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Typekit: another half-arsed attempt at getting a wide range of fonts on the web?

by Adrian 29th May, 2009 @ 10:34
Web design guru Jeffrey Veen has just announced Typekit, a Javascript based technique for embedding fonts in web pages backed up with a licensing and hosting platform that will apparently keep type foundries happy. Judging from the comments a lot of designers are pretty damn excited, drowning out the few dissenters questioning the technical approach.Typekit remains vapourware for the moment, but the fact that it’s based on Javascript is not a good omen. Systems like sIFR and Cufon can cause problems for screen readers and even break basic copy/paste of text. It’s hard to see Typekit doing much better – at the very least Typekit will fail for users with Javascript turned off, and will likely suffer occasional namespace issues with other scripts embedded in a page with the result of much cursing and hair pulling by web developers.All of these technical approaches to embedding fonts – sIFR, Cufon, Typekit – are very clever but complicated and inelegant. And inelegant solutions frequently break. We already have a simple and solid solution to font embedding for the web: @font-face property of CSS2. What’s been lacking is browser support, however sometime this year Safari, Firefox, Opera and Chrome will all have support for @font-face leaving the usual laggard, Internet Explorer, as the only exception. When Microsoft manage to add @font-face to IE the technical side is solved.But Typekit isn’t about the mere embedding of a font in a web page, it’s about licensing. The type industry lags even the music industry in its adaption to a world where the internet exists. Despite the huge demand from web developer/designers only a few foundries have taken the plunge (listed on the webfonts wiki) and developed a proper font license for the web. The rest steadfastly refuse to enter this market, instead they seem intent on yet more complicated technical solutions (see “Real fonts on the web” at ALA including discussion of permissions tables and new font formats) that amount to DRM for fonts.Such technical solutions will of course be circumvented and those that steal fonts will continue to find it just as easy as they do now (google for “fonts torrent” to see just how easy). It’s hard to see how @font-face will increase the problem of font piracy even a little. The major type foundries need to get there collective control freak knickers untwisted and realize that:
  1. @font-face embedding isn’t going to increase font piracy by any significant amount.
  2. Complicated technical DRM solutions will cause problems for web developers and be rapidly circumvented anyway.
  3. There is a huge pent up demand for proper licensing of fonts for the web which they are failing to make money on now.
Web developers and designers want to see two things happening right now, firstly Microsoft needs to announce that @font-face will be supported in IE sooner rather than later, and secondly all major type foundries need to draw up proper licenses for the web. It’s that simple.I suspect Typkit will be moderately successful in the short term but wither when a large font foundry finally realizes it can make more money licensing the fonts for web use properly. It will be sad if Typekit delays the inevitable day when font foundries wake up to the fact that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by supporting @font-face.