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The Final Font Frontier

The irony of fonts is this: they helped create the Macintosh revolution of 1984 and have been a pain in the ASCII ever since. Fonts lie at the heart of much of what we do on a Mac; yet, from the Font/DA Mover nightmare to System 7.1 and the Fonts folder, they have been persistently unmanageable.

Fonts do need management. I’m a mild font user; yet I’ve acquired hundreds of them, scattered all over my hard disk. There are too many types of fonts, and too many versions of particular fonts. The distinctions can be crucial: back when I was editing a magazine, opening a file with the wrong Garamond loaded could screw up the layout. Different projects may require different fonts; some fonts I use constantly, others I want on hand for that single rare moment that calls for them. Certain applications need certain fonts; some come with fonts that duplicate those I already have; some install fonts without telling me. FOND IDs can conflict. Fonts can become corrupt. Then there’s the problem of knowing what my fonts look like, and the arrangement of their characters: how do I type an omega in my Greek font, a thorn in my Old English font, or a pentagram in my dingbats font?

Since the dawn of the Mac, third-party utilities have promised to rescue us. A roster of classics like Suitcase, MasterJuggler, PopChar, KeyFinder, and TypeTools has marched across my desktop, and dozens of utilities have studded the firmament. Yet, despite my experimentation, none has possessed the ineffable rightness of a real solution, that quality that cries with the voice of truth directly into the drowsing ear of Apple Computer: "Like this, people! You should have implemented it like this!"

None, that is, until now.

A Real Solution — Font Reserve, from DiamondSoft, promises to solve all these font problems with a single stroke, using a paradigm of brilliant simplicity. You give Font Reserve your fonts – all of them, except for the minimal few required by the System, Acrobat Reader, and the like. Font Reserve resolves ID conflicts, weeds out corruption, and associates bitmaps with their PostScript partners. It acts like a database, listing your fonts sorted, filtered, and in subsets. It also functions as the control center from which you view fonts and dictate which are available to the system.

I was excited when I saw Font Reserve demonstrated back in January, and have been panting for its release ever since. With version 1.0.1, which fixes some 1.0 bugs and runs on both PPC and 68K machines, Font Reserve has finally arrived. It’s not perfect, but it’s a magnificent product and I look forward to its continued evolution.


The Vault — The heart of Font Reserve is the "vault," a folder where Font Reserve organizes and manages fonts. This notion seems scary, but there’s no danger. The vault is invisible by default, but you can make it visible; you can keep it anywhere; and it need not hold font originals – its contents can be copies or aliases.

In home use, you will probably first have Font Reserve copy your fonts; then, once you trust it, you will probably delete the originals. There’s no need for multiple copies, and since the problem was that you couldn’t organize your fonts, why not let Font Reserve organize them for you?

In a networked environment where multiple users need the same fonts, using aliases might be preferable; the fonts can live on a central server, the aliases take less space on each user’s disk, and a new feature makes it possible to "export" a master version of the vault to other networked users. Boy, I wish we’d had this when I worked on the magazine.

The door to the vault is not one-way: you can always copy fonts outside the vault. That’s valuable, because fonts used in a particular job might have to ship with it to a service bureau or be archived with it.

Also, when Font Reserve opens a font (makes it available to the system), it doesn’t open the copy in the vault; instead, it creates and opens a copy of that copy. Thus, even if an accident were to corrupt an open font, the contents of the vault would be unaffected. This approach also keeps your open files count low, because Font Reserve stuffs the copies of fonts it opens into a small number of suitcases.

What You Get — Font Reserve is a set of applications, the most important being the one you’re least conscious of – Font Reserve Database, which operates upon the vault and opens and closes fonts. It’s a faceless background application, and runs all the time (unless you turn it off), thanks to an alias in the system’s Startup Items folder. Its suggested RAM size is 3,000K, a likely deterrent for some potential users. Still, I’m glad it’s an application rather than an extension: the system remains stable, and if you start up with extensions off you can still run Font Reserve Database and access your fonts.

Since Font Reserve Database is faceless, other applications provide its interface. One of these, actually called Font Reserve, masquerades as a control panel but is an ordinary application; here you start and quit the database, toggle the vault’s visibility and change its location, and perform configuration tasks.

Font Reserve Browser is your window on the vault; here you examine your fonts and turn them on and off. The Browser window has two panes, one for sets and one for individual fonts. Sets are groupings of fonts that you create; they display like a folder list in the Finder, and they behave like folders of aliases – a font can belong to any number of sets or to none. You can turn on or off all a set’s fonts at once, or drag a set to a Finder window to copy of all its fonts.

