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Fontastic Voyage: Font Reserve 2.5

It’s now more than three years since I first glimpsed Font Reserve in action. In the two years since I started using it (in version 1.0.1), I haven’t been without it for a moment, and I still feel as I did then: "Now this is how font management on the Mac should work!" Font Reserve accepts fonts and, storing the originals, copies, or aliases, makes them selectively available to the system. It lets you turn fonts on and off individually or in sets that you define, view particular subsets of your fonts, study the appearance and layout of any font, find corruptions and conflicts, and generally manage your fonts through a superb database interface complete with sorting and filters.


The latest incarnation, Font Reserve 2.5.2, is (as it has always been) a breeze to install and a delight to use. Since those early days, there have been many improvements; some I noted in my MailBIT about version 2.0, others I omitted or were more recent, so in what follows I’ll try to cover most of the bases.


Lost & Foundry — Font activation has become faster with each new version, though you can elect to sacrifice some speed for the greater safety of activating through a copy, making corruption impossible (this was the only activation mode in version 1.0.1). The vault, where Font Reserve stores fonts, was once invisible and hard to manage; it is now an ordinary folder, and you can easily switch among multiple vaults. Font conflicts are more seamlessly and flexibly handled: you can maintain two conflicting fonts, but if you activate one, Font Reserve deactivates the other. You can print font samples ("type books"). Fonts can be listed and activated by suitcase (in addition to individually, by family, and in user-defined sets). In addition to owner and class (sans serif, script, etc.), you can label fonts by foundry. Scripting support has been improved, and clarified through better examples.

Besides 40 Bitstream fonts, this version of Font Reserve includes a special bonus: a copy of Power On Software’s Action WYSIWYG extension. I’m told that this is provided in order to forestall complaints that "Such-and-such font menu utility doesn’t work with Font Reserve;" whatever the reason, it’s great to have. It lets the Font menu in your applications display font names in that font, clumped hierarchically into families, and in several columns so you don’t have to scroll down to see all your fonts. It’s configurable to a fare-thee-well: for individual fonts, you can turn the WYSIWYG display on or off, and change the size and color; globally or for particular applications, you can change the listing order, and even hide a font’s name. (But alas, you can’t create pseudo-families, thus making all dingbat fonts, for example, cascade from a menu item "Dingbats"; that was one of my favorite features of TypeTamer, which no longer works on my machine.)


There do remain, I admit, aspects of Font Reserve that I regret. If Font Reserve encounters a problem (for example, you add a font that it finds to be corrupt), it doesn’t alert you; you must think to look in the log file. The manual, though generally good, is sometimes misleading about what constitutes a problem: for example, it claims that orphan bitmaps are "virtually unusable," whereas I use them all the time. Similarly, the Log window wrongly claims, when you check your System fonts, that they are duplicates. The preview window still does not remember its settings; it forgets its size and position when you close it, and if you set a particular font’s character map preview size to 24, then the next time you view that font’s character map the size has reverted to the default. Font Reserve still doesn’t manage FKEYs, even when disguised as font suitcases: it refuses to import them, and chokes on them in the Fonts folder, even though this is a common technique.

Also, DiamondSoft and I disagree over the ideal scope of Font Reserve’s powers. For one thing, I wish Font Reserve would let you define families; DiamondSoft feels that this is not Font Reserve’s bailiwick. For example, it would be wonderful to be able to tell Font Reserve that Mishawaka Bold is the bold version of Mishawaka, so as to turn two font listings into one, both in the font browser and in Action WYSIWYG’s Font menu; but you can’t. Similarly, let’s say you hand Font Reserve the Helvetica TrueType font, and then later you hand it the 9-point Helvetica bitmap font, the idea being that, for screen legibility, you’d like to use the bitmap for 9-point and the TrueType for other sizes. The Mac normally lets you do this – but only if the bitmap and the TrueType are in the same suitcase (because this unites them into a family). But Font Reserve won’t put them in the same suitcase for you, nor will it activate both the bitmap and the TrueType simultaneously; it’s up to you to combine them into a suitcase first, and hand Font Reserve that suitcase. To me, that’s backwards; I feel FontReserve should manage my suitcases for me, not force me to manage them myself.

Also, Font Reserve has no provision for combing my hard disks, searching for fonts and showing me where they are and what they look like without actually importing them. I still use Font Gander for that.


Thus, I’d like Font Reserve to be a more complete font management tool, so that ideally I’d never have to touch a font file in the Finder again. On the other hand, I’m not aware of any other font-loading utility that behaves this way.

