Linotype Enters the OS X Font Manager Ring

Written by Typographica on September 12, 2005

FontexplorerLater today, Linotype will announce FontExplorer™ X, a full-featured font manager for OS X that will go head-to-head with current front-runners Suitcase and FontAgent Pro. FontExplorer X will preview, organize, and auto-activate fonts, but its most alluring feature might be its iTunes-like interface. This is genius. Managing fonts isn’t all that different than managing music, so why not copy the UI of the most popular music app in the world? Users will also be able to purchase fonts from Linotype and other vendors from the Linotype Font Store within the app — in a manner very similar to the iTunes Music Store.

Noticeably absent from the feature list is font repair, which Linotype claims would violate most license agreements. Well, that’s just silly. Also missing is auto-activation for Photoshop and Illustrator.

You can download a beta now, but Linotype warns that you should not install it on a production system. So check it out — we’ll run a full review once the final is released.

Update 9/29: A new version, 1.0fc2 (build C6F1), has been posted. No release notes so I can’t tell you what’s fixed or new. That drives me nuts.

Update 9/30: Correction, there is a changelog, but it’s at MacUpdate and VersionTracker, not the Linotype site. Improvements include font rating, cache cleaning, speed, and stability. This thing is starting to look very solid.

Update 10/31: FontExplorer X 1.0fc3 is out. This is mostly a bug fix release. Linotype now publishes each version’s change history.


  1. Hrant says:

    Go Linotype! Windows version soon, please?

    > that’s just silly

    Now that the makers of a “tool” are legally liable for any misuse of it by a third party (except if it’s a gun of course) sadly it’s not silly all, but just a further concession to almighty Liability.


  2. …Also missing is auto-activation for Photoshop and Illustrator.

    Does that mean InDesign works — or not?

    This makes the program virtually useless for me, and I would suppose most other people, right? If I have to re-start my applictaions everytime I need to load fonts, well, thats just ludacris.

    I guess it all really doesnt matter though. Like Hrant, I am using a PC.

    ATTN: Linotype.

    We need a PC version AND the ability for the application to auto-activate the fonts within our applications.

  3. Also, will this always be available free, or is this only durning beta testing?

  4. Kyle – I think you’re confused by terminology. Auto-activation means that if any fonts are used in a document they will be activated automatically by the manager, as opposed to forcing the user to switch on each font.

    I believe it will always be a free app. Wisely, Linotype sees it as a marketing opportunity for their font sales.

  5. Dan Reynolds says:

    FontExplorer X is free — the beta and final versions.

    At the moment, it has auto-activation (via plug-ins it will install by itself—with your permission—during set-up) for Quark (at least back to version 4.1) as well as InDesign CS and InDesign CS2.

    I suspect that a Windows version is in the works, but I shouldn’t say more until after the ATypI. During the Type Tech forum, a whole presentation will be devoted to FontExplorer X, and I don’t want to jump the gun on any specifics like this (please don’t hate me ;-) ).

    I hope that you guys like this product as much as I do. If you run into things during testing, or have suggestions, please contact Linotype. Your feedback is very important!

  6. I’m one of the betatesters of FontExplorer. Font Activation works for IndesignCS and CS2 as well as Quark. The activation works for most of the other apps as well. You don’t have to restart the Apps. This is only the 1.0 many more Improvements and Features are on the way for 2.0 but so far it beats Suitcase for me. I’ve been using the betas for a long time now with no need to reinstall Suitcase.

    I guess you should just try it and see if it works for you.
    It does for me!


    greetings, John

  7. Dan Reynolds says:

    CORRECTION to my above post: I can’t verify that the Quark plug-in works with 4.1. Our documentation says that it works for 6.5. I have 4.1 on my machine, and it installed the plug-in anyway, but I haven’t tested it. Sorry for any confusion.

  8. “I think you’re confused by terminology.”

    Your right, I was. My appologies.

    Don’t mind me, I am just using ATM over here.

