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Commentary

Call for Questions: Font Management in OS X

Typographica on June 30, 2006

TypeCon2006 registration is live. More details will be posted shortly, along with the program, which includes a discussion of font management in OS X.

In this session, I’ll join a panel of representatives from Apple and the makers of the leading font managers: Extensis (Suitcase Fusion), Insider (FontAgent Pro), and Linotype (FontExplorer X). These companies play a major role in the way fonts work (and don’t work) on our Macs. I hope you’ll be there to raise some tough questions so we can all demystify the curious nature of font behavior.

If you are so unfortunate as to not be in attendance, what would you ask if you were? Pass it along and I’ll see if I can slip it into the confab. It should be stressed that this session will not be a head-to-head comparison and balls-out battle of font management software (as much fun as that would be), but rather an effort to clarify OS X font management and educate users about best practices.

Over the last few years of following the industry and wrangling fonts myself, I’ve got a few questions of my own. Bore yourself by reading them all in one gulp below.


Questions for All Panelists:

  • It seems like font management issues and font conflicts have always been a problem, particularly on the Mac. What are the root causes for these problems? Is it because fonts aren’t being made or used properly? Or is it simply because fonts are little programs in themselves that must work together and in the myriad applications that load them?
  • Is font management easier on one platform (Mac/Windows) than it is on another? Why?
  • Why has font management become more complex in OS X?
  • What are the most important things we can do to keep fonts running smoothly?
  • Does everyone need font management software? If someone isn’t opposed to the tedium of manually moving font files into the appropriate folders, will they be ok?
  • If we use a font manager, does it matter how we organize the font files stored on our hard drive, or is that merely a matter of personal preference?
  • Is one font format easier to manage than another? Why? Follow-up: Will OpenType solve our management woes?
  • Why do people still buy and use PostScript and TrueType fonts when the font is available in OpenType format?
  • How do we access the extra glyphs available in OT fonts in applications which don’t have OT savvy menus or glyph palettes? How can we encourage software makers (ahem: Microsoft) to include OT support — short of whining and writing letters?
  • Some of your products (such as Font Doctor) will “fix” fonts by rearranging suitcases, matching bitmaps with printer fonts, removing duplicates, and repairing corrupt fonts. Linotype has stated that FontExplorer X will never do this as it violates many EULAs. What is your position?
  • Commercial foundries might claim that free and knockoff fonts are poorly made and can gum up a system. Is this true? How much influence does the quality of the fonts themselves have on management and reliability?
  • Who do we call if we’re having trouble? When do we call the font manufacturer? When do we call the font manager manufacturer? When do we call Apple?
  • What is the biggest myth of font management?
  • What is the most overlooked aspect?
  • What do you see in the font management future? Think pie-in-the-sky. What fundamental changes to the operating system or font formats could make font management more simple and trouble-free?
  • Added July 8 by Jamison: All the utilities have fine tools for organizing fonts into sets based on project, style, or the user’s whim. Do any of you have plans for taking that to the font menu itself where the font lists can be long and organized only alphabetically?

Questions for Apple:

  • What will we see in future versions of OS X in terms of management (Font Book) and overall system reliability in regards to fonts?
  • Will Font Book ever include auto-activation and other advanced features found in 3rd-party managers?
  • Is there still a font cache problem in the current OS X? Do managers address that problem or do we need to remove caches manually or with the aid of utilities like Font Finagler?
  • I understand that the number of fonts we can have open at any one time is limited to RAM. Are there other limits? At what point does the amount of activated fonts start to impact speed?
  • PostScript rendering is built into OS X, so ATM is no longer required. But why didn’t Adobe update the very popular ATM Deluxe for OS X? Did the release of Font Book have anything to do with that decision, either provoking it, or in response to it?
  • Added July 12 by Bill Wallace at McGraw-Hill: OS X is bundled with fonts that are integral parts of the OS (or bundled apps) making it a hassle for anyone in a publishing environment to use the same typeface but in a different format (e.g. OpenType vs .dfont) for their production work. Why not rename these fonts for OS X (e.g. HelveticaOSX.dfont) so that they would never conflict with any 3rd party fonts?

Questions for Linotype and Extensis:

  • FontAgent Pro can auto-activate fonts without the main application running. It does require the use of a hidden background app, but it’s very useful for those who like to keep their dock clean and open windows to a minimum. Will your managers ever have this ability?

Questions for Linotype:

  • Besides Apple’s Font Book, your software is the only font manager among this group that is free. Why?
  • Will we start to see fonts other than Linotype’s in the Font Explorer store? When? This would mark Linotype’s debut in the reseller business. How will it be different from other reseller sites like MyFonts, FontShop, Phil’s Fonts and Fonts.com?

Question for Extensis and Insider:

  • Suitcase and FontAgent Pro are available in “workgroup” and/or “server” editions. In what office scenarios is it most efficient to manage fonts over the network in this way?

Questions for Extensis:

  • The OS X versions of Suitcase may have fallen behind the competition because it was accused of being severely buggy. How does Suitcase Fusion address this problem?
  • After Extensis bought Font Reserve, the product was offered for a few months and then essentially shelved. There are still Font Reserve users out there. How are you keeping them happy as they migrate to Suitcase?

Question for Insider:

  • What are the advantages of being a smaller company in which your main focus is font management software?

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