[Minutes] OSDL DTL Tech Board: Fonts & Linux (Thu, Aug 31)

Bastian, Waldo waldo.bastian at intel.com
Wed Sep 6 04:29:18 EEST 2006

DTL Tech Board Minutes Workgroup conf call Aug 31, 2006 - Fonts

Executive Summary

The conference call on fonts was reasonable well attended with 12
participants. A new license for fonts, the Open Font License (OFL) was
explained. The OFL should speed up font development for Linux by making
it easier to mix and match glyphs from one font into the other.

An effort has been started to improve the consistency of font
configuration between different Linux distributution. Distributions can
help along by making their fonts.conf files available on the
freedesktop.org wiki. Discussion of cross-desktop/cross-distribution
font handling should take place on fontconfig at lists.freedesktop.org

Ideas for improvements to the existing generation of font dialogs were

As a result of the conference call a proposal was made for a text-layout
library workshop at the GNOME Boston summit, Oct 7-9. A common
text-layout library is important for consistent support of complex
languages in open source applications.


Waldo Bastian: Intel corporation, Chairman of OSDL DTL tech board
together with Marc Miller. Document fidelity and document exchange
between different Linux distributions was brought up in OSDL Desktop
Architects meeting as an issue, problem comes down to differences in
font handling between distributions.

John Cherry: OSDL, Initiative manager OSDL DTL. 

Marc Miller: AMD, interested in fonts triggered by AMD's acquisition of

Jeff Tranter: Xandros, desktop centric distribution based on KDE, fonts
are a big concern

Rajesh Banginwar: Intel, Lead LSB Desktop initiative. Would like to
expand desktop project to cover font aspects, such as common fonts
available on LSB platform. 

Nicolas Spalinger: SIL International (http://scripts.sil.org/), works on
fonts for complex languages, co-written Open Font License with Victor
Gaultney of Gentium fame, part of Ubuntu font team. Involved in
font-related Bofs at the Libre Graphics meeting, the Ubuntu summit and
GUADEC. Goal is to develop community around collaborative font design,
develop good set of free quality fonts. The OFL as a common license for
open font designers to enable free flow of patches between various font
Promoting such font set across the free desktop to increase the number
of well-supported writing systems (even complex ones) on the free

Simos Xenitellis: Gnome foundation, involved in localisation for greek

Ed Trager: bio-informatics at Univ. of Michigan. Maintainer unifont.org.
Interested in chinese, thai and indic languages.

Daniel Glassey: SIL International, work on graphite technology

Behdad Esfahbod: Maintain Pango, work for Redhat, maintain font packages
on fedora, gnome developer, interested in arabic support. 

Keith Packard: Responsible for putting fnts on the screen. Maintain
X.org, fontconfig, Cairo. 

Liam Quin (Joined later): XML Activity Lead at the World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C, www.w3.org).  http://www.holoweb.net/~liam/

Open Font License

"Open Font License" (OFL) is a new license for fonts. Why was the OFL
created and how is it different from existing licences such as the GPL?

Needed something more readable and font-specific for designers to
understand and trust the license better.

Needed to fix grey areas like embedding, the status of derivatives,
artistic integrity, selling and bundling.

GPL and other free software licenses not really designed with fonts in
mind. GPL font exception a sign of a problem with embedding but far from
an ideal solution.

Bitstream Vera/GNOME agreement a good step forward but more needed to be

OFL is project and organisation neutral: re-usable for other font family
and other organisations.

Accepted by Debian, included in Ubuntu, included in Fedora.

Listed by the FSF as free on their license-list :

The Open Font License webpages: http://scripts.sil.org/OFL
with a FAQ : http://scripts.sil.org/OFL-FAQ_web

Has OSI looked at OFL? No, hasn't been a priority so far.

License requires renaming in order to extend. This may cause problems,
e.g. somewhile back SUSE renamed Bitstream Vera to SUSE Sans.
Websites/documents specifying SUSE Sans will not work correctly with
other Linux distributions.

The OFL renaming requirement is designed to allow branching with
creating rendering conflicts.

The SUSE Sans derivative was not distributed out to other distributions
and was brand-specific. The extensions have now been merged back into
the main active Vera branch: Dejavu.

The problem is more in the way branching and patching is handled.
Distributing fonts with the same name and not the same features or
coverage is going to break things in a very ugly way.

Artistic integrity of the font design is linked to the name of the font
family as it appears in the font menu. Designers clearly don't want that
to be abused. If they choose to release their work under a license
allowing modification they don't want to have their reputation abused by
a possibly poorly designed fork/branch claiming their name and confusing

The SUSE Sans fork probably happened because upstream was not receptive
to patches. One goal of the OFL is to make flowing of patches between
the various branches and the trunk as easy as possible.

It is still the responsibility of the designer to reject a bad patch.
The forking/merging back scenarios exists but they are specific to font

There is an equilibrium that can be found.
The OFL has provisions for special agreements where the copyright holder
can decide to allow name reuse for derivatives for it's the exception.

The fontconfig substitution mechanism comes only after that.

Various font families released under OFL listed at:
http://scripts.sil.org/OFL_fonts and http://unifont.org

Font Consistency Across Distributions
Document fidelity (the same document looking the same on different
computers) was identified as a problem on Linux (between different
distributions) Several issues:
- Distributions including different fonts
- Distributions renaming fonts in order to extend (SUSE Sans)
- Fontconfig font virtualisation: E.g. "Sans" translates to different
fonts on different distributions.

Freedesktop.org collection fontconfig.conf files. Goal is to come up
with a single fontconfig file that can be used by all distributions. Not
sure if it is possible to use single config across all different geos.
Such a common fonts.conf will need to be distributed via upstream

- Graphite: http://graphite.sil.org

The criteria for the core open font set:
- freeness (appropriate community-approved licensing: fonts you can use,
study, copy, merge, embed, modify, redistribute, and sell)
- glyph quality (not fonts sacrificing quality for coverage)
- good coverage of Unicode block for a given family of scripts/language
- availability of smart features for complex scripts

- Improve font dialog.
    - Better grouping of fonts.
    - Provide more information about font license, how to obtain font.

Flag up the font metadata (license, foundry, designers, various URLs) to
better allow users to learn about fonts and categorize them.

A good example of that approach being the proprietary app called font
explorerX: http://www.linotype.com/fontexplorerX

See also Nicolas' Ubuntu spec at: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/FontManagement

- Distributions: Contribute your fontconfig configuration to
See http://wiki.freedesktop.org/wiki/Software/Fonts/fonts.conf

- Improve indication whether font is designed for screen-only or is also
suitable for print. Something that can be done via good metadata
handling as well.

Ubuntu specs proposed by Nicolas around fonts:

The GNOME side of things:

Wrap up
For a next meeting IRC is considered a more convenient medium.

Text Layout Library Workshop
As a result of the conference call a proposal was made for a text-layout
library workshop: "With sufficient interest from the relevant
stakeholders, might it be possible to get everyone together for a
face-to-face workshop / working meeting / conference to discuss the
issues, do some initial requirements gathering, and outline a roadmap
for development?  I don't see this happening without some corporate
sponsors willing to provide support for such a gathering." It was
suggested to have such meeting during the upcoming GNOME Summit next
month (oct 7-9) in Boston: http://live.gnome.org/Boston2006

Discussion of cross-desktop/cross-distribution font handling should take
place on fontconfig at lists.freedesktop.org

More information about the xdg mailing list