The browser wars of yesteryear were a frustrating period for anyone working on the Web. We’ve come a long way since then. Following the vanguard of Opera, Safari and Firefox, IE8 will be the first Microsoft browser to pass the ACID2 test when it’s released in 2008. Congratulations to the IE team! 2008 may well be a seminal year for Web standards.
However, the same might not be said for Web fonts. While we have commonly supported standards with which to author information for the Web, we still only have ten core Web fonts to present it, with six most commonly used. There are hundreds if not thousands of outstanding typefaces. A few are shipped by Microsoft, Apple and Adobe with their software, allowing us to use them with font stacks. That leaves a multitude of beautiful, important typefaces that can only be used as text in images or with kludges like sIFR. The current situation is like the browser wars, or perhaps, the type wars.
In a world where the Web is the platform, having ten core Web fonts makes no sense. It stifles innovation in the same way that poor Web standards support used to.
The core Web fonts, then & now
The Microsoft core Web fonts project was started in 1996 and discontinued in 2002. To put that in context, 1996 was the same year that Internet Explorer 3 was released with a CSS gallery to test IE3’s first tentative implementation of W3C CSS.
Today, the core Web fonts remain in stasis. Apple have renewed the license with Microsoft this year but there are no plans to expand either the typefaces or the font variants. Back in 2006, Andrei Herasimchuk made an excellent proposal closely followed by Jeff Croft’s own worthy suggestion, both of which have unfortunately not come to fruition.
Other Web fonts with @font-face
More recently, Web fonts and the
@font-face CSS property have come into focus. Håkon Wium Lie’s article on A List Apart started some valuable discussions. Ascender also recently announced new licensing for Microsoft faces which could apply to downloads, and the observations of people like Richard Rutter give us all hope for the future.
However, as people have already mentioned,
@font-face support is not a reality yet and there are questions over support across platforms that have not been addressed. Think mobile phones for example. End-user license agreements (EULAs) will need careful consideration and the methods of protecting type designers’ and foundries’ rights are still a matter for debate.
Universal Web Type
If the Web is the platform, and browsers are the gateways to it, then we don’t just need standards for layout and object rendering, but also a standard type library that is universally available to all, with a mechanism to allow new faces to be added over time.
This is not an alternative to
@font-face—there will always be a place for very specialist typefaces for specific uses—but it is a compliment to it.
I would like to invite you to contribute how you think this might work. This is how I see it:
- Organisation: We should form a grass roots organisation to provide universal Web type. It could be part of, or complimentary to the Web Standards Project and the W3C. It would reach out to, and include anyone who has a stake in implementing, creating or using Web fonts.
- Structure: The organisation should be co-operative and democratic, with membership open to all. Intellectual copyright and assets would be jointly held by the group on behalf of everyone.
- Purpose: The group would strive to find common ground between all stakeholders to research or support common standards, find funding to create a font library with complete typefaces that would be freely distributed.
The group could be funded by a mixture of micro-finance, donations of time and money, public funding and sponsorship. It would also affirm the right of type designers to proper remuneration for their work, and foster recognition of type’s importance to the Web.
I’m deliberately publishing this idea to elicit your feedback and comments. The way forward is not clear, and I do not claim to have the answers, but I believe that between all the interested parties—whether individuals, companies or organisations—we have the ability to give everyone a better typographic experience.