes a standard, I’ll be able to use it, and you will be able to read it.

The Font Embedding issue needs to be revisited as it moves to the Web. And we’d like to talk to the font industry again.

Simon Daniels of the Microsoft Typography group tells me they’re hosting the first Font Business Summit organized by the Font Designers Rights Coalition The event takes place on the 3rd and 4th of April at Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, WA.

The event is open to type designers and foundries (by invitation). If you have not been contacted about the event and would like to attend please contact as soon as possible as there are only a handful of open slots available.

The program includes in-depth analysis of font related law from noted attorney Paul Stack who has represented Monotype for many years.

In addition there will be panel discussion regarding font IP protection, analysis of the state of font embedding, font EULAs and an exploration of new font related technologies, with participation from Adobe, Bitstream, Monotype Imaging, Microsoft and others.


I’d love to see you there.


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