20 September 2005 12 noon edt

ALA No. 203 + design software news

A new issue of A List Apart focuses on print CSS, plus I catch up on design software news nobody should miss.

A List Apart No. 203: Print Styles

In Issue 203 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

ALA’s New Print Styles
by Eric Meyer
Print away, you fiends! Eric Meyer presents the ALA 4.0 print styles and discusses the challenge of translating a complex screen layout into a well-designed and useful printed page.
Improving Link Display for Print
by Aaron Gustafson
Some time ago, Eric Meyer showed you how to add URIs to the printed version of your pages using print styles. Sometimes, though, too many inline URIs can make pages hard to read. Aaron Gustafson comes to the rescue with a JavaScript add-on that’ll have you loving your linkage again.

Thanks to the authors and to midnight oil burners Erin Kissane, Jason Santa Maria, Dan Benjamin and Kevin Cornell for bringing ALA No. 203 to our screens.

Design software news

Off-camera action has kept me from posting about interesting design and software developments of recent days. This quick course correction will not give any of the following items its full due but will at least get the links out there:

Firefox Plugin for A List Apart
Ted Drake’s plugin lets you search A List Apart from the comfort of your favorite browser (if Firefox is your fave).
Many software packages can help you track your website’s traffic and stats, but at too high an aesthetic cost. Shaun Inman’s Mint does the job usably, affordably, and quite beautifully, too. Imagine taking visual pleasure from such workaday tasks as checking visitor resolution. Now you can.
Embraced by the design community even before it was released thanks to a beta test program worthy of Macromedia, Mr Inman’s Mint is extensible. Hidden Chemistry keeps track of the rapidly burgeoning plethora of plug-ins, such as Sparks!, which embeds the high-res graphics Edward Tufte calls Sparklines in your Mint display.
We have been using Mint at An Event Apart and plan to use it everywhere. See also: Mint AJAX goodness.
FontExplorer X
Nearly out of beta and good enough to use today, Linotype’s FontExplorer X combines the advanced type management functions a designer needs with an interface (and store) born of iTunes. Think of it as a respected type foundry doing for art directors what Apple did for music fans. And like iTunes (but unlike Suitcase and other type management programs) FontExplorer X is absolutely free.
An older beta works for Mac Classic and Windows. The current, near-released version is for Mac OS X only. One guesses the program will be cross-platform and one thinks it will continue to be free upon final release.
For the past week, I have been using FontExplorer X to evaluate it as a permanent replacement for my beloved but buggy Suitcase.
Which interface, FontExplorer X’s or Suitcase’s, works better? Which is more attractive? Toss a coin. Both interfaces are bone-simple to understand, and both look great — FontExplorer X looks like Suitcase morphed with iTunes. Both programs make it easy to create and manage collections, but FontExplorer X additionally lets you create smart collections, a la iTunes smart playlists; and FontExplorer X provides one-click shopping for Linotype fonts.
Better still, fonts which Suitcase assured me were corrupted and unusable work fine in FontExplorer X (welcome back, Opti Craw Clarendon!), and FontExplorer X includes font repair software that actually works. Oh, and FontExplorer X is free.
Lest euphoria overcome judgement, I must point out that FontExplorer X is a beta and it does have bugs, at least in my experience. Sometimes, for no reason, when you attempt to activate a font by checking the activation checkbox or pushing the Activate! button, FontExplorer X refuses to do what you’ve asked. As you try for a fourth or fifth seemingly futile time to make the program do the most basic function it was designed to perform, it may not only fail to do that simple thing, but also simultaneously uncheck (de-activate) previous active fonts. The frustration could send you to the roof with an AK47, a bag of Pirate Booty, and an aging yellowed copy of True Detective Magazine.
But here’s the equally nutty salvation to this damnation. When the program fails to do the most basic thing it was designed to do, just quit. Then restart. Lo and behold, the fonts you activated actually were activated. The interface was failing to update properly — a bug I’m sure the product’s makers are hustling to fix as you read these words.
If you use Mac OS X and lack a font management tool, download FontExplorer X now. If you use a competitive product, give FontExplorer X a try anyway. Bug or no bug, after a week of use, I have not switched back to Suitcase.