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April 7, 1997

Fine, free fonts and other treats are there for the taking

Fonts have always been central to the appeal of Windows. Unfortunately, prior to Windows 3.1, fonts were notable for being a huge pain in the keister. You had to use a utility to generate a separate file for each point size of a special typeface that you wanted to display on-screen. You then had to download all these sizes to your printer if they weren't "resident."

Windows 3.1 swept away much of this with the introduction of TrueType. Once installed, a TrueType font generates screen representations automatically at any size. The font is then downloaded to your printer automatically, whenever the need arises.

Windows applications extended this ease of use by supporting font embedding. You can embed most TrueType fonts within a saved word-processing document, for example, by selecting an option in the File, Save As dialog box. A recipient of the document could still view and print your document and its embedded fonts.

The World Wide Web hasn't been great about easy-to-use fonts. Many Web sites cram pages with bit maps that are time-consuming to download.

Some interesting developments in readable type on the Web are coming, however. One encouraging step is that Microsoft is giving away fonts that are optimized for displaying Web pages on PC monitors. Far from being mere "screen fonts," these freebies are very high-quality typefaces from internationally renowned designers.

You can get a font pack by downloading newfnt32.exe from This self-extracting file will install several new fonts in your System folder.

  • Verdana and Georgia, designed by Matthew Carter, are excellent substitutes for Arial and Times New Roman. Although you may have never heard of Carter -- a Bitstream Typography co-founder -- you see his work every time you pick up a phone book and behold his Bell Centennial, one of the most readable typefaces at small sizes.

  • Trebuchet is a Verdana-like type family by Microsoft in-house typographer Vincent Connare.

  • Arial Black and Impact are extra heavy faces, and Comic Sans is a cartoon balloon font. (These three fonts, as well as Verdana, are also included in Internet Explorer 3.0.)

    These fonts make a remarkable difference in the look of a Web page. On low-resolution PC monitors, especially at small sizes such as 8 points, words set in Arial and Times look squashed together. Microsoft's new fonts maintain readability by keeping just the right amount of space in and around the letters.

    While you're on the Web, get a new Font Properties extension by downloading ttfext.exe from Save the file in a temporary folder and run it once. This adds useful new tabs to the Properties dialog box when you right-click a TrueType font file.

    Another handy utility is w95gray.exe, which "smooths" fonts on-screen by anti-aliasing them with shades of gray. Get it from (You can get this if you buy the Plus Pack; the file is free from the Web site.) Your display must run at 16-bit color (High Color) or better to use this feature.

    I'm hoping that the above fonts and utilities will be built into all Web browsers soon so that you won't have to install stuff like this yourself and hope Web sites support it. In the meantime, use these great goodies for free.

    Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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    Copyright © 1997 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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