The [non-]progress of the über-fixed width fonts

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/11/08 10:16 -05:00, original URI:

I got email from Mark Crispin1 via the Contact form several months back2 that said:

Hi Michael -

Larry Osterman pointed me at your blog some time ago.  Great reading, even though you're way ahead of me in the i18n game.

In case you don't recognize my name, I'm responsible (to blame?) for IMAP.

I was wondering if you've heard anything since your last blog article about a reasonable multi-lingual fixed-width font (at least for those scripts which are reasonable to do with fixed-width!).  Consolas falls short for me since it doesn't have CJK.  I'm currently using MS Gothic 9-point which is fine for normal purposes (I can read Japanese).  To be honest, I'd be happy with an expanded version of MS Gothic which had all the Han characters and hangul.

Oh well, a guy can dream, can't he?  :-)

Take care,
-- Mark --

Wow that was a hell of a mail -- when the people who so much larger than life read your blog, you feel good all week.

The funny part was that the mail did not have his name on it, but it had his e-mail address. But hell, I recognized the e-mail address. :-)

Plus I got to meet Mark at the 31st IUC, which was also very cool....

It's funny, the feedback from posts like The font width is broken? Well, fix it! and Where are the IE plain text fonts? and What would a 'Kartika Fixed' font for Malayalam DO, exactly? has been mixed.

Some people accept my definition of having the script fit within cells that line up while others feel that the "one character per cell" requirement if simply way too important to the core definition of a fixed width font.

But it is not that big of a stretch really, especially when one considers the arbitrary way that FULL WIDTH characters are given double width in CJK fonts (discussed previously in Fonts that are 'fixed-width' even if they do not claim to be).

How much harder is it to imagine that a complex script would also have things line up even if each character may not take up exactly one cell? :-)

But let's set that aside for a moment, along with my passive fantasies of a Comic Sans MS Fixed that no one thinks would be a very good idea to create....

We'll move on to question Mark had about the best fixed width font that covers all of the characters that are practical to be in a fixed width font....

The real problem with CJK fonts is that they tend to limit themselves from a coverage perspective to characters that the target language contains. so in the end, the chances of a Japanese font with very much in the way of Hangul or of much that is ideographic outside of JIS X 213 is pretty slim -- which makes MS Gothic (a Japanese font) a less than ideal choice, even if it does have the ideographic style one might prefer.

Fuller Hangul coverage is more common in Korean fonts, but fuller ideographic coverage is common in Chinese fonts, so between that and the fact that neither is common in Japanese, and there is no good choice for a sorta fixed width font with good coverage of all of those characters....

But the trade-off solution is to start with the font with either the most glyphs or even better the most glyphs that you are likely to be seeing. And then counting on GDI font linking to pick up the rest (hopefully with a font that has the same metrics so that the character widths stay similar.

The idea of a fixed with font with coverage of much more of Unicode is a tempting one to me, though many others don't seem to think so. Especially people who would have to either create such a font or fund the creation thereof.

Though I am still trying to find a way to make it happen, and a way to have Comic Sans MS Fixed created. It's about the journey not the destination. so why not try and tilt a few windmills....


1 - Yes, that Mark Crispin, the guy who invented IMAP, fer crying out loud! :-)
2 - And as a result formally decided that my blog might have reached the level of popularity that gave me that warm fuzzy feeling (which is really the best you can get from a blog without being a link whore!


This post brought to you by(U+af76, a.k.a. HANGUL SYLLABLE SSANGKIYEOK WAE PIEUPSIOS)

# Kemp on 8 Nov 2007 2:05 PM:

"[...] which makes MS Gothic (a Japanese font) a less than ideal choice, even if it dies [...]"

A telling slip there? :-)

# John Cowan on 8 Nov 2007 2:32 PM:

Send some euros (not euro, please) to Michael Everson so he can resume work on Everson Mono, which has been stalled for years.  He's certainly done enough work for Unicode and the world generally to deserve it.  It doesn't have CJK, but given some good will and money, it could be merged with a reasonably compatible font that does.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 8 Nov 2007 2:47 PM:

Hey Kemp, nope and not even a Freuian slip, it was just a typo. :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 8 Nov 2007 2:50 PM:

Well, Mr. Everson and I don't see quite eye to eye on many things, and he has really been a bit too hostile towards me and Windows and Microsoft and the Gates Foundation to make his work a comfortable place for me to put my money.

But others may be okay here, YMMV.

# Jeroen Ruigrok van der Werven on 9 Nov 2007 4:55 AM:

I use PuTTY daily from a Windows workstation and since mutt on Unix has been my primary mailclient for many years now I also need to be able to use Japanese and some other languages within PuTTY. Normally I'd settle for a font like Meiryo, but for some reason PuTTY does not pick it up in its font picker window. I instead opted for GulimChe since it supports a lot of characters and is readable even at smaller point sizes.

But yes, the fonts are a bit lacking...

# JM on 9 Nov 2007 6:36 AM:

I must admit I'm at a loss to understand why, in these days of modern digital typography, people want fixed-width fonts at all, let alone full Unicode support for them. It's true that "lining up things" becomes trivial with a fixed-width font, but tab stops and columns have worked for a long time with variable-width fonts. Even the venerable character terminals which were once restricted to fixed-width fonts are increasingly replaced with console windows in a GUI.

One day I decided to switch to a proportional font for writing code as a "why the hell not", and I've never looked back. It just looks so much better. I've been using Georgia for a long time, until Cambria came along and dethroned it as my favorite font for writing code in. I don't mind that my code no longer looks "computer-y", and I can promise you big productivity and readability increases once you stop trying to line up things on a column-by-column basis. All you need is tabs!

referenced by

2010/12/25 "Comic Sans Fixed", that rather sansless dream-o-mine

2007/11/08 Is it a 7:01 post, or a 7:16 post?

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