At work, it is important for my documents and websites to look and act the same as my coworkers using Windows and Mac. If I write a document or view a web page, I need to know that I am seeing the same thing they are. So I installed Microsoft's core fonts for the Web on my work system. These fonts were initially released by Microsoft in 1996 to create a de facto standard set of fonts for viewing websites. They are also the most common fonts used in many office documents, at least where I work:
- Andale Mono
- Arial Black
- Comic Sans MS
- Courier New
- Times New Roman
- Trebuchet MS
Microsoft's core fonts project was actually a really good idea, and the fonts look nice. But the license wasn't exactly friendly to distributions; you could only redistribute the fonts in the original package format: .exe for Windows, and .sit.hqx for Mac. Fortunately, a few clever developers created a SourceForge project to provide Microsoft's TrueType core fonts on Linux. In practice, this just downloads the original package files (mirrored at SourceForge) and unpacks the archives using cabextract. On my work laptop, I have been using these original core fonts for years.
At home, I have decided to be completely non-proprietary. And that means I prefer to avoid Microsoft's fonts. At the same time, I don't want to miss out on the web experience; when I visit a website that specifies the core fonts, I want to get those fonts. I want to get the same experience as was intended for other desktops. It would be great if websites used downloadable fonts so all visitors always see the intended font, but not every site does this. Because the core fonts are so ubiquitous among proprietary desktops (Windows and Mac) many websites default to these fonts.
How can I use Microsoft's core fonts if I don't want to install the core fonts? The answer is simple: I use other fonts, and set aliases from the core fonts to those other fonts. And that's what I've done.
Fortunately, several high-quality free fonts already exist. Perhaps you know about the Liberation Fonts which aims at metric compatibility with Arial, Times New Roman, and Courier New. The GNU FreeFont project is another, similar example of providing fonts that can replace the core fonts. You can also find fonts under a variety of open licenses from Google Fonts. Most web developers know about the Google Fonts repository, but did you know you can also download the font collection in TrueType and OpenType formats?
Through some experimentation, I provided aliases for the core fonts, using only free fonts. I selected fonts that had similar letter shape and form. While I am not a font expert, I found the uppercase letters A, I, J, L, M, W and the lowercase letters g, i, j, l, t were good places to look for matches. Also, the numbers and special symbols $ and & often provided another comparison. It took some time to go through the font collections, comparing the available fonts with the core fonts. They didn't need to be completely perfect replicas, but representative of the font so that using the replacement effected the spirit of original. With that in mind, I think I managed to find a pretty good set of similar fonts.
Here are the fonts I use to replace the core fonts. On the left, I provide an image of the original Microsoft core font. On the right, an image of the replacement font:
Andale Mono (Source Code Pro)
Arial Black (Archivo Black)
Comic Sans MS (Patrick Hand)
Times New Roman (Liberation Serif)
Trebuchet MS (Alegreya Sans)
Verdana (DejaVu Sans)
I skipped Webdings, because no one really uses Webdings. I also don't provide an alias for Courier New, although I suppose I could use Liberation Mono for that.
(A note on Comic Sans MS: This is a handwriting font, and not often used these days. Many people don't like it—and in many offices, its use is effectively banned. But my mom uses Comic Sans MS in her emails, and I like the "homey" touch that it provides when I read notes from my mom. I didn't want to lose that connection, so I found a suitable replacement.)
While Tahoma wasn't part of the core fonts, many websites and web applications rely on Tahoma. According to Wikipedia, the Wine project includes the free and open-source fonts Wine Tahoma Regular and Wine Tahoma Bold released under GNU Lesser General Public License designed to have identical metrics to the Tahoma font. So I could find the Wine Tahoma fonts and use those, but I found the Liberation Sans font is close enough:
Tahoma (Liberation Sans)
Microsoft later defined the ClearType Font Collection, as part of Windows Vista. These are sometimes referred to as the "C" fonts because every font name in the collection starts with the letter C. I don't have a use for most of these fonts, except Calibri. Microsoft set Calibri as the default font in Microsoft Office, so I often get documents from other that use the Calibri font. Also, many websites use Calibri as a first preference, so I wanted to have a replacement for it on my system. (Even my blog uses Calibri. The body font string for my blog is Calibri, Candara, Segoe, "Segoe UI", Optima, Arial, sans-serif.)
Calibri (Source Sans Pro)
I'd like to know how you set up your fonts. Do you use similar fonts, or something different? Let me know! If there's a better replacement out there, I'd like to hear about it.