Font management with current office suites

Written Examination

© Lead Image © PhotoCreate, Fotolia.com

© Lead Image © PhotoCreate, Fotolia.com

Article from Issue 209/2018
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Users of contemporary office applications often want to do more than just compose letters or design simple flyers. But the well-known office suites on Linux sometimes make font management a test of patience, with the errors literally hidden in the details.

Thanks to their WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") representation and good printer support under Linux, modern office programs have long been suitable for typologically and graphically more demanding tasks.

However, depending on the character set and preferred fonts used, the home print studio can also be a pain in the neck: For example, if you need special characters or want to integrate new fonts into the office suite, you need to delve deeper into font management under Linux. In this article, I explain where problems lie in some office packages' font management.

Basic Information

Developers have adapted font management to new needs in the course of computer history; things have become more professional in terms of fonts, which were originally implemented in the hardware, especially in the last three decades.

On Linux, as with all current operating systems, preinstalled system fonts are placed on your mass storage device when you install the operating system. Since 2004 in Linux, this has been the task of the fontconfig library [1], which is an integral part of every Linux derivative. These system fonts not only take care of screen content, but they are also used for printer control. Linux is particularly flexible: It not only supports bitmap fonts but also vector fonts, which scale without any loss of quality. They have therefore established themselves on the market.

Adobe's PostScript [2] page description language, which was developed in the 1980s and supplemented by the vector fonts mentioned above, is still regarded as the standard for high-quality document design. PostScript is also used by professional print studios.

Under Linux, the office suite selected by the distribution usually sends its print jobs to the print server in the form of PostScript files. This formats the data for the active printer using the Ghostscript interpreter [3]. Linux systems not only print documents in the usual office formats, but also PDF files, which are closely related to PostScript.

The globally installed font families are usually located in the /usr/share/fonts/ subdirectory under Linux and are usually managed in a graphical font management system such as Fontmatrix (Figure 1) [4].

Figure 1: Fontmatrix provides very effective functions for font management.

Special Case: Asian Script Systems

Asian typeface systems pose a particular challenge to the standard office suites. These include in particular the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writing systems, some of which even differ within their native countries.

If you want to use these font systems and ensure that the text displays correctly, you first need to install the required character sets manually, and you have to set up the word processors in such a way that they can display text in Asian fonts onscreen and output them correctly on the printer. Additionally, you need to activate input methods such as the Smart Common Input Method (SCIM) [5] or Intelligent Input Bus (IBus) [6] in the operating system to ensure trouble-free text input from the keyboard.

Calligra

Originally developed for the KDE desktop and comprising several individual applications, Calligra Suite [7] is now regarded as a useful office package for everyday use. Like font management in most office suites, Calligra relies on the fonts installed in the operating system, which you can conveniently choose in a selection field – including the font size.

Remarkably, Calligra can fill the horizontal usable area of widescreen monitors better than most other office suites, which usually place their buttonbars horizontally at the top of the window. This placement reduces the vertical area available for displaying documents. Calligra moves the buttonbars to a vertical window segment at the right edge of the screen.

Calligra adopts the system fonts without any further selection options, which has a noticeable disadvantage: Because many Linux distributions preinstall numerous special effects fonts of questionable quality, Calligra's selection list contains fonts that are rarely used and are therefore superfluous, making font selection rather confusing (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The numerous imported special effects fonts are seldom or never used in everyday life.

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