Prettier Fonts Coming Your Way

Freetype

There was a time when Linux was notorious for having what was called "fugly" fonts. Things improved a bit over the years, but thanks to expiring patents things are about to get even better.

Freetype is the font service most, if not all, Linux distributions use to simplify and standardize the process of forming font images from basic key character elements such as lines and curves. In other words, it's what is used in Linux to make text on your computer monitor's screen. Other engines are available and some applications even come with their own, but for the most part Linux and many applications for Linux rely upon Freetype.

For years font rendering in Linux was encumbered or restricted from using the functions of the True Type Bytecode Interpreter because the technology to interpret hinting instructions was patented by Apple. Freetype attempted to mimic these functions so users could enjoy a nice anti-aliased font, and as time progressed fonts became more and more attractive. But generally Linux still did not render fonts as nicely as Windows and Mac systems. Savvy users could enable the Bytecode Interpreter themselves much like those who bravely install the patented codecs required to view certain video formats. Sometimes smaller distributions with little to fear from legal action might have enabled it, but for the most part the larger commercially-backed distributions shipped with the legal Freetype - depriving users of beautifully rendered fonts.

But all that is history. As of May 2010, those patents have expired and as of July 12 with version 2.4.0, Freetype ships with the Bytecode Interpreter enabled. Version 2.4.1 was released July 18 to address a small bug found in 2.4.0. Freetype is released under a BSD-style FreeType License and the GPL.

What all this means for you is that with updates or upcoming new system installs your True Type fonts could look prettier, especially at smaller sizes.

______________________

Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of tuxmachines.org.

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Infinality's font rendering is the current state-of-the-art

Paul Bredbury's picture

For years, Ubuntu has been streets ahead, but Infinality has recently overtaken them. See http://forums.gentoo.org/viewtopic-p-6350912.html#6350912

Finally!

Go2doug's picture

Font rendering is one area where Vista and Windows 7 have consistently beaten Linux. Hopefully this new development will break down one of the barriers preventing users from switching from Windows to Linux. It's 2010 and every OS should be capable of displaying beautiful fonts.

Which fonts are properly hinted?

Anonymous's picture

I've always been unclear as to whether free fonts also benefit from having the bytecode interpreter enabled, i.e. Bitstream Vera Sans et all. In most forums I've read that only MS core fonts are properly 'hinted' (i.e. the real Verdana/Arial).

However the beginning of this Wikipedia article claims that Bitstream Vera is 'fully hinted' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitstream_Vera). In which case we will see instant benefits from the distros simply upgrading Freetype.

Guess we'll see.

Re: Which fonts are properly hinted?

G.C. Williams's picture

the beginning of this Wikipedia article claims that Bitstream Vera is 'fully hinted'

Bitstream Vera's only partially hinted. The only fully hinted ones are the MS Core Fonts. Red Hat originally intended that their Liberation fonts would eventually be fully hinted, but since the BCI patent prevented Red Hat/Fedora from implementing BCI technology in Freetype, they never got round to it.

Off-topic

Anonymous's picture

"...the BCI patent prevented Red Hat/Fedora from implementing BCI technology in Freetype."

Don't we loooooooove software patents...?

On the practical side...

Anonymous's picture

"What all this means for you is that with updates or upcoming new system installs your True Type fonts could look prettier, especially at smaller sizes."

Any suggestions on how to get these benefits right now? I mean, how and where we can download those fonts from, and install them?

Thanks!

Re: On the practical side...

G.C. Williams's picture

What you would need to do to enable the bytecode interpreter varies from distro to distro (in Fedora, for instance, enable the RPM Fusion repositories and install freetype-freeworld; in Mandriva, install freetype from the PLF repositories; IIRC, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Mint, Debian and PC-BSD already have BCI enabled).

The trick's then to selectively turn off auto-hinting for the MS Core Fonts so that they can be displayed correctly. There's a site that provides the necessary files and instructions for installing them, here: http://www.sharpfonts.co.cc/

Thank you

Anonymous's picture

"There's a site that provides the necessary files and instructions for installing them, here: http://www.sharpfonts.co.cc/"

Thanks. I'll give it a try.

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