You add fonts (or folders or volumes containing them) to the vault by dragging and dropping them into the Browser’s window – either into the lower pane, to add them individually, or into the sets panel to create a set automatically. (If that’s too much trouble, you can instead drag & drop onto aliases of two utilities, DropFont and DropSet.) A dialog lets you confirm how you want the dropped originals treated; the fonts are then examined and filed in the vault. A downside to adding fonts is that when Font Reserve encounters "problem" fonts (such as corrupt fonts or PostScript fonts without bitmaps), no dialog notifies you; you must check the log later. The log itself is uninformative when non-problem fonts are added, in that it doesn’t list their names.

In the Browser window’s lower pane, every line is a font. Information displayed can include a font’s name, foundry, type, label, owner, and more (owners and labels are user-configurable settings). You can sort on these categories, and generate filters based on them, plus you can filter alphabetically; thus, you have extensive power to limit and arrange the fonts listed in the window.

The Browser window is also where fonts are turned on and off. A font may be turned on permanently or temporarily, meaning that the font will or won’t open automatically when the computer and Font Reserve restart.

You also use the Browser window to learn about fonts. Command-clicking a font’s icon pops up a large display of its name in that font. Double-clicking a font’s icon opens a preview window where you can get data about a font, see its character set, read paragraphs in that font, view short samples and different sizes, and more. All this is highly user-configurable, though I hope preview windows in future versions remember their size and position.

The Font Reserve Browser interface is wonderful. It consists of a single window (listing the fonts) and sometimes a second (the preview window); but both windows, and especially the former, are splendidly designed – the sort of thing that gives one heart about the Mac interface, proving it remains vital and capable of new constructive and intuitive uses.

Suitcase Horror — A major part of my personal font hell is the inconvenience of font suitcases. Font Reserve not only fails to save me, it increases that inconvenience. I regard this as a major flaw.

For instance, the Browser represents all members of a FOND family as a single font, providing no way to learn what fonts the family really contains. Thus, if the vault contains TrueType fonts for Palatino, Palatino Italic, and Palatino Bold, plus some corresponding bitmaps in various sizes, the Browser shows just one listing – Palatino. The only way to discover the facts is to dig around in the vault (something the manual boasts you will never have reason to do), find the suitcase(s) in question, and look inside.

You cannot drop a TrueType font onto the Browser – it must be in a suitcase first, and Font Reserve does nothing to help you make one. (I was told this would be fixed in version 1.0.2, though.)

Font Reserve does not accept non-fonts, such as FKEYs and sounds, even when disguised in font suitcases. But since Font Reserve is incompatible with utilities I was using to handle such entities (Suitcase or Carpetbag), I am forced to disguise them as font suitcases and put them in the System Folder’s Font folder. In other words, Font Reserve replaces my utilities without taking over all their duties, which is impolite.

Other Quibbles — Members of different FOND families which are in fact related are sometimes treated as separate families: Mishawaka and Mishawaka Bold, for instance, aren’t paired correctly. (Possibly that’s because they’re bitmaps; in general, Font Reserve seems antipathetic to bitmaps that aren’t paired with PostScript fonts.)

Font Reserve has no facility (such as Suitcase has) for opening fonts in response to the launch of a certain application. That’s a pity, because some applications require particular fonts. The exception is QuarkXPress, for which an XTension is provided that scans a document as it opens and tells Font Reserve to load the requisite fonts.

Font Reserve makes extensive use of invisible files at the root level of your hard disk. That’s poor Mac citizenship. There’s a proper place for temporary invisible files (the Temporary Items folder), and non-temporary files should be visible. Font Reserve isn’t scriptable, which seems silly since communications with the database are entirely via Apple events. I’d also like to see Font Reserve add printing, perhaps for printing a list of font names or better a sample of each font. As a final quibble, I’d like DiamondSoft to mention Relauncher (an application that comes with Font Reserve) in the manual.

Conclusion — Although I think Font Reserve has room for improvement, it’s a delightful concept, beautifully implemented. I’m happy it’s here to replace the font utilities I used before. The first time I ran it, it identified font corruption problems which had plagued me, and it has run trouble-free ever since. For home use, I recommend it from personal experience; for a corporate setting, I would recommend it as well.

Font Reserve requires System 7.5 or later. It conflicts with other font managers such as Suitcase and ATM Deluxe, but works with utilities such as TypeTamer and standard ATM. From DiamondSoft directly, Font Reserve costs $119.95 for the electronic version; add another $20 to purchase it on CD with a printed manual; note discounts on purchasing multiple copies.

DealBITS — Cyberian Outpost is offering Font Reserve for $109.95 to TidBITS readers, a $5 discount off Cyberian’s normal price.

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DiamondSoft — 415/381-3303 — 415/381-3503 (fax)

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