Like a Version — Thus far, I have not mentioned the problem that Font Reserve 2.5 is really trying to solve – a pair of problems, actually, that have been with us since the Mac’s debut.

  • Fonts are based in the individual user’s system; hence, I can copy a document to another computer and not be able to read it properly.

  • Fonts are insufficiently identified by name (and even FOND number), because they can still exist in variant versions; hence, I can copy a document to another computer and think I’m reading it properly, but I’m not.

Even the earliest versions of Font Reserve helped with the first problem: a Font Reserve database can contain aliases, so fonts can come from a central server. Still, this requires a local network situation, and besides, two users cannot share the same database, so they must each have copies of one database – copies that must be individually maintained. To get around this, DiamondSoft is developing Font Reserve Server, which works across the Internet to let multiple users share one centrally maintained Font Reserve database.

The auto-activation feature, introduced in version 2.0, enlists an extension to detect, as a document is opened, what fonts it expects, and to activate them temporarily if they aren’t already active. It is thus not necessary to open the document and then manually discover and solve its font problems, nor (forestalling this) to load every font in the universe beforehand. There are applications where this doesn’t work, but DiamondSoft has sometimes been able to fix this on an individual basis – for example, for QuarkXPress through an XTension, and now for Adobe Illustrator through a plug-in. Combine this with the Font Reserve Server, and you start to envision a team of workers sharing fonts seamlessly and transparently.

But even this doesn’t definitively solve the second problem. If you have the wrong version of a font that a document uses, you may not be aware of any problem, but the document may be altered in unfortunate ways. The trouble is that the only information a document saves about the fonts it uses is their names, which don’t sufficiently identify them. To tackle this, DiamondSoft has proposed a new technology, Font Sense, whereby complete identification of fonts, including foundry and version number, is saved with the document. Auto-activation can detect this identification and load the truly correct font.

At this stage, however, Font Sense is little more than a proposal – because applications must all be rewritten to conform to it. The only exceptions are precisely those applications in whose font management DiamondSoft has already been able to interfere: the QuarkXPress XTension and the Illustrator plug-in don’t just perform auto-activation, they capture Font Sense information when saving.

Font Sense may sound like an arcane proposition if your only experience with fonts is home use, where you create and view and perhaps print just your own documents. But take a document down to a Kinko’s for printing and you soon discover the nightmare of fonts and versions. Get a job in the publishing industry and you’ll soon see the sense of Font Sense. When I was editing a programming magazine, we regularly ruined the issue when someone accidentally edited and saved a story from a computer whose Garamond version was wrong. We would have killed for Font Reserve Server and the Font Sense-savvy Quark XTension. So, even though I haven’t been able to try them myself, these technologies sound great to me.

Pica at the Future — To quote my favorite movie: "We are all interested in the future, for that is where we shall spend the rest of our lives." What does the future hold for fonts? Well, on your machine, whether at home or in a networked team environment, your future can be instantly bright: just use Font Reserve now.

But as I said in my review of version 1.0.1, fonts have been a major bane of computing, though also one of its attractions since the dawn of the Mac, and Apple has done precious little to modernize font management. A Fonts folder instead of Font/DA Mover: oh, such progress! Meanwhile computers have become the major tool not simply for desktop publishing but for publishing, period. And even in the home, the Internet has brought the problem into high relief, through the familiar inability to guarantee well-designed Web pages because you don’t control the reader’s fonts; I myself have scores of documents involving Greek, Devanagari, and phonetic symbols that I’d love to place on the Web and can’t.

Apple, currently preparing a revolutionary system overhaul, can play a leading role here. To be sure, the font system has been evolving to deal with double-byte writing systems and cross-platform font layout issues; and FontSync technology (comparable to Font Sense) was introduced with Mac OS 9, testifying to Apple’s late-dawning awareness that rigorous identification of fonts is crucial to its customers.

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But none of this guarantees that the correct font will be available and activated as a document is opened, nor does it advance towards what must surely be the ultimate solution: moving the responsibility for fonts off the individual user’s desktop and onto a public repository. DiamondSoft, on the other hand, is already taking the lead with Font Reserve, Font Sense, and Font Reserve Server. Apple could do worse than to partner with them as it brings fonts into the 21st century.

Font Reserve is $90 for the downloadable version ($120 with CD and printed manuals; $30 to upgrade from a previous version ($40 with CD and printed manuals). Font Reserve requires System 7.5 or later, uses about 6 MB of RAM, and requires about 10 MB of hard disk space for a standard installation. A slightly crippled non-time-limited demo is available for download.


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