Prettier Fonts Coming Your Way


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.

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