Sunday 03 April 2005

Bitstream Vera? Not for me, thanks!

Commenting on Burningbird’s recent switch to Georgia for her main content font, Aristotle Pagaltzis wrote:

As far as sans-serif fonts go, choices are unfortunately limited on the web. Arial rather sucks. You could do the typical thing and use Verdana like the other 348,893,474,681 websites out there. If more individuality is what you’re after, you can try Lucida Sans for Windows people and Lucida Grande for MacOS X folk.

I wish the Bitstream Vera (download) family would spread beyond the Linux crowd; not hard, considering it’s free in both senses. These fonts are great: the Serif is very similar to Georgia, and is decent; the Sans is great, Verdana-ish but warmer, more elegant, more readable; and the Sans Mono is just drop dead gorgeous.

I’d downloaded the Bitstream Vera family a while ago (from the Gnome site) but hadn’t got around to installing the fonts. Aristotle’s comment encouraged me to try them—mainly because I’ve been unhappy with how Firefox (for both Windows and Macintosh) renders macron characters in Georgia, such as the lower case macron characters that I use a lot when transliterating long “o” and “u” vowels in Japanese. For example, in the title of Miike Takashi’s film, Chūgoku no chōjin (The Bird People in China).

So I could see the differences more easily, I prepared a comparison chart (using inline CSS to apply the different fonts, with the font size set to 1em). Of course, what you see next will depend on your OS and installed fonts.

Macron Font Comparison

Times New Roman / Times
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Georgia
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Palatino Linotype / Palatino
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Bitstream Vera Serif
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Bitstream Vera Sans
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Verdana
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Trebuchet MS
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Lucida Grande / Lucida Sans
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Lucida Sans Unicode
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Arial
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

Helvetica
中国の鳥人 (Chūgoku no chōjin, The Bird People in China)

However, since the results weren’t anything like I’d expected, I made some screen captures for Firefox on Macintosh and Windows, Internet Explorer 6 on Windows, and Safari on the Macintosh.

Here’s the executive summary:

  • Safari on the Macintosh does the best job of rendering the o-with-macron and u-with-macron characters (though they look ugly in Georgia in Safari too).
  • Firefox for Windows does a much better job than Firefox for the Macintosh (on the Macintosh the o-with-macron and u-with-macron characters frequently look as though they come from a totally different font).
  • Bitstream Vera Serif produces ugly macron characters in all four browsers.
  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows does not display the o-with-macron and u-with-macron characters at all when the font is either Bitstream Vera Serif, Bitstream Vera Sans, or Lucida Sans (although the macron characters appear properly in Lucida Sans Unicode).

So—despite Aristotle’s enthusiasm and my own desire to do something for the Linux crowd—poor (or non-existent) macron character rendering makes it unlikely that I’ll be adding any of the Bitstream Vera faces to my font-family declarations. Unless someone can point out a flaw in my test methodology, or suggest a reason for Firefox’s lousy performance and IE’s refusal to display the characters at all.

Macron comparison in Macintosh Safari

Macron comparison in Macintosh Firefox

Macron comparison in Windows Firefox

Macron comparison in Windows Internet Explorer 6

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour