Transitioning to FontExplorer X

Close to a year ago now I made the decision to transition the 34 computer lab (all Macs) that I manage to a new font management application. We had been using Font Reserve for many years. It worked (kind of1), but was ugly and students found it hard to use. The biggest problem though was that the application hadn’t been updated in several years. In fact, the last update was a [poor] port to OS X from the OS9 version.

Last Spring we updated all of the computers to Tiger. Extensis (the manufacturer of Font Reserve) had just released Suitcase Fusion, which was to be the consolidation of Font Reserve and Suitcase. We got the memo, Font Reserve is dead. I had high hopes for Suitcase Fusion, which had gotten some good reviews, so we ordered up a copy and I settled down to testing it.

Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with Suitcase Fusion. I didn’t like the way that it looked. I found that it was really hard to actually view the fonts. This becomes a real problem when you have over 2,000 fonts. It’s an especially big problem for graphic design students who are just starting out and don’t yet know a lot about different typefaces.

The biggest problem that I had with Suitcase Fusion was it’s lack of options in regards to actually managing the fonts. All of a user’s fonts are stored in this location:

/Users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Extensis/Suitcase/Suitcase Font Database.suitcasevault

This of course is a special format that can’t be read by any other program. Notice how the vault is stored in the user’s library? Okay, now put yourself in a computer lab environment with networked home folders. The vault is stored in the user’s home folder which resides on our server. Every single user has their own vault, stored remotely. There is no option to reconfigure this. In the past with Font Reserve, we were about to create a ‘font database’ that resided on each computer in the /Users/Shared/ folder. All of the fonts were local, and every user had access to them.

So unfortunately, this lacking feature was a complete show stopper for me. To be honest though, I really wasn’t very impressed anyway. I used the program on my own computer and it only took about a week before I started seeing web pages and HTML emails covered in funny and unreadable characters. After some research it turned out that the culprit was a double activation of Helvetica. Deactivating the extra copy solved the problems. The thing was, I had been using Suitcase Fusion the whole time. One of the major reasons to use any font management software is to prevent your computer from activating duplicate fonts!

Enter FontExplorer. She rushed in to save us all from the miserable hell of the broken promises made by the font management companies. She was our knight in shining armor…Well, okay, so not exactly. There is however a lot to be excited about in FontExplorer X.

The user interface is very sleek and easy to use. It’s modeled after iTunes, so anyone who can figure that out can use FontExplorer. That’s most people I think. FontExplorer makes it really easy to view the fonts. This helps ease the problems of deciding which ones you want to use in the first place. There is also a built in search function what works really well. Considering how smoothly the program runs and how easy it is to use, I thought it was the obvious choice for our labs. Font Management is an odd concept if you don’t know much about computers and fonts, so anything that makes it easier to see and understand is huge.

Since we started using FontExplorer in the labs, there have been good and bad things. On the good side, students seem to love it. They seem to find it much more intuitive than Font Reserve ever was. They also like how easy it makes it to browse our fonts. This is important, because we have the entire Adobe Font Folio library which comes with over 2,200 typefaces.

On the bad side, I found out the hard way that you get what you pay for. First of all, FontExplorer doesn’t work with networked user accounts. At least it doesn’t right out of the box in the way one might expect it to. I devised a way to script around this, so eventually we did get it working (More on that in the future).

There are also some really bad issues between FontExplorer and Quark 6.5. I wouldn’t say that this is exactly a FontExplorer issue per say. I think that it is somewhere between Quark and FontExplorer, and probably more Quark’s fault. Either way, it’s been really difficult dealing with these problems and trying to troubleshoot them. There just isn’t currently any real solutions, beyond moving to Quark 7. That’s not an option for us right now.