  9. What a great business move here. This is a great way to reposition Lintype as a player in the type industry.

  10. chester says:

    I started to download the beta, but cancelled it when I saw that what I was downloading was 150MB. The app requires 250MB of disk space. By contrast, iTunes is 39MB and InDesign CS2 is 94MB.

    What does FontExplorer install on the user’s hard drive?

  11. pk says:

    am i the only person who’s actually using apple’s font book with any degress of success? they fixed it, sort of, in 10.4.

  12. Chester – You’re downloading the old version of FontExplorer. Beats me why they have it on that page — it’s nothing like FontExplorer X. The download link for the X beta is in the top right corner.

    PK – I hear Font Book has improved significantly, but it has no auto-activation, which saves me tonna time.

  13. pk says:

    but it has no auto-activation

    aha. that seems to be one of the primary draws.

  14. Dan,

    Call me when Linotype is ready to refresh their identity. ;0 The logo is quite bad. I really have no idea what it is even suppose to be!?

  15. mGee says:

    It’s about time a serious contender enters the horrendous mac font management ring.

    Just in time too! I just did a clean install with with Tiger and hadn’t installed Suitcase yet.

    I’ll give this a go.

  16. Gary Campbell says:

    Here’s what I think this new FontExplorer is missing that iTunes has: The ability to add “tags” to your fonts. A place where you can add the year. Or the foundry. Or the designer’s name. You know, exactly like MP3 tagging. This data could be stored in a DB somewhere on the web and could work the same as when you put a CD into iTunes — FontExplorer could go off and find all this info for you. Imagine being able to look at all the typefaces you have that were designed in the late 1940’s. Or even just a comments field so you can type “good typeface but remember to kern the A”

    What other “tags” would you like to see available?

  17. Gary,

    Great point. I would like to see the same features, too.

  18. mGee says:

    “Noticeably absent from the feature list is font repair, which Linotype claims would violate most license agreements. Well, that’s just silly. Also missing is auto-activation for Photoshop and Illustrator.

    Actually, take a look at the preferences panel and click the “Font requests” tab. It looks as though there is no need for a plugin…? It looks like FontExplorer can intercept font requests. By default Illustrator, ImageReady, Photoshop and Safari are listed as being explicitly allowed to be intercepted. Perhaps this is only on Tiger and as far as the adobe apps, it may only be CS2 apps… I’m not sure.

  19. aside from a small bug regarding a font activation request for a random / non english font when running any of the adobe cs2 suite (request box will not go away, and jumps between 2 options until you can catch it and quickly click what you need), this application is pretty amazing.

    sadly, its exactly what one would expect form apple. both in terms of interface and toolsets. fontbook failed miserably in this aspect. however, FontExplorer’s little things are what make it stand out: warning when activating a large number of fonts (prevents accidental activations and then cursing as your system churns for 10 minutes), like fontbook, you can add/modify the “collections” of fonts (so that they’re more easily available in any of the OSX/Apple applications rudimentary font menu)

    as for auto-activation, during the install it automatically detected indesign and quark. and while there seems to be no plugin for illustrator or photoshop, it doesnt seem needed, as any font request from any app is intercepted and handled.

    i simply cannot wait for the first final build of FontExplorer.

  20. David Dauer says:

    Or even just a comments field so you can type “good typeface but remember to kern the A”

    Gary, you actually can add comments that even can be filtered in Smart Sets to any font or font family.
    Just check out the information window (summary tab) or the information area in the main window.

  21. Gary Campbell says:

    Thanks David — I hadn’t noticed the comments field.

    To clarify my earlier point, I’d like all the fields to be editable. I imported my type library and many, many fonts list the vendor as “unknown” and have a blank space for the designer. I’d like the ability to fill in that info myself, and I think a few other editable fields, like year, would be a great addition.

