OpenType Ushers in New Era of Typography

Surely you remember when the upstart TrueType font format leapt onto the scene to challenge the entrenched PostScript Type 1 format. The subsequent battles that raged left many creative professionals bloodied. Today OpenType proves once again that peace is better than war.

OpenType is the umbrella name for an initiative launched by Adobe and Microsoft as a way of ending the “font wars” of the mid-1990s. Thanks to OpenType and related initiatives, users will be freed from worries over conflicting formats. As a bonus, we’ll also get easy access to advanced typographic features such as small capitals, old-style (“lower-case”) numerals, ligatures, and swash capitals.

Font Fury

You’ll have a much better appreciation for OpenType and what it represents if you know the history behind it. The font wars erupted when Adobe’s PostScript Type 1 format was challenged by the rival TrueType format, in turn created by Apple and militantly endorsed and defended by Microsoft. Adobe had kept the Type 1 specification secret, and the only available Type 1 fonts were high-priced typefaces produced by Adobe and its licensees. (Third-party fonts used the less-sophisticated Type 3 format, which did not include “hints” for improving display and printing in small sizes.) Apple and Microsoft, in contrast, published the TrueType specification from the start, and flooded the market with inexpensive fonts. Adobe opened the Type 1 format to third-party developers in response, but because TrueType was the native format of both Windows and the Macintosh OS, Type 1 had to co-exist on the same computers with TrueType, and endless troubles arose when a document created with one format was sent to a service bureau that used the other.

Both Microsoft and Adobe had strong incentives to make peace. Designers remained loyal to the Type 1 format, and Microsoft wanted to attract designers to Windows. Inexpensive TrueType had decimated the market for Type 1 fonts, and Adobe wanted to make the Type 1 format easier for ordinary users to work with. The result of these coverging interests was the OpenType initiative.

Font Detente

Adobe and Microsoft’s initial goal with OpenType was to create a format that would let Windows users work with Type 1 font data without installing special software. But the two firms took the opportunity to extend their existing formats to add advanced typographic features missing from earlier versions. An application that supports OpenType would be able to support ligatures, true small capitals, and similar features built into a single OpenType font, instead of making users struggle to insert these features from different fonts that might or might not make it all the way to the service bureau. (Apple’s proprietary TrueType GX format offered similar typographic features, but because it was a closed standard, it was never widely supported in applications, and Apple seemed to lose interest in supporting it in the Macintosh OS.)

OpenType was announced in 1997 but is only now beginning to see the light of day, in Adobe InDesign and Microsoft’s Windows 2000 Professional. InDesign for either the Macintosh or PC comes with four weights of Tekton Pro. Microsoft’s new operating system comes with four weights of Linotype Palatino, each with more than 1,800 characters in the font, including small capitals, old-style numerals, Greek and Cyrillic characters, and an amazing set of ligatures including the German “ch” ligature and such rarities as “fj” and “fft.” It also includes letter pairs like “Qu” with the tail of the Q extending beneath the u — a refinement rarely seen since the hot-metal era. When OpenType support is more mature, a setting in a desktop-publishing program will automatically replace the separate letters “Qu” with the letter pair in the font, and allow designers to choose between old-style and lining numerals with a single click.

The OpenType version of Linotype Palatino (seen here in the FontLab font editor) includes a typographic cornucopia of ligatures and other combined letters

Windows 2000 Pro also marks the end of the font wars by including equal support for TrueType and Type 1 fonts, though Microsoft has said little about this change. When you install Type 1 fonts in Windows 2000, they appear on the font menus of all applications and print from all applications. Earlier Windows versions required the Adobe Type Manager (ATM) add-on if you wanted to see Type 1 fonts on screen and print them to non-PostScript printers, and ATM slowed down the system and made it more complex. Windows 2000 makes ATM unnecessary unless you want to manipulate Adobe’s Multiple Master fonts or use ATM’s font management features.

Microsoft’s TrueType Properties Extension displays OpenType features when you right-click on a font.

The new-found parity between Type 1 and TrueType fonts goes one step beyond Microsoft’s almost unnoticed font revolution in Windows NT 4.0, which offered the option of converting Type 1 fonts into TrueType fonts when you installed a Type 1 file. Microsoft seems never to have said anything in public about its Type 1-to-TrueType converter, but font experts were quick to observe that it did a better job of conversion than anything else on the market, although converted Type 1 fonts were sometimes one pixel thinner in their converted versions than in their original form. The same font-rendering technology used in the Windows NT converter seems to be used on-the-fly in Windows 2000 Pro: The Windows 2000 font renderer sometimes makes Type 1 fonts look one pixel thinner than they look when displayed with Adobe Type Manager.

Windows 2000 includes equal support for Type 1 and TrueType font formats.

In the second part of this article, we’ll take a look at the first implementation of OpenType — in Adobe’s InDesign page-layout package — and dare a few glimpses into OpenType’s future.

Read more by Edward Mendelson.


Posted on: June 20, 2000

5 Comments on OpenType Ushers in New Era of Typography

  1. I was happy to learn about the features of Windows NT 4 and Win2000

  2. My concern is “WHAT ABOUT WEBTV” as Bill Gates owns Microsoft, which also is WEBTV. Can anyone who owns Webtv get this offer? If not, then I don’t think it is fair. Why should people who owns one read your E-MAIL.

  3. My concern is “WHAT ABOUT WEBTV” as Bill Gates owns Microsoft, which also is WEBTV. Can anyone who owns Webtv get this offer? If not, then I don’t think it is fair. Why should people who owns one read your E-MAIL.

  4. This is nice to find

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