Web fonts, HTML 5 roundup

Over the weekend, as thoughtful designers gathered at Typecon 2009 (“a letterfest of talks, workshops, tours, exhibitions, and special events created for type lovers at every level”), the subject of web fonts was in the air and on the digital airwaves. Worthwhile reading on web fonts and our other recent obsessions includes:

Jeffrey Zeldman Questions The “EOT Lite” Web Font Format

Responding to a question I raised here in comments on Web Fonts Now, for Real, Richard Fink explains the thinking behind Ascender Corp.’s EOT Lite proposal . The name “EOT Lite” suggests that DRM is still very much part of the equation. But, as Fink explains it, it’s actually not.

EOT Lite removes the two chief objections to EOT:

  • it bound the EOT file, through rootstrings, to the domain name;
  • it contained MTX compression under patent by Monotype Imaging, licensed by Microsoft for this use.

Essentially, then, an “EOT Lite file is nothing more than a TTF file with a different file extension” (and an unfortunate but understandable name).

A brief, compelling read for a published spec that might be the key to real fonts on the web.

Web Fonts—Where Are We?”

@ilovetypography tackles the question we’ve been pondering. After setting out what web designers want versus what type designers and foundries want, the author summarizes various new and old proposals (“I once heard EOT described as ‘DRM icing on an OpenType cake.’”) including Tal Leming and Erik van Blokland‘s .webfont, which is gathering massive support among type foundries, and David Berlow’s permissions table, announced here last week.

Where does all of this net out? For @ilovetypography, “While we’re waiting on .webfont et al., there’s Typekit.”

(We announced Typekit here on the day it debuted. Our friend Jeff Veen’s company Small Batch, Inc. is behind Typekit, and Jason Santa Maria consults on the service. Jeff and Jason are among the smartest and most forward thinking designers on the web—the history of Jeff’s achievements would fill more than one book. We’ve tested Typekit, love its simple interface, and agree that it provides a legal and technical solution while we wait for foundries to standardize on one of the proposals that’s now out there. Typekit will be better when more foundries sign on; if foundries don’t agree to a standard soon, Typekit may even be the ultimate solution, assuming the big foundries come on board. If the big foundries demur, it’s unclear whether that will spell the doom of Typekit or of the big foundries.)

The Power of HTML 5 and CSS 3

Applauding HTML 5’s introduction of semantic page layout elements (“Goodbye div soup, hello semantic markup”), author Jeff Starr shows how HTML 5 facilitates cleaner, simpler markup, and explains how CSS can target HTML 5 elements that lack classes and IDs. The piece ends with a free, downloadable goodie for WordPress users. (The writer is the author of the forthcoming Digging into WordPress.)

Surfin’ Safari turns up new 3-D HTML5 tricks that give Flash a run for its money

Just like it says.

Read more

  • Web Fonts Now, for Real: David Berlow of The Font Bureau publishes a proposal for a permissions table enabling real fonts to be used on the web without binding or other DRM. — 16 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Everything you ever wanted to know about real fonts on the web, including commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; which browsers already support @font-face; what IE supports instead; Håkon Wium Lie, father of CSS, on @font-face at A List Apart; the Berlow interview at A List Apart; @font-face vs. EOT; Cufón; SIFR; Cufón combined with @font-face; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; and Typekit, a new web service offering a web-only font linking license on a hosted platform; — 23 May 2009
  • HTML 5 is a mess. Now what? A few days ago on this site, John Allsopp argued passionately that HTML 5 is a mess. In response to HTML 5 activity leader Ian Hickson’s comment here that, “We don’t need to predict the future. When the future comes, we can just fix HTML again,” Allsopp said “This is the only shot for a generation” to get the next version of markup right. Now Bruce Lawson explains just why HTML 5 is “several different kind of messes.” Given all that, what should web designers and developers do about it? — 16 July 2009
  • Web Standards Secret Sauce: Even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. Thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit, in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. — 12 July 2009
  • In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]@font-face, berlow, davidberlow, CSS, permissionstable, fontbureau, webfonts, webtypography, realtypeontheweb, HTML5, HTML4, HTML, W3C, WHATWG, markup, webstandards, typography[/tags]

24 thoughts on “Web fonts, HTML 5 roundup

  1. The Power of HTML 5 and CSS 3 = The Power to give designers and developers a headache. I am disliking HTML 5 more and more.

  2. @jeffreyzeldman
    Please note that I am not affiliated in any way with Ascender in any way. Not even a job offer!
    My presence at the TypeCon conference was quite independent.
    My information came from interviews and easily verifiable inspection of the product.

  3. Please note that I am not affiliated in any way with Ascender in any way. Not even a job offer! My presence at the TypeCon conference was quite independent.

    My bad. Fixed. Thanks.

  4. @Michael Burns, you can keep using DIVs until the day you die if you want. HTML 5 doesn’t have to be any different HTML4 or XHTML1 unless you like to take advantage of new and useful features.

  5. @Robert, I would probably want to use HTML5 semantic cleanness with classes and id’s so I can still target things as necessary. Trying to do a site as put forth in the article, with no classes or ideas, seems like the CSS would become to difficult to keep track of.

  6. The Safari 3D transforms example has nothing to do with HTML5 or markup. CSS 3D Transforms are a CSS3 module that WebKit invented and passed to the W3C to standardise. See http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-3d-transforms . The examples even use HTML 4.01.

    In regards to Web Fonts, all browsers except IE now support regular TTF and OTF fonts. I’d be surprised if this is not the format that will win. Implementation trumps specification. I suspect web developers and designers are an honest enough bunch not to steal fonts, and it will hurt their reputation if they do and get caught. Foundries that don’t treat designers like thieves or little kids, and licence their fonts to be used on the Web will likely win out. Those that do steal fonts (and some will, even if DRMd) are likely to be those that wouldn’t buy fonts anyway.

  7. @David Story

    David, the issue for type designers isn’t that web designers will steal fonts. The problem is that a legally purchased font used on a website via @font-face is available for anyone to download. This is the concern of the foundries: that if websites start using legally purchased fonts via @font-face, every man and his dog will then be able to download and use that font illegally, without paying for it. In essence, the web designer becomes an inadvertent file-sharer, providing a platform from which other people may freely pirate the font he’s using.

    Now, much as I am pro-open source, and haven’t ever paid for or used a commercial font as I have always found a free alternative, it seems to me that this is a very legitimate concern. It isn’t as if foundries are being unreasonable in wanting to protect their incomes. They’re selling a product—if that product is made freely available by others (whether with malicious intent or not), then they’re situated to lose a great deal.

    Imagine Jeffery went to Hoefler & Frere-Jones and purchased Sentinel. He decides to take advantage of modern browser features, and use some progressive enrichment by putting the OTF file on his server and specifying its location with @font-face, then adding “Sentinel” before “Georgia” in the font declarations of his stylesheet. I come along in Firefox 3.5 and notice the shiny new font. I click the Inspect button on a paragraph element, and check out the location the font is stored at. Then I download the font from that location and install it on my own computer. I can then use it however I please.

    I think H&FJ is justified in being worried about this. Maybe I’d never have paid for Sentinel anyway, and would have used Dejavu Serif or some other free slab instead. But maybe not. And of course, millions of people could potentially download Sentinel from zeldman.com, and not have to purchase it legally. For a small foundry like H&FJ (and most foundries are small), that could equate to a significant loss of profit. Potentially, it could put them out of business.

    That’s the concern that foundries have. I’m not sure how to address that concern—I’m pretty sure DRM isn’t the answer, for instance—but it does seem legitimate to me.


  8. @D Bnonn Tennant: Precisely. The CSS @font-face spec, admirable as it was in every other way, violates existing font user licenses by exposing complete, downloadable fonts to web page readers. It’s not just a question of dishonesty. A person could accidentally end up using a font they haven’t paid for. Or they could download a font out of curiosity, not realizing they were doing anything wrong.

    Browsers don’t obscure the font, nor is it necessarily the browser maker’s obligation to do so.

