Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Interview with the FontMeister

Here's some FOG history I bet you didn't know...

BTW - FontLab is beginning work on Fontographer PC fixes -it's now or never on your suggestions...

Der Interview Mit Der FontMeister

Narrator – a year or so ago we covered your departure from Macromedia and it looked pretty dismal for Fontographer at that time. The recent announcement of FontLab Ltd. taking over the distribution and development of Fontographer is quite a surprise. What’s the inside story on all of this?

Jim – The bottom line seems to be that something which is intrinsically good will never go away. That’s a little too philosophical but it illustrates the point that people never stopped loving Fontographer and savvy investors understood this and found a way to keep the love relationship going. Turns out there were several entities who saw the potential but FontLab Ltd. had the best overall infrastructure and was selected by Macromedia as the smartest way to hand off their customers to someone who had the same commitment to customer service.

Narrator – you’ve mentioned this love for Fontographer in the past, other than the user interface why do you think this product became so beloved?

Jim - The year was 1985 and two engineers (Jim Von Ehr, now at, and Kevin Crowder) at Texas Instruments in Dallas formed a company named Altsys and shipped a bitmap font editor called FONTastic. The Apple Macintosh had started the DTP revolution and fonts were a central part of it. FONTastic enabled users to create a Mac bitmap font in any size and even printed well enough to the Apple ImageWriter dot matrix printers.

At the same time in Silicon Valley, two companies were collaborating on an earth-shaking new printer that would catapult DTP and chime the death knell for the old typesetters. The product was released in January, 1986 with the Mac II and was known as the LaserWriter. At its heart was an Adobe PostScript interpreter (that’s true PostScript, not an emulator) with 13 PostScript fonts embedded in the motherboard.

Back in Texas, users began reporting to Altsys that their bitmap fonts were OK on the LaserWriter at 4x the point size (create a 48pt font to print 12 pt text), but they look terrible in comparison to the resident fonts. So, Jim and Kevin began work on Fontographer which shipped in the fall of 1986. It was the very first PostScript drawing program for a personal computer. With it, the type world changed forever. It was followed quickly by Adobe Illustrator and Aldus FreeHand as DTPers saw the potential for using vectors for something besides fonts.

Narrator – much of the typography industry seems to have given up on Fontographer due to lack of development. What will make them want to return to the old way of doing things when FontLab has dominated in areas like OpenType and Delta-hinting to name a few?

Jim – Ted Harrison at FontLab Ltd., has stated on my FOG BLOG ( that, “It doesn't make any sense for us to develop another font editor that just does the same things that FontLab Studio already does. So Fontographer will be developed for people who DON'T want to learn all the nuances of OT features, Python scripting, delta hinting, etc.”

If you had taken ten years of calls and emails on Fontographer as I have you would see that there is a vast market of hobbyists and cubicle-dwellers who just have a need to edit a font, add a character or a logo or a digitized signature or to convert a font from one format to another.

These people are happy with Fontographer-level authoring and just want the bugs fixed and would be happy to pay for improvements.

Many professionals (if I named them you would fall off your chair because these are people who make the fonts which appear on everybody’s screen every day) continue to this day the practice of drawing elegant Bezier curves with Fontographer and then post-processing their fonts in FontLab for added functionality.

Narrator – so what can you tell us about the support and development cycle of this resurrected Fontographer?

Jim – FontLab Ltd. offers strictly email support which I will be handling. I have been filling the gap for years with my site at: I have several forums there and a FOG BLOG. People who talk to me for five minutes realize that I am committed to making them successful versus the typical tech support handed out these days. I give 1000% whether it’s holding someone’s hand as they make their first font or answering a convoluted email. They say the key to success is to find someone to pay you to do what you love to do.

As far as development, people are already chiming in on my BLOG and helping us to prioritize the most-needed areas of repair. Ted has specified the obnoxious RAM error on the PC and the challenges of some OSX systems as his top priority. As far as FOG 5 –it’s time to get your wishlist posted on my BLOG and get in on the birth of this brave new world of Fontographer-on-steroids!

I love breaking in newbies and playing “font chess” with old-timers who try to stump me with esoteric typography questions. It’s a great life. I may even resurrect my “Fontographer for Dummies” book which ceased production after my era of downsizing.

Narrator – we wish the FontMeister good luck with the resuscitation of Fontographer.