Posted by Thomas Phinney
A couple of posts back, I was writing very much from the type designer’s perspective, sharing in their angst over the vast new opportunities (=work) that await them these days with multilingual OpenType fonts with lots of typographic features. But, as my colleague David Lemon pointed out after reading that article, the flip side of this coin is the customers’ point of view and their high expectations.
Our end users are easily confused and occasionally disappointed by OpenType. After all, everybody talks about the wonderful capabilities of the format. But the reality is, none of the fonts that are available has all those capabilities in just a single package, and no application supports all possible OpenType features. In fact, even of Adobe’s own fonts, fewer than half have significant OpenType features. Just because a font is in OpenType format doesn’t mean it has small caps, oldstyle figures or lots of ligatures. And it doesn’t say anything about having any added language support, either. And worse, it’s not like there are just two classes of fonts, “big” and “small,” but there are many possible levels of support, both typographic and linguistic….
Moving away from the fonts themselves, there’s the question of “which applications support this stuff, anyway?”
That’s another complicated question. When you’re talking advanced typography for western fonts, today it’s mostly the Adobe Creative Suite applications (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop), plus some key Apple applications (Keynote, Pages and TextEdit, but only when run on Mac OS 10.4 and later). Yes, we hear QuarkXPress will get there in the next version, and Microsoft Word is rumored to be working on support in the foreseeable future. Adobe also does some pretty cool stuff for Chinese, Japanese and Korean with OpenType, particularly in InDesign.
But if you’re talking advanced language support for “complex scripts” such as Arabic and the Indic languages via OpenType, the positions are almost reversed. Microsoft Office and Publisher support this stuff nicely (though only on Windows), while Adobe applications generally don’t support “complex scripts” at all. Our main exceptions are some added support in Acrobat 7.0.5 and later (for Hebrew, Arabic and Thai), and that there are separate “ME” (Middle Eastern) versions of many of our applications, which support Arabic and Hebrew.
One expects that eventually this will all level out. But end users quite reasonably don’t want to hear about varying levels of application support, or what’s “coming soon.” They want it to “just work.” But the reality is more complicated than that, and will remain so for some years yet. Even among Adobe’s own applications with their generally similar levels of OpenType support, the exact list of features supported varies slightly by application and also by application version as well.
We’ve tried to address these issues through education and clear points of reference. The “Pro” designation in western fonts indicates extended language support, at least “Adobe CE” (accented Latin characters needed for central European languages), and sometimes more. Our OpenType User Guide
For each typeface in the Adobe store, we provide further info: we have a nifty set of cyan blue icons (example here) showing what kinds of alternate glyphs are present in the font, shown at the lower right part of the page. If you click on the “More Info” tab of that same box, you get a detailed list of linguistic character sets supported, and also a link to a PDF showing all the glyphs in the font, categorized and sorted.
By the way, if you’re a type foundry or font developer, we’re happy to share those icons. Just contact me and I can provide either the full set of GIFs, or the icons as glyphs in a font. We aren’t pushing other folks to use our icons, but we figure anything that might reduce user confusion is good.
We’re in a transitional period now, which will go on for a number of years, where things won’t be as seemless as our customers expect or we would like. There is something of a wild west, frontier feeling about all this stuff. But to me, it’s an exciting, fun frontier. As David Lemon recently wrote to the Adobe type development team, “few of today’s font users recall how gruesome things were” in the pre-DTP and early DTP era of the late 70s through mid-80s, with things like fonts that worked only in specific applications. I still remember the thrill of getting WYSIWYG scalable outline fonts in Publishing Partner (later called PageStream) for the Atari ST, back around 1987, before TrueType and ATM. Of course, those fonts wouldn’t work with any other application, but it seemed pretty darn cool at the time.
Being a generation too late for those memories, and hearing just simplified marketing messages about the glories of OpenType, today’s end users have understandably high expectations. It’s the responsibility of Adobe and other parties involved in promoting OpenType to do our best to communicate, thoroughly and frequently, to avoid disappointing our customers during this transitional period.