New Font Features in Leopard

Typographi has a post on Grading the New Font “Features” in OS X Leopard. There is some good information on font improvements that I haven’t heard about elsewhere. The feature to print out Font Book pages sounds nice.

The feature that really got me excited1 though was this:

Automatically activate fonts as you need them. When an application requests an installed font that’s currently disabled, Leopard activates that font and keeps it active until the requesting application quits.

If this feature actually works and works well with lots of fonts, it’s easily got to be one of the killer features of Leopard. Seamless font auto-activation built into the os is worth the price of admission alone. How many other font management applications cost money and don’t really work (other than of course FontExplorer X, which is free)?

I’m not holding my breath though.

  1. By excited I mean pessimistically hopeful.

Managing fonts with FontExplorer X

Somehow I completely missed this article when it came out. It has lots of good general tips about OS X font management and Font Explorer X.

Typography Course Syllabus

I stumbled across this blog the other day which includes an entire course syllabus for a Typography class at Marietta College (GRPH 210). I found the site quite interesting because there is actually a lot of really good info about Typography on the site:

I’m also quite pleased to discover that they are using Linotype’s FontExplorer X for font management in their labs as well. I don’t think that the typography professor in my department has forgiven me yet for pulling the plug on FontReserve and replacing it with FEX. Sigh.

I think that overall the site is a nice example of what can be done with a “departmental blog”. I’ve been working on something similar for my own job.

FontExplorer X and Quark 6.5

In my last post on FontExplorer, Transitioning to FontExplorer X, I alluded to some problems I was having with it and Quark 6.5. I’d like to expound upon that a little bit.

In order to get on the same page, I want to define some standard font management terminology first. I am talking about using OS X in this post, but many of the more general concepts probably apply to font management on Windows machines as well.

System Font Folders:
OS X comes with three default font folders, each serving a different purpose:
Contains all fonts necessary for the operating system to run. Font stored here are accessible to all users on the system.
Contains most fonts necessary for standard applications to run. Font stored here are accessible to all users on the system.
Contains fonts only accessible to a single user.
Font Database:
This is the folder that your font management application stores your fonts in. This folder can be called any number of things, stored in any number of file formats, and in any number of locations. It all depends on the particular font management application and your setup. The important thing to remember is that this folder is distinct from all of the system font folders.
Auto-Activation of Fonts:
This happens when you open a document or application and your font management software intercepts a call for a font that is not currently activated. The font management software then activates the font for you. This can be done either through intercepting a system-wide call for a font or via a plugin.
Manual Activation of Fonts:
This is when you use your font management software to activate one or more fonts. After manually activating a font, it will be available to all applications on the system until the font is deactivated.
Auto-Activation Plug-In
A Plug-In that auto-activates fonts that are requested by an application. These plugins are written for a specific application (usually ones like Quark and InDesign).

Currently I am using FontExplorer 1.1.2 and Quark 6.5.2. I have also tested these problems using Quark 6, Quark 6.1, and Quark 6.5 and gotten the same results.

In the first versions of FontExplorer there seemed to be some sporadic problems with the auto-activation plugin for Quark 6.5. Sometimes it would work fine, but other times the font either wouldn’t activate at all, or only parts of the typeface would activate. Often times there were problems with the italic versions of typefaces. For whatever reason I also seemed to have a particularly difficult time with Univers 39. Since I’ve installed FontExplorer 1.1 (and up), which includes version 1.24 of the Quark 6.5 plugin, things seemed to be going very well with auto-activation. In fact, I haven’t noticed any problems with auto-activation in Quark 6.5 using FontExplorer X 1.1 and up.

The real problems between FontExplorer and Quark seem to happen when fonts are manually activated. A normal workflow for creating a Quark document should go something like this:

  1. Open Font Management application
  2. Activate desired fonts
  3. Open Quark
  4. Create a new document

All of the fonts that you activated should be available in Quark’s font menu at this point. In an ideal world, you should also be able to activate and use additional fonts without having to quit Quark. Clearly though, this is not an ideal world.

Unfortunately, in this case, after following the steps listed above, many1 of the fonts simply do not show up in the Quark font menu. There is no logical reason for this that I can figure out. The problem is reproducible. I’ve isolated two fonts that always have this problem: Duc De Berry LT Std and Serlio LT Std (both OpenType). Also, no amount of quitting Quark, deactivating and then reactivating the fonts or cleaning the font caches will work. The fonts simply will not show up in Quark.

Curiously, if you take one of these problematic fonts and copy it to any of the system font folders (may require a restart), the font appears in Quark without a problem. Great, but this doesn’t help us, since we’re circumventing the whole ‘font management’ thing entirely by doing this. Remember, the whole reason why we’re using font management software is because we have lots of fonts, too many to leave activated all of the time.

I struggled with this problem for quite some time looking for possible solutions or workarounds. I even tried pulling out my hair, but that didn’t seem to work either. Searching for the problem yielded only a couple of results. Over on the FontExplorer discussion board, there were a couple of posts with similar problems (no solutions):

On Creative Guy, there are some interesting tips for fonts in Quark. They sounded promising, but didn’t fix this particular problem:

Finally I found this post on Jason Santa Maria. The post itself isn’t that interesting, the comments are where it gets good.

Jerald says: First off… I totally dig FEX. Here is my problem. Quark 6.5 will not recognize loaded fonts more than half the time unless I log out and log back in.
Tim Diacon says: Quark is the bane of my life! FEX works perfectly with everything except Quark which will not activate fonts which are active in other programs! I’ve tried the Jaws solution posted earlier but still not working – anyone worked out a solution?

Hey look, a suggested solution:

Jerald says: Follow up to my experiences with auto activation in Quark. Removing the items in the JAWS folder as described in my previous post resulted in less than stellar results.

The following seem to work:

  1. Log out and log back in. This is cumbersome but works 100% of the time. Quark will pick up the newly activated fonts. Make sure you have FEX set to keep the fonts activated after restart/logout.
  2. Quit FEX and Quark. Relaunch FEX first and Quark second. This is more convenient than number one but will only work 90% of the time. Still a bummer I have to do this.
  3. Switch to InDesign. This option offers the benefit of not having to deal with Quark in the first place.

Okay, cool, at least we’re starting to get somewhere now. I tried Jerald’s suggestion and it did work. But logging out and then back in again just to get a font to work? There has got to be something better.

Using Jerald’s fix as a starting point, I began playing around with things (again). I eventually discovered the following process which gets those pesky fonts to show up in the Quark font menu.

  1. Open FontExplorer X
  2. From the Menu Bar, choose FontExplorer X > Preferences
  3. Click on the Advanced icon
  4. Make sure that “Deactivate all fonts which have been activated during the active session on quit” is not checked.
    A screenshot of the Advanced pane of the FontExplorer X preferences.
  5. Activate all desired fonts
  6. Quit FontExplorer (FontExplorer X > Quit FontExplorer X or Apple + Q)
  7. Open FontExplorer X
  8. Open Quark

After following these steps, the temperamental fonts should appear in the Quark font menu. Obviously, this is still a hack. It would be great if these things just worked. This hack however is relatively painless. I released this fix into the wild (read: design students in the labs) and have gotten positive results so far.

One last note: This whole problem appears to be fixed in Quark 7. Unfortunately I (and presumably many others) can’t just wave a magic wand and have Quark 7 installed on all of the computers. Also, we are talking about Quark. Isn’t there some adage about that: for every bug fixed, five more are born.

  1. I’m working with approximately 2,500 fonts here, so I didn’t actually count how many are having this problem. It’s not all of them, but it’s definitely more than a couple of them. We will just leave it at many.

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…