So, a year later, I guess I’m still on the fence about whether or not moving to FontExplorer was the right decision. It’s a really nice program that has some amazing features. In some ways, FontExplorer is light years ahead of all of the other font management software. This isn’t a small feat, since the other applications have been around for a long time and FontExplorer is still in its infancy. There are some reliability issues to be concerned about, mostly with Quark. I really hope that Linotype continues to aggressively develop this application. If they smooth out some of the kinks, it could be one of the best font management applications on the market. As stands now, it’s a mixed bag.

  1. Actually it didn’t really work. You were supposed to be able to ‘temporarily’ activate fonts, meaning they would automatically deactivate when the user logged out. As it turned out, this feature was broken. With our huge number of fonts, and more and more being activated over time, we had all sorts of seemingly unrelated problems with the computers. For example: Microsoft Word would take several minutes to open while it scanned all of the fonts. Eventually I solved this problem by creating a really ugly hackish script that essentially replaced the entire Font Reserve font database with a default one each time a user logged out. This effectively deactivated all of the fonts. Boy was it ugly though and there were also the inexplicably long logout times…

Adobe CS3 Icons

Seems like the entire blogging world is in a fervor about the new CS3 icons. Check out Daring Fireball for links to just about every relevant conversation going on right now on the subject.

My take on it: Yeah, the icons are pretty ugly. Just a little bit boring. I really like the direction they’re going in though, because I was honestly never a fan of the older CS-era icons. Sounds like most people agree that the CS icons were pretty, but useless as far as remembering which icon belonged to which program (I’m forever opening up Illustrator or InDesign by accident). I like how the icons bring together the suite, but overall it doesn’t seem quite right yet. The Acrobat icon choice is understandable, but it’s still just plain goofy when you put it next to all of the other. Overall, it feels like a rough idea that could be headed in the right direction.

My biggest question was about the Illustrator icon. Why is it Ai? I think that is about the least intuitive abbreviation ever. It’s the only app that includes Adobe in its two letters. Luckily, my burning question just got answered (I might have even lost sleep over this) in the comments section of John Nack’s blog on the subject. [For the record, I still don’t agree with the Ai for Illustrator.]

Oh No! Not Snuggles…

I know it’s only Monday morning, but I can already tell. This is going to be the quote of the week:

"Oh my God, next thing you know, Photoshop and the other apps won’t run on PowerPC, and the next thing you know, they’ll kill Mac versions altogether and just tell us to run Windows using Parallels!"  At what point Adobe will burn Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear in some dark pagan ritual isn’t specified, but that must be the natural next step, right??

John Nack on Adobe: Why no PowerPC support in Soundbooth?

Via Theocacao: Implications of Adobe’s Intel-Only Soundbooth

Install CS2 on Ubuntu

I looked this over briefly and it looks pretty good. It requires installing Wine, which I had meant to do anyway. I think I might be trying this out tonight.

Via Publicidad Pixelada

Stupid Fonts Again

Fonts have got to be the bane of my existence. I manage an all-mac computer lab for a college. We have a graphic design program in the department, so we run Quark, InDesign and Font Explorer X. We also own the Adobe Font Folio (open type edition) Library.

Since we got this type library, I’ve had nothing but problems in our labs. We used to run Font Reserve, but I got fed up with having to script around the fact that it was never deactivating fonts like it was supposed to. With a 1000+ font library and lots of users, that’s a problem. Try having a PR major wait two minutes for Word to open, and then bitch you out for it.

I like Font Explorer X a lot, but installing it in our labs hasn’t come without it’s fair share of problems. The biggest thing right now though is that Quark 6.5 just refuses to play nice with any of the other software. Supposedly 7 is better, but since they released it a month after our budgeting cycle ended, we’re stuck with 6.5 at least until next summer.

Latest Problem: All of those True Type fonts that come preintstalled with Tiger (and Office) I can’t get rid of. They are all always activated, except that Quark apparently doesn’t like the Italic versions. This is a real problem because the students get confused and don’t realize that the true type is not the open type. They don’t see an italic listed in Quark so most just assume it doesn’t exist until their graphic design professor yells at them. Yuck.

I need the font insanity to stop. Now.