Monday, February 07, 2005

Linux and fonts don't mix well

I did not blog for awhile but for a good reason. With october i got accepted into the 2nd best mathematics and computer science faculty in Poland - Faculty of Fundamental Problems of Technology at the Wroclaw University of Technology, i did expect it to be hard, but not that hard though. During the semester i nearly quit working on any project including PLD. At the end of the year I got badly sick and stopped learning too, I only remember waking up at 6 am going to the lectures, getting back home and sleeping. I'm feeling well since a week now, at least I passed all the exams.

Yes, fonts.

I am an amateur typographer, I like designing stuff, especially websites, but I have a dream of designing a newspaper one day, actually the idea of starting a newspaper was bugging me for a long time and that was the main reason I went into typography, anyway I need to have my fonts.

Widely available tools on linux apparently do not support the idea of having many fonts and organising them in a reasonable manner. I do not use many fonts at one time. At the moment I have 900 fonts loaded in X11 (820 TTF, 15 OTF, 65 Type1) which is enough to make using them very uncomfortable. The font dialogs in Qt and in GIMP are one big mistake. How the hell do you comfortably select a font from 900 others in those dialogs? What about comparing fonts? Grouping them? Annotating them for heavens sake!

What if I wanted to choose from all the 2000 TTFs, 4742 Type1 and 150 OTFs I have on the HDD? Maybe I would need only 5 from them, I'd have to restart X11 several times to be able to preselect some of them and then (having limited the search to ca 50 fonts) I'd still have a hard time comparing between them with the tools that are widely available at the present time.

Not discouraged yet? We have a bonus especially for you sir, yes you! Take a look at your OTF font, how is it displayed in your linux box? Let us take an example: Antykwa ToruĊ„ska (Torunian Antiqua). A typeface designed by Zygfryd Gardzielewski - one of the most famous polish typographers - and cast in 1960 in Warsaw, usually used for printing accidenses, poetry and titularities. It was digitalised in 1996 by Polish Tex Users Group and is being maintained by Janusz Nowacki who is also the author of the OTF version. It is an extremely interesting free font, since it includes properly encoded latin, greek, vietnameese and cyryllic fonts as well as both nautic and normal numbers to mathematical symbols and other characters a professionaly designed font should have. It is available in PLD-linux as a package called fonts-OTF-AntykwaTorunska or for download OTF version 2.01 zip. It is GPL'd, you can see screenshots here.

With TTF fonts you only get to see the name of the font on the font list right and you can choose the bold/regular/condensed/etc variants in a separate field right? Well with OTF fonts you don't. I call it uncomfortable, imagine having 150 OTF fonts with 5-10 variants of each of them and browsing them with the currently available dialogs.

There are two other bugs. First and most annoying is the slowness of rendering asian characters on linux. Konqueror freezes for at least a minute while it waits for freetype to render them (check, I have never tried Lycoris (they use Bistreams renderer instead of freetype) though, anyway its renderer is not freely available. Another thing with fonts under linux is fontconfig and matching the following screenshots will demonstrate everything:

Verdana 11ptVerdana 12pt

I had high hopes for Qt4 at some point, I really thought it would address the font problem, but apparently i was in error. Anyway good things about Qt4 - it is going to be GPL'd on Win32! This saves me a lot of work. Current TODO is simple for now: finish an evil project i signed an NDA about, finish and release opensource my CMS and make sure the Qt application for managing its content works on windows (mega thank you goes to the trolls for not making me rewrite the app on gtk) and now a new item - the font browser, maybe ill start working on it in Q4 2005.