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The Tangled Road to a Universal Font Format

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The Tangled Road to a Universal Font Format

By Jim Felici, contributor to The Macintosh Bible, Eighth Edition

Handling fonts is probably the only aspect of computing that has without a doubt become easier over the years. I'd like to say that typography has improved along with it--it hasn't--but that's a human problem, not a technological one.

The Mac pioneered the role of the operating system in handling fonts on the desktop, but over the years, what should have been a direct and industry-leading path got tangled in politics and dubious business decisions. Chairman Steve Jobs never liked the idea of Apple being beholden to non-Apple technologies, so PostScript fonts weren't allowed to play an integral role in the Mac OS. For 15 years, Mac users had to suffer, using ATM as an add-on application (not to mention all those screen fonts and suitcases), because Apple refused to build PostScript font-rendering technology into the OS itself. Apple has finally made the move with OS X, almost two years after Microsoft beat it to the punch by doing the same thing in Windows 2000.

So bitter was Apple about its reliance on Adobe fonts and RIPs--the very technologies that made desktop publishing possible and created the one great niche market that keeps Apple alive today--that it conspired to create TrueType, a new font format that Apple agreed to share with Microsoft if Microsoft would share with Apple the PostScript clone it was developing. The aim was to crush Adobe. Well, Microsoft got TrueType and used it steal much of Apple's market share in the DTP market. But Microsoft decided not to pursue its PostScript clone, so Apple was left holding the bag.

TrueType has now evolved into OpenType, a font format developed jointly by Microsoft and Adobe. Apple is out of it. My congratulations to all at Apple who contributed to this debacle: Mssrs. Jobs, Sculley, Gassée, Spindler, Amelio, and a host of others acting behind the scenes.

But at least in the end we have what we had at the beginning (we're not always that fortunate, you know): a single font format--indeed a single font file format--that will work on any platform. Progress often takes weird paths, but you've got to be happy wherever you find it.

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