    Microsoft volunteered to do so by creating its own specification, Embedded OpenType, which it implemented way back in IE4 (I believe), and has since submitted to the W3C as a proposed standard. EOT protects type houses by imposing Digital Rights Management. Web designers, other browser makers, and many other informed citizens dislike DRM, thus other browser makers haven’t implemented it, so it hasn’t become a cross-platform standard. Which is good, since a non-DRM solution is key to the sustainable adoption of real fonts on the web.

  9. @David Storey:

    Implementation trumps specification.

    That phrase cuts two ways. In the 1990s, Netscape and Microsoft implemented proprietary and incompatible scripting technologies, and supported HTML and CSS incompletely and often incorrectly. Our industry suffered because implementation “trumped” specification. We who remember those times are wary of corporate-driven free-for-alls.

    On the other hand, if any of the reasonable type foundry web font proposals now out there gains sufficient momentum, it will solve our problem, will become a de facto standard temporarily, and will likely be submitted to the W3C to become an official spec. In that case, implementation will lead specification, and in a positive way.

    If the industry fails to adopt a standard, then Typekit or something like it will become the means by which designers use real fonts on the web. (Even if the industry adopts a standard, Typekit could continue to be a useful aid to implementation.)

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  11. @D Bnonn Tennant:

    I can only imagine that the average man and his dog don’t know what a font is, never mind care to look in the browser cache to find the font, then go and install it. I’d wager that that the majority of the people that care about fonts are designers. I can’t imagine that many people other than designers or developers of some kind have ever bought a font before. It isn’t a mass market product.

    I’d expect that the amount of people that will take fonts fro the browser cache, that would have otherwise have bought the font would be very low. The potential benefit of the huge new market to sell fonts to–that is web designer–will far outweigh any potential losses in revenue from stealing fonts. Fonts are often hundreds of dollars–not many kids at school would pay hundreds of dollars for a font to include in a school project or such. If someone was likely to come and take a font from the browser cache and install it on their computer, then a much more convenient place to go get the font would be a file sharing app. There I can just type in the font name. To take one from a browser I first have to find a site that uses that font. Much less convenient.

    @Zeldman I’m fully aware of the dangers of single vendor technology, as it is my day job at Opera trying to get sites to fix their code that break in Opera, wither through sniffing or giving broken code such as vendor specific extensions or not using it to spec. However in this case it isn’t like that as you already have 4 out of the 5 major browsers that support regular ttf and otf through @font-face, in an interoperable way. There is already a defacto standard that developers can use, and a growing number of fonts that are licensed to be used with @font-face, such as some of the beautiful fonts on The League of Moveable Type.

  12. Hi Bnonn,

    I appreciate your choosing our Sentinel typeface as an example. H&FJ isn’t so much “worried” about the situation as we are “inspired” to do something about it — our clients are eager to use fonts online, and we’re eager to help. Trying to get designers interested in the standards end of things is part of this, and I’m very grateful to Jeffrey for devoting his time and energies to talking about Tal and Erik’s .webfont proposal, David’s PERM table, and all the attendant strengths and weaknesses of the .EOT format. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

    In any case, we hope to have some encouraging news for font fanciers soon, so I hope you’ll keep an eye on our blog at http://www.typography.com/ask.

  13. David Storey:

    It’s not a problem that four major browsers support @font-face. That’s great. IE should support the @font-face standard as well.

    I agree that there are easier ways to steal fonts than getting them from your browser’s cache. I also understand the concerns of type designers. Don’t you?

    Were type designers part of the conversation when @font-face was developed? If not, why not? It’s wonderful that there are type designers who freely license their work for use on the web, but what if I want to use a font that isn’t yet licensed for the web? Most aren’t.

    To limit art directors and designers to the minority of fonts that are licensed for the web is not much better than limiting us to Georgia, Verdana, Arial, Courier, and Times. Everyone agrees that the train is leaving the station, and that type designers need to get on board. Type designers are trying to do just that. That’s why these proposals are out there.

    Nobody’s the bad guy here. We need a standard all parties can agree to.

  14. I would agree that there should be a standard that everyone adheres to. It’s not cool that some fonts work on some servers and others don’t. Can’t we all use the same?? and have it be a little exciting?

    Serket Watches

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