  22. I installed it and I love it. For me the store is much better than the website. Easy to navigate and find information about fonts. But, homepage is quite slow (iTunes is faster) and I’m missing Previous and Next buttons.
    I’m quite confused by so many things in the left column — Sets, Collections, Folders, Smart Sets, Library, Store, Conflicts… It’s quite messy. Maybe it is normal and needed in apps like this.

    I have some suggestions. Wherto can I write it?

    Overall efect is, that I like it.

  23. Stéphane Darricau says:

    Sorry Mr Coles, but as a graphic design teacher I resent very much the auto-activation function available in most up-to-date font-management softwares : students won’t ever have to remember any typeface they used in an assignment if the software auto-activates them when they open a the file — I used to make them activate fonts via the “Temporary” function in Suitcase, which is very useful for them to learn to remember what font they used, where it is stored, etc.
    PS : Sorry for my horrible written English.

  24. Hmm, interesting scenario, Stéphane. If it’s some consolation, FontAgent Pro announces each font as it’s auto-activating it via a brief alert.

    It’s easy enough to turn the feature off, no?

  25. John Nolan says:

    “Noticeably absent from the feature list is font repair, which Linotype claims would violate most license agreements. Well, that’s just silly.”

    What’s silly is no modification clauses in EULA. That’s what leads to this sort of fun-house effect.

  26. tlmurray says:

    Does the Lino tool activate for Classic apps?

    I use Suitcase, and to make a font available to the Classic app (I use FrameMaker) it requires a particular extension in the Classic side. I’m not thrilled about removing Suitcase to test FontExplorer, as I have lots of suitcases, and Suitcase doesn’t have a way to back them up.

  27. pk says:

    okay, i installed. i’m sold. this is so far the first font manager i’ve actually liked using, and i own licenses to all of ’em. no wait, i think i just demoed FAP.


    i’m on 10.4.2 and i just spent two days trying to break the thing while i furiously designed four sites, some banner ads, and beta-tested some fonts going out for distribution. it works as advertised. it’s really good for testing new faces as you roll ’em. you can generate your family, drop the files onto the source pane, and it activates in all the CS2 apps — which meant i could check my hinting, underline positions in photoshop, and fake text effects in office.

    when you’re done, you just tell the manager to delete the files immediately. no more quitting and restarting applications because the trash won’t delete something in use.

  28. Brian says:

    Sooo slick. I’ve removed Suitcase from my dock. :D

  29. allijack says:

    I look forward to downloading this to my personal computer when I get home. I love that it’s FREE—freeing up my cash to actually spend it on type.

    Is there/ or will there ever be… “playlists” in the font store?! check out designers’ recent purchases or favorites & how they used them?

    This could be fun.

  30. Dan Reynolds says:

    I think that “playlists” are a great idea!

  31. Is anyone else missing the kerning pairs in the preview panes?

  32. FWIW: note that FontExplorer is no longer designated as a beta, but has been incremented to Final Candidate 1 status. I’m liking it more and more…

  33. Yes, Silas… I’m missing kerning as well.

  34. John Butler says:

    I finally installed it. Very impressive so far. I think it’s the first free Mac app that lets you see unencoded glyphs in a font (e.g. OpenType alternates in certain fonts that don’t encode them)

    I did notice that when I turn on auto-ligatures in the Preview window, lowercase s becomes archaic long s in Adobe Caslon Pro Italic. For some reason, it’s activating the HIST feature alongside LIGA. Thems bugs.

    I wouldn’t say it looks so much like iTunes as it conforms to a certain class of specs shared by many recent Mac apps (brushed metal, column interface) that Apple is aggressively promoting to Mac developers.

    I only use it for previewing so far, but I’ve already pointed some friends to it. They all love it. Congratulations, Linotype.

