Where Did the Courier and Helvetica Fonts Go?

by Caitlyn Martin

I've been running Vector Linux 5.9 Standard since it was released about six weeks ago. I've mostly been satisfied with it. I ran into a problem, though, when I first tried to install the Culmus fonts, a popular font set for the Hebrew character set. The fonts installed correctly and were where they were supposed to be but none of my applications could see them. It turns out the same was true of Courier, Helvetica, Biitstream Charter, and a host of other fonts traditionally included with X.org and XFree86. All were installed on my system but none were available.

The problem originated upstream from Vector Linux. I still don't know whether or not this is a Slackware issue or an X.org issue in release 7.3. I do know that some other popular distros don't have the problem. However, since it's easy to fix and undoubtedly affects other distros, not just Vector Linux, I thought I'd share what the source ot the problem is and how to solve it.


Asdf Sadf
2008-02-10 14:42:52
on my ubuntu system, I have:

and I think it just goes into all the dirs under that.

for what it's worth.

Simon Hibbs
2008-02-11 01:53:51
Just a few lines in an XML config file in /etc/fonts/conf.avail/51-local.conf to fix it? Any they say Linux is difficult for non-technical users!
Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-11 11:14:26
@asdi: It would only go into all the directories under /usr/share/fonts if they are explicitly called in /etc/fonts/fonts.conf If not then the directories are not called. I'll have access to an Ubuntu system this evening and I'll check if the problem exists there or not.

@Simon: I expected a sarcastic comment like yours. Every time I write a technical article that suggests that a user goes to the command line and changes I file I get one or two.

Most non-technical users probably wouldn't even notice and would get the problem corrected automatically when a new fontconfig package came out. This, however, is the Linux DEV(eloper) Center blog so I expect my readers to be at least somewhat technical. For someone who is a developer or knows Linux and isn't afraid to edit a file it IS a very easy fix indeed.

To make my point: I was an alpha and beta tester for this version of Vector Linus and I didn't notice the problem either. It was only when I put the release code into production and tried to add fonts that I needed that I realized something was wrong.

For Joe or Jane user Linux isn't easy because it isn't preinstalled. I've seen fixes for Windows that were equally complicated. Your sarcasm aside, I don't think the Linux desktop is terribly difficult for anyone with even half a brain.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-11 18:04:57
Asdf: It turns out you are correct. Ubuntu specifies /usr/share/fonts and drills down. It's a non-standard way of doing things but it certainly avoids problems.

As I said in the article, this may just be Slackware and derivatives. Without checking a lot of distros I just can't know for sure.

2008-02-12 12:43:32
I direct a not-for-profit which installs Vector Linux Standard (currently 5.8) on donated low resource boxes and distributes them to low income families and organizations which serve them. Thanks so much for your advocacy of VL and your willingness to pitch in to correct problems.

Since we are using Standard 5.8, we may not be affected by this particular problem, but it is good to know about it and to have a solution at the same time. Nothing better!


Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-13 10:59:31
@Tom: First, thank you for the good work you do. I have to correct you on one thing: I am not an advocate for Vector Linux any more than I am an advocate for Wolvix. If I like a distro I'll use it and write about it. If not, well... maybe I'll write about it.

I have a review of Vector Linux 5.9 coming. Like my review of 5.8 Standard it ended up being a very mixed review that points out both strong points and shortcomings of this release. The minute I start "advocating" a given distro I won't be able to write about it anymore. That, to me, would be a conflict of interest.

2008-02-13 16:22:42
Whenever I think a product or service is good or good enough for a purpose, I recommend it. Our non-profit recommends VL for low resource boxes. We also advocate using GNU/Linux otherwise. Recommending and advocating are the same to me, and some dictionaries list advocate as a synonym for recommend.

Perhaps I am not using language precisely enough in your context as a writer and reviewer.

2008-02-13 21:20:16
FYI, the Liberation fonts provide TTF versions of Arial, Times New Roman, and Courier New. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_fonts
Certainly doesn't solve all your problems, but you'd have those.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-14 13:29:59
@Tom: OK, I meet your definition of an advocate. What I am trying to say is that Vector Linux is one of several distributions I use and advocate and that I have no ties to nor do I receive payment from Vector Linux. I hope that clarifies things.

@Joshua: Good information, thank you. As I mentioned before, I probably wouldn't have noticed the issue as being important to me had I not needed some additional Hebrew fonts. I expect international users or anyone who uses non-Latin fonts are the ones most severely affected. In any case, at least there is a good solution.

2008-02-15 01:43:12
I checked with Slackware 12.0 and /etc/fonts/fonts.conf already has them all by default:

The same is valid for the latest package for Slackware 11.0, fontconfig-2.4.2-i486-2_slack11.0.tgz.

So I suppose it's a Vector Linux issue, but quite a tiny one.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-15 12:17:36
@Béranger: IT's not just Vector Linux. I've found it in two other distros so far. I have to wonder if Slackware had the same issue and corrected it in an updated package. Also it is NOT a tiny issue if you need to add non-Latin fonts.
2008-02-18 12:35:50
Slack 12 was released on 7/1/2007. The Slackware current changelog indicates font changes as far back as Oct 16, 2007.


Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-18 13:48:16
It gest more interesting. I tore apart the Vector Linux 5.9 and VL64 5.9 packages for fontconfig and they provide a proper file. Some other update (to? X.org, maybe) changed the fonts.conf file. I've asked the VL developers to take a look.

I'm going to reinstall Slack 12 and do a global upgrade with slapt-get (from jaos) to see if the problem exists in Slack 12 + current upgrades.

Curiouser and curiouser...

Carla Schroder
2008-02-20 10:48:34
This is 2008, right? Why are we still having so dommed much font drama in Linux? aaaarggghhhh..... Thank you all you hardy souls who take the time to untangle the unholy Linux font mess.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-02-20 12:11:52
Hi, Carla! I think we have problems because some developers can't leave well enough alone and make mistakes trying to make improvements. Those of us who test software we're interested in are equally guilty of not being as thorough as we could be.
2008-02-20 13:20:09
An interesting and encouraging sign of conscientious development is SQLite which claims, and I have no reason to think it is not true, 98% test coverage of its code.


Technically, SQLite accomplishes this in great degree because of TCL. Praise is due Richard Hipp and the developers who work with him.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-25 15:02:52
UPDATE:Installing a package called fontfix, currently in the testing repository, resolvez this problem.