What I'd Like to See in Tiger: Part 2, Font Management That Works

by Hadley Stern

I've been writing about fonts and OS X for a long time. Here is the problem; working with fonts in OS X still sucks. Badly.

Remember OS 9? You could get this application called ATM Deluxe or Extensis Suitcase. If you wanted to turn on a font you just clicked on it. Or, if in a pinch you wanted to install a font yourself you simply dragged it over the System Folder icon and all was good.

Fast forward to OS X. You have a product like Font Reserve or Suitcase. In theory everything should be simple. Except it isn't. Clicking on a font doesn't all work. There are a multiple places a font can go in OS X and each font, because it is a file, is subject to the often confusing world of OS X's permissions. There is a point when the power of OS X should be kept hidden from users, and fonts are a perfect case. I don't care about permissions for Futura Bold! I just want it to show up in my menu when I want it.

Apple's Font Book is a lame attempt to fix all this. If you have a large collection of fonts it chokes, and it isn't capable of auto-activating fonts.

I fear that there may be no solution to font issues and OS X. A lot of it has to do with the underlying Unix structure of the OS. However, I'm not ready to give up. Given that a large portion of the Mac audience are designers you would think Apple would invest some significant resources to not only fix the issues, but be innovative in how the OS deals with fonts.

What about you, what are your experience with fonts and OS X?


2005-02-14 09:34:34
Fonts in 5 different folders? It's totally confusing, and turning fonts on and off is just a nightmare. Not to mention that some older fonts don't work at all, etc.

I really like this series of entries and agree with you that improved speed is needed as well. Every time I go back to OS 9 I am impressed by its snappiness.

2005-02-15 07:27:45
Method to the Maddness
Most old fonts that don't work in OS X either are bitmap only or don't meet the specification for the format they were delivered in. Since OS X is moving to a completely device / resolution independent display model, support for bitmap only fonts has been dropped.

Over the years, Apple probably added hundreds of exceptions for invalid fonts to OS 9. Since OS X is really "NeXT Step in Mac Clothing", it's likely than very few of these workarounds are present in OS X. Complaining that that out of spec fonts don't work in OS X is like complaining that bad HTML renders wrong in newer browsers.

As for font directories, unlike OS 9, OS X is multiuser and has better security. Each of these folders is there for a reason and you usually only need to worry about two of them.

/Library/Fonts/ - Fonts available for everyone on the system. This allows a core set of fonts to be available regardless of who logs in.

~/Library/Fonts - User installed fonts only visible for that particular user. If you have two or more designers sharing one system, each can have their own subset of fonts.

The remaining folders should only be changed if your sharing fonts on a network or if you need to remove a system font (/System/Library/Fonts/), which really isn't a good idea unless you really know what your doing, etc. Applications can activate their own fonts, but they are not visible outside that application and are usually included for a good reason (special musical notation fonts, etc.). If they are causing a conflict with other fonts on your system, complain to the app vender, not Apple.

I do agree that Font Book is buggy, needs font activation features, and should make managing fonts easier. Hopefully, Tiger will address these issues, but changing the directory structure and core font handling of OS X will not fix the problem.

2005-02-15 07:59:21
Beat you to this by three weeks or so.. mikeb.gearmedia.net

Application font menus that are not sorted by family are a huge pain in the butt! With OS9 all the helvetica variants would be under "helvetica." Now they're all over the menu with weird names like "B helvetica bold" or "URW Helvetica Condensed". "B" and "U" are alphabetically on opposite ends of the menu and it makes finding the correct version next to impossible.

With over 3000 fonts I spend more time activating, deactivating and searching for fonts than I spend on actually designing.

2005-02-15 12:58:10
Font Menu Organization
The problem with font menu organization on OS X is that the only "official" system-defined way to select fonts is using the Font Panel, which is rarely used in non-cocoa applications. This is a "feature" that was inherited from NeXT Step.

Since a pulldown font menu is not provided by the OS (as it was in OS 9), developers have to create their own font menus instead. Left to their own devices, most applications (Word in Particular) don't group fonts by family, provide a WYSIWYG preview or display them in a consistent way, resulting in a unhappy users.

While there are a few hacks like Font Card from Unsanity that can clean up poorly designed font menus in some applications, Apple should provide an "offical" system-defined font menu for both Cocoa and Carbon applications.

2005-09-20 13:02:42
Total chaos
I guess this is the price you pay for “progress”. I recently purchased a G5 with OS 10 Tiger thinking it would be a simple matter to transfer my fonts off of my old G4 onto my new G5. It has become a minefield. Out of desperation I am trying to run Adobe Type Manager in the Classic Mode and the underachieving Apple Font Manager in System 10. There seems to be no consistent problem that you can identify to try and resolve the issues with the fonts. Some fonts show up fine in Quark 6 but not in Quark 4. Some fonts show up fine on screen but when I create a PDF from the file they are bitmapped. Duplicates appear for no reason and some fonts just won't read at all (even within the same family). This is especially frustrating when you have work which is done on a repeat basis from year to year and now the fonts won't work. I hope Apple can solve this problem.