[Openfontlibrary] new release of the Ubuntu titling font

Victor Gaultney vtype at gaultney.org
Sat Jan 5 04:48:12 PST 2008

Stephen -

> This is one of the main problems I have with the Open Font License (OFL). For
> a project (font or software or whatever) to be truly Free/Libre/Open Source, I
> think that everything should be provided that was used to produce the font.

I generally agree, and we're going in that direction ourselves. But that's
not always practical or useful for others, and the requirement to include
*everything*, including tools, used to build the font would stifle
development. Fonts, themselves, are also often the best 'source' for a font,
and can be more useful to developers in free environments than the
proprietary sources used to develop the font in the first place.

There are two types of font designers out there that we want to encourage
and enable with the OFL:

1) Designers already committed to free software principles and who have the
technical knowledge and ability to follow a pure FLOSS path. Dave C is a
prime example of this - someone who is committed to fine design, but who
also is working hard to stay 'free'. Andy Fitzsimon is another. Both have
invested great time into their efforts to stay free, and both have the
technical savvy to do so. We are happy to enable these people better with
the OFL, although many of them might choose GPL+ font exception. I think the
OFL avoids some problems of the GPL+ option, but I won't argue that here and

2) Designers who might consider designing fonts for the FLOSS community but
are scared of getting ripped off, and don't have the considerable depth of
technical savvy required to use a purely FLOSS path or even understand the
GPL. Ever tried to walk through the GPL with a non-technical friend? Ever
uttered the words 'free fonts' in front of a room full of typeface
designers? Many designers even balk at the complexity of the OFL!

I'm not worried about 1), although I'm very glad to provide a much better
licensing option for them. It's 2) that I want to encourage and enable. If
we had written in a clause that required full release of original sources,
and those sources had to be usable by a purely free build path, 2) would
disappear completely and never consider creating FLOSS fonts. In fact, they
would likely see 1) as their enemy - and falsely accuse them as the people
who are ripping them off. (that's what many designers used to think when
they hear of free fonts)

So why can the OFL still be a free license without requiring full release of
original sources for a free build path? (BTW - just a reminder that most
free software gurus and groups have stated that OFL is a free license)

One of the many reasons is that the great majority of font software can be
'decompiled' trivially. For example, Our Charis SIL fonts can be brought
into FontForge with every glyph shape absolutely intact and editable. You
can then convert the quads into cubics for editing. You can have a
mathematical argument about whether quadratics and cubics can really be
converted without distortion, but in practice it is not problem.

So the font itself provides the same outline editing functionality as having
the original source (in this case, our FontLab files). In fact, I would
argue that it is *more* useful, and far more free, as it avoids any
requirement to use proprietary software. Yes, ideally, you would want to
have the original cubic curves. We have long planned to provide these in a
useful form, using a reasonably universally readable format (PostScript Type
1). But that is not a trivial effort.

The more difficult area is in the programmatic parts of a font - the
OpenType/Graphite code and the hinting. Both of these cannot be guaranteed
to be decompilable. So it would be helpful to have the original source for
these in some form.

OpenType/Graphite: We would recommend (and we are going to be doing this
ourselves) that people release at least the logic/algorithms in some useful
form. FontLab can write this out to text. If FL is not used, then the code
and tool to produce them should be made available. In most cases that would
be easy to produce, as most OT code is relatively simple. This simple code
can even be decompiled from the end font.

There are situations, however, where it is not simple. For example, Charis
SIL includes very complicated and messy OpenType and Graphite code. We
produce it and insert it in to the fonts using custom perl scripts that read
control files. Because of the e will be releasing the scripts and control
files - a very similar model to traditional free software development.

Hinting: This is much more difficult, as there is no good path. If we find
one we will try to support it as is practical.

My point is that even while we ourselves are moving to a more FLOSS 'style'
of development, it would be counterproductive to impose such a style on less
technical and philosophical designers. And for the most part, the font
itself provides equal functionality (or close to it) for those wishing to
make derivatives. So a traditional free software source code/free build path
requirement would push away designers and not give the FLOSS community much
more functionality.

> For example, the nice Charis SIL is released under the OFL by SIL in TTF
> format with quadratic curves. Internally, SIL works on the font as cubic
> splines. They even request that patches be submitted as cubic splines!
> However, when I contacted them, they refused to release the cubic curves that
> they internally use to produce the font.

I don't think that's a complete and fair statement, but I will publicly
apologize to you for having your most recent request in my inbox for far far
too long.

Our problem has been that we have used a very convoluted, messy,
unexportable manual build process for our fonts (ever wondered why our
releases are only about once a year?). That may not be all that surprising
for the most complete and complex Latin fonts in the world. :-) But it also
means that any FontLab files we gave you would be not very useful, as we do
so much custom post-FontLab processing. Note that we do not have a general
phobia of releasing FontLab files - we do that for Gentium and other
projects. It's just that the Doulos/Charis ones are so far removed from the
resulting fonts themselves.

You would actually do better by working from the fonts as your source, as
many others have done. We do realise that this is not ideal for us or anyone
else, so we've been working hard to change it in big ways over the last 2
years. I just spent two weeks in Dallas in December working on this and
other issues with our team. We still plan to use FontLab as a production
tool, but will also provide control files, scripts, outlines in a form that
is useful in purely free environments.

I would be happy to discuss the details with you, and would value your

> For this reason, I am planning my future font releases (those created solely
> by me) under the GPL+font exception.

As I mentioned before, I think that option has some problems, and I
certainly wouldn't recommend it. If we felt it was an adequate solution
there would be no need for the OFL. :-)



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