Latest salvo is fired in font wars


April 08, 1991|By PETER H. LEWIS | PETER H. LEWIS,New York Times News Service

Truetype is a new technology from Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. that greatly improves the way text appears on the computer screen and on printed documents.

Truetype allows the user to make the type as big or small as needed, in any increment, and it gets rid of the jagged lines and broken curves that often appear when you least want them.

Impatient Macintosh users can add Truetype to the latest operating system software (version 6.0.7) by obtaining a special Truetype program from user groups or from online information services like Compuserve or America Online. Otherwise, Truetype will be included in the next versions of Macintosh system software (version 7.0, expected in May) and Microsoft Windows (version 3.1, later this year) for IBM PCs and compatibles.

The arrival of Truetype starts the long-awaited ground campaign in what has become known as the Font Wars, principally between Adobe Systems Inc. and the Microsoft-Apple alliance.

Unlike more important battles in the real world, however, the rival font factions are likely to be successful -- assuming Truetype works as advertised -- and the ultimate winner will be the average computer user.

The addition of Truetype to these popular operating systems will not adversely affect anybody's existing printers, computers or type libraries.

It will, however, give Macintosh and Windows users a built-in type technology that was once available only at additional cost ($100 or so) through Adobe Type Manager (ATM) and Adobe's Type 1 outline fonts.

In other words, Truetype will be there for those who want it, and it is not expected to cause conflicts for those who prefer Adobe's equally impressive ATM and Type 1 font technologies.

The difference is that it is a little easier to get high-quality text with Truetype. In fact, you get it even if you don't know the difference between a rasterizer and a Rastafarian.

Many people do not care to know the mechanics of how the type formats work; they care only that the text is attractive in all uses.

Truetype is noticeably more attractive than the default type in the Macintosh or Windows systems.

Like other popular "scalable" font formats, including Adobe's Type 1, Bitstream's Speedo and Agfa-Compugraphic's Intellifont,

Truetype fonts are stored in the computer as mathematical algorithms that define an outline of a character, rather than as fixed patterns of dots called bitmaps.

The user can command the computer to recalculate or scale the outline to any size, and the computer then draws an outline and fills it with dots, a process called rasterizing. It is done separately by ATM but is integrated in Truetype.

People who already have a Postscript printer and a library of Adobe fonts will probably stay with their technology; people who are just starting out may find it easiest and least painful to move to Truetype, assuming there are enough Truetype fonts available to meet their needs.

Nearly 1,000 Adobe Type 1 fonts are already available, and experts say it will be some time before a similar number of Truetype fonts are ready.

A few Truetype fonts are likely to be included with the operating system, but to do anything really fancy the user will have to buy separate fonts, just as one might buy Adobe or any other brand of Type 1 fonts today.

A font is the entire alphabet of a particular style of type, such as Helvetica, plus numbers, punctuation marks and special symbols.

Fonts are typically sold in font families, consisting of several different weights of the same face, like Helvetica, Helvetica bold, Helvetica italic and Helvetica semibold.

List prices for an Adobe Type 1 font family are usually $150 or more, and it is likely that Truetype fonts will be priced somewhat lower to attract customers. Competition is good for consumers, and perhaps Adobe and other Type 1 fontmakers will lower prices in turn.

Pauline Ores, publisher of Desktop Communications magazine in New York, said Truetype fonts had a theoretical advantage over Type 1 fonts in such esoteric areas as non-linear scaling and contextual letterforms, which is great for professional graphic designers and for people who need to print Arabic and other non-Latin characters.

But "most users are not going to be able to tell the difference between Type 1 and Truetype fonts," said Harold Grey, type products manager at Esselte-Letraset USA of Paramus, N.J., except perhaps in ornate characters. Letraset makes a program called Font Studio that will permit users to convert Type 1 fonts to Truetype fonts.

Confusing the issue is the emergence of Microsoft's Trueimage page description language, which is essentially a clone of Adobe's popular Postscript language. Like Postscript, Trueimage will be incorporated into printers and other output devices to allow the creation of complex graphical pages, with elements like gray shades and rotated text.

Truetype is the native font format for Trueimage printers, just as Type 1 fonts are the native font format for Postscript printers. Because Trueimage is a Postscript clone with extensions, it will also accept Adobe Type 1 fonts.

Truetype can also work with Postscript and Hewlett-Packard Laserjet printers, as long as the user loads special programs called drivers.

It works without any hitches on the new Apple Personal Laserwriter LS and Apple Stylewriter printers.

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