July 11, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Open source casts new mold for type design
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Though he had almost no experience in type design, he figured out how to add pre-existing elements such as accents to letters and wrote small programs to help automate others' design work. And several others joined the cause. "Whenever I heard about or found a new Vera derivative and decided that it was worth merging (because) it had superior design or superior glyph coverage, I asked the author for permission," Roh said.In the software world, creating a new offshoot is called "forking." The freedom to do so is one hallmark of an open-source project. The Joomla content management system fork from the original Mambo project is a good example.
Forking is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it can lead to incompatible versions and dilute developer energies. But on another, when one project is dormant--as is the case with Bitstream's Vera--it can inject new life.
Several designers launched their own Vera forks, and Roh eventually helped merge the projects, Mailhot said. The designers had initially created limited extensions to include Western languages such as Welsh or Catalan, then later took on larger and more ambitious extensions, such as Greek and Cyrillic.
Roh tried to reach other designers to encourage them to cooperate on a single font, and largely succeeded in doing so, Mailhot said. "Today, the creators of other Vera derivatives have mostly joined the DejaVu team or stated they were perfectly happy about DejaVu merging their work in a common font," he said.
Cambridge, Mass.-based Bitstream apparently doesn't envision an update to Vera, though the company doesn't close the door to the possibility.
"Regarding our updating Bitstream Vera: If we were paid by the GNOME Foundation or another organization, we would be open to listening to offers and discussing it here at Bitstream," said Bob Thomas, director of product management at the company. "We'd consider doing it, depending on the updates and the time involved to complete the work."
Sundaram proposed making DejaVu the default font for Fedora in May. He said a decision will be made by the time the next version of the operating system, Fedora Core 6, ships--currently scheduled for Oct. 4.
There are some complications, however, chiefly involving the conflicting font approaches employed by DejaVu and by the Pango software for displaying fonts onscreen. The high frequency of DejaVu updates is also an issue.
So far, things are looking favorable for DejaVu.
"It goes without saying that just because someone makes a proposal, doesn't mean that proposal will be accepted," said Max Spevack, the Fedora Project chairman. "The initial feedback from the user side is mostly positive. But the final decision has not been made, and we need to review it in multiple locales."
But for Roh, though he stepped down from the DejaVu "dictator" role, the victory already has been won. "Once the project got its momentum, it was inevitable that it would become the 'de facto' standard TrueType font in the FLOSS world, which I am very proud of."
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