  35. Chris Cheung says:

    Been using it for a week or so and I think it’s great, but noticed one thing that I wish they fix in future releases. The problem I’m experiencing right now is that I open a lot of fonts for different projects in a given day, and when I shutdown, I expect my fonts that I activate to deactivate so when I startup again, on my mac, it would load just the basic fonts sets, and not everything I previously activated which causes a long startup process. Now I have to deactivate all the fonts I activated before I shutdown which is a pain, especially after a long day at the studio. Or am I missing anything? Is there a option I can set that resets everything to the basic set of fonts? Suitcase does it by default. But besides this everything works great, with all the adobe cs 2 apps and freehand mx app.

  36. jlt says:

    I’m having huge problems with Photoshop. It constantly wants to activate some of the Asian-language faces which I have removed, and I have to go through this whole huge rigamarole about not wanting to buy them, etc … just killing me.

  37. Brian says:

    JLT: I had the same problem. I simply set it to “ignore all requests for this font from any application” and haven’t had a problem since.

  38. 5000! says:

    The VersionTracker listing has a list of what’s new:

    -Font Rating
    -Application Cache cleaning
    -Store Back/Forward Navigation
    -“Multiple Folder” Import Option in the Preferences
    -Improved Application Stability
    -Improved Drag & Drop
    -Improved Font Activation/Deactivation
    -Improved Smart Sets
    -Information window now remembers last selected tab
    -PlugIn Installer now shows PlugIn version
    -Store is now much faster
    -The “Import fonts” Dialog now allows you to select the import destination
    -Updated German Localization
    -“View” > “Expand tree” used reserved OS key command
    -Activating Fonts under 10.3.9 didn’t update the Interface
    -Changed preview increase size key commands in English localization
    -Changing the Font Downloads path added a “2” to the name of the folder
    -Cyrillic preview string was misspelled
    -Deleting Fonts sometimes did not work correctly
    -Error when opening a Font with FontExplorer X and FontBook at the same time
    -Fixed a rare Store Browser Crash
    -Fixed a scrolling Bug when dragging fonts on a Set/Folder
    -Fixed an error when switching to conflicts or the conflict type
    -Font Preview sometimes didn’t work
    -Ignoring now some useless Font-Requests (e.g. “system”)
    -Sets, Smart Sets and Folders sometimes couldn’t be renamed correctly
    -Some minor interface issues
    -Sorting sometimes didn’t work correctly

  39. We have been testing the first candidate for quite some time.

    Take a look at some of the review — I’ve been using it in print/web production for about two weeks now with minimal issues.

  40. Nick says:

    So unfair – you Mac guys already have software that does the thing while the “odd” PC user have to live with so-so shareware or the outdated version of Suitcase. Come on!

  41. Macupdate tells you what’s up.

    What’s New:
    Version 1.0fc2:

    New features:

    Font Rating
    Application Cache cleaning
    Store Back/Forward Navigation
    “Multiple Folder” Import Option in the Preferences
    Updated features:

    Improved Application Stability
    Improved Drag & Drop
    Improved Font Activation/Deactivation
    Improved Smart Sets
    Information window now remembers last selected tab
    PlugIn Installer now shows PlugIn version
    Store is now much faster
    The “Import fonts” Dialog now allows you to select the import destination
    Updated German Localization
    Bug fixes:

    “View” > “Expand tree” used reserved OS key command
    Activating Fonts under 10.3.9 didn’t update the Interface
    Changed preview increase size key commands in English localization
    Changing the Font Downloads path added a “2” to the name of the folder
    Cyrillic preview string was misspelled
    Deleting Fonts sometimes did not work correctly
    Error when opening a Font with FontExplorer X and FontBook at the same time
    Fixed a rare Store Browser Crash
    Fixed a scrolling Bug when dragging fonts on a Set/Folder
    Fixed an error when switching to conflicts or the conflict type
    Font Preview sometimes didn’t work
    Ignoring now some useless Font-Requests (e.g. “system”)
    Sets, Smart Sets and Folders sometimes couldn’t be renamed correctly
    Some minor interface issues
    Sorting sometimes didn’t work correctly

  42. Gary Campbell says:

    The new version looks great.

    Now all we need are those editable “tags”..!

