Thursday, May 27, 2010

Introducing Hot Lead

Last Wednesday at Google IO, I helped launch the Google Fonts API. Now I’m launching my new blog, Hot Lead. I’ve had a blog for over ten years, hosted at Advogato. Now I’m moving house to Blogger, so I can take advantage of the richer environment, including easy embedding of images, and of course web fonts. I’ll be posting about font technology, tips and techniques for using web fonts more effectively, and, of course, about the fonts themselves.

The name is a reference to a revolution in typography that happened about a hundred years ago, when Linotype and Monotype machines started displacing hand-set type. Then, as now, new technology made the setting of real type far less manual and accessible to more people and more types of content. (Thanks to my friend, writer Nick Mamatas, for suggesting the name.)

Of course, a lot of people were critical of the quality of machine-set type, but, in fact, the Monotype machines could automate typographic refinements,  such as kerning. Many consider the early part of the 20th Century a golden age for text fonts, seeing the releases of Times Roman, Granjon, Centaur, Caledonia, Perpetua, Electra, and other greats. The type, though mass-produced, was carefully designed, and included refinements such as optical sizes (more robust shapes and spacing at smaller sizes, more refined and more tightly spaced when larger).

Today, I believe a similar revolution is happening, with the advent of web fonts. The first web fonts actually shipped in December 1994 June 1997 (Netscape 4.0 shipped with support for the proprietary PFR format). As Hakon Lie, the creator of CSS, has written, CSS2 has technically supported web fonts since 1998 -- but it’s only in the last few months that the majority of browsers have supported web fonts. My colleague Dave Kuettel prepared this graphic to illustrate how rapidly that’s changed:

A few footnotes. Internet Explorer has had support for its own flavor of web fonts since IE6 IE4, but as the EOT format was secret for a long time, there was no usable tool for creating them (WEFT doesn’t count as usable). So we’re counting web fonts as being usable on Internet Explorer as of the release of ttf2eot in 2009. Also, the above chart only counts browsers. If you count other HTML renderers, Prince has had excellent support for web fonts for years.

I’ve been a fan of fonts for a long time -- I started designing dot matrix fonts for impact printers (and editing tools to create them) when I was a teenager. The beauty of fonts still moves me, but that’s only half of what makes web fonts cool. What makes them awesome is that it’s the web.

I’m looking forward to all the ways people use the Google Fonts API, but one of my absolute favorites so far is the Government of Chile. They found out about it at the same time as everyone else, and were in production with our fonts within a few days. Chile has an official policy mandating the use of HTML5 and other open, accessible technology on web sites. That policy paid off handsomely. Our team was looking at the site, and clicked on the translate button (which automatically appears in Chrome now), and the result made our jaw drop. All of the visual elements were preserved, including drop shadows, cross-fade transition effects, and, of course, the web fonts. This is the way the web is supposed to work. It’s impossible for me to imagine how you could make that happen using any other technology other than the open web.



What we launched is just the start. I love all the fonts, but not all of them render well in Windows (there’s a great Typophile thread on the topic). I’m experimenting with autohinting techniques, and I’m confident we can make some improvements quickly. We’re also wanting to expand past Latin-1 soon. Stay tuned, and please subscribe to the feed in your favorite reader reader to get the updates.

(Note: Thanks to Si Daniels for some corrections to facts I got wrong)

1 comment:

  1. Raph,

    Good luck with the new blog. Your enthusiasm shows.
    Note that there is an easy to use WEFT replacement tool for creating true, compressed EOT files at EOTFAST. Complete with documentation on how to get fonts to play nice with IE 6, 7, and 8. And more to come.

    Richard Fink