Proposal To Design A Better Font Selection Widget

Edward H. Trager ehtrager at
Thu Oct 20 19:30:49 PDT 2005

Hi, everyone,

I originally posted a version of this message as an open letter to:

 - Gnome Desktop developers (gtk-i18n mailing list)
 - KDE Desktop developers   (KDE developers mailing list)
 - developers (OpenOffice developers list)
 - Gimp developers           (Gimp developers list)
 - Inkscape developers       (Inkscape developers list)

... regarding a proposal for an improved font selection drop-down
widget that would be ideal for use in professional-quality Open Source
word processing, desktop publishing, and graphic design programs
such as, Gimp, Inkscape, Scribus, and similar

The original message was posted on 2005.09.27.  After posting the
original message, I realized that I should also have posted to the
Scribus developers list, and Keith Packard rightly suggested that
I post to this list, which I am finally now getting around to doing!
As with the original post, I welcome your suggestions and criticisms.

The proposal suggests a design that is particularly
applicable where users require a streamlined and intuitive interface
for selecting multiple fonts from large font collections present on
the user's machine.  The proposal also attempts to fully address
aspects of internationalization related to font selection
that I believe have been largely overlooked until now.  Finally,
the proposal suggests using a common XML configuration file 
for storing font collection information.

To see the full proposal, which now also includes updates based on
feedback I have received, as well as a number of the original replies
I received, please see:

The rest of this email provides a synopsis of the proposal.


Although important Open Source desktop software has advanced
rapidly in the last few years and now easily rivals and in many
cases surpasses commercial equivalents in terms of functionality
and ease of use, the font selection drop-down widgets and font
selection dialog boxes in many programs still lack a number of
important features.  (This is also true among commercial software
too, but that is not our concern here).

First, many programs do not provide adequate font previews
at the stage where the user is choosing from a
(now-a-days usually very long) drop-down list
of available fonts.  Even when font previews are provided, they
are often limited to a preview of Latin glyphs and thus provide
no information about the appearance of non-Latin glyphs for, say,
Chinese, Thai, or Arabic users trying to pick fonts for their language.

Secondly, a very long list of alphabetically-sorted font names
is not ideal.  Fonts need to be organized and presented to the
user in logical groups, as is done in Apple OS X (where they are
called "collections").
These groups can and should be both system-defined
and user-defined.  System-defined groups would include font categories
like "Sans", "Serif", "Monospace", "Recently Used", and "Chinese".  User-defined
groups might include categories like "Script", "Black Letter", "Funky", or
"Fonts for the new company brochure".

The proposal at
addresses how these goals can be met.  Implementation of the proposed
font selection widget at the GUI toolkit level (i.e., in GTK+ and in KDE)
along with an XML-based configuration scheme standardized across
toolkits and desktops would do much to help create a more intuitive and
more uniform user experience on Linux and related Open Source platforms.

I welcome the community's suggestions and criticisms --

-- Ed Trager
  maintainer of "Unicode Font Guide For Free/Libre Open Source Operating Systems"

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