  43. Kyle Silfer says:

    Actually, the editable tags are in there in the new build. There’s a star rating field and a comments field. You ctrl-click (or right-click) on the font to assign a star rating and you edit the comments field within the information window. Thereafter you can search for your comments in the search box or sort your fonts by rating. It’s a little crude now, but it all seems to work.

  44. JC says:

    Im having a problem – when I try to activate a commercial version of Helvetica Ultra Compressed it keeps telling me that this font has the same name as a system font (Helvetica), which i must deactivate. Well i cant – its a system font. How on earth can I activate my copy of Helvetica Ultra Compressed? Argghh!
    Apart from this major flaw it seems perfect. The only solution I can think of is to physically ,ove Helvetica from my system font folder – not good.

  45. JC says:

    Huh – seems it was a badly named font. Ive dumped it and am using the Helvetica LT Std version instead – no problems. Fontexplorer – I take it all back :)

  46. Jim Pascoe says:

    Regarding editable tags: Yes, you can edit the comments field, which is somewhat helpful, but the thing that really makes this not workable is not being able to edit multiple fonts at the same time. I want to be able to drag a bunch of fonts into a folder, select all, and tag them “serif” or “handwritten” or “display” or “client name.” And I should be able to fix the existing tags (a lot of my fonts have the copyright and trademark fields duplicated instead of split).

    Also, smart sets can not be grouped into folders, which is limiting.

    And finally, maybe this is TOO close to the iTMS (if the current build isn’t already), but I’d love to see the addition of a heirachical browser window. iTunes has genre/artist/album … I’d love FontExplorer to have a similar set-up, maybe style/foundry/font??

    I’m stunned that the majority of font organizer programs want to sort my fonts ALPHABETICALLLY … as if I’m going to search for thousands of fonts that way!

  47. I’ve been using FontExplorer X for a few weeks now, and after an initial install option hiccup, I could not be more pleased.

    I have installed it twice because the the first time I chose the “Manage fonts by Copying fonts” option during install, after which Helvetica and Arial were no longer available. With so many apps dependent on these fonts for correct display, I was, um, unpleased to say the least. I contacted Linotype, and they responded very quickly. Ultimately, I trashed the utility, then reinstalled, making sure to manually manage fonts. Since then, this utility has been an absolute dream come true.

    If nothing else, Linotype has made me into a fan for creating such an outstanding utility/app. I am also quite thankful that I no longer have to suffer through using the inferior font management apps also available at $100 a pop. I am sure their gamble will pay off. I will be much more likely to consider their fonts for solutions in the future. I wouldn’t surprised if Apple paid Linotype millions for this. Well, they should anyway.

  48. I think apple has some kind of agreement with these companies to NOT develop these tools for PC users… steve jobs bastard!

  49. chester says:

    I used Font Explorer for a while, and was happy with it, but in the past couple of weeks I started having loads of trouble with fonts I was testing during development: Explorer wasn’t showing kerning in the previews, and it didn’t seem to be accessing kerning in the activated fonts in apps like InDesign or Text Edit.

    I uninstalled the software, restarted, and activated the very same fonts using FontBook, with kerning in place.

    Does Linotype know about this kerning issue? Is it fixed in 1.0fc3?

    Thanks, c

  50. marta says:

    I’m using a iBook G3 and after installing FontExplorer it has definitely slowed down. Am I the only one noticing that? or am I using too old a computer.. :-)

    (I installed it just after formatting the HD)

  51. Miss Tiffany says:

    No kerning! :^

  52. jlt says:

    I’m having the same problem – loss of kerning in Indesign completely. Not quite ready for prime time … back to Font Agent Pro for now.

  53. I’m getting inconsistent results. Kerning is working, except for a TrueType family I installed yesterday. If I install the Postscript version, kerning is fine. (This is an old commercial font. I don’t use FEX or other font management utilities with fonts I’m developing and testing. Doing it manually seems to be the most reliable method.)

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