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Font Reserve Moves to Mac OS X

Font Reserve, from DiamondSoft, is a font management utility to which I’ve been enthusiastically addicted for years. Simply put, it stores your fonts (or aliases to them), helps you explore them, and activates and deactivates them as needed. You may have lots and lots of fonts; yet with Font Reserve you never lose track of them, and your Font menu never gets longer than needed.


Font Reserve 3.0 adds support for Mac OS X – though, as with many other old favorites that have entered this brave new world, its abilities don’t quite match those of previous versions. Still, it works well enough that I’m glad to have it.


Abilities and Disabilities — As before, Font Reserve consists of four chief components: the Vault, the folder where Font Reserve keeps fonts and aliases; Font Reserve Browser, the application in which you add fonts and remove them from the Vault, view fonts, and control the enabling of fonts; Font Reserve Database, the invisible background application that does the real work; and Font Reserve Settings, the application (formerly masquerading as a control panel) that handles preferences for the Font Reserve Database. The Font Reserve Extension no longer exists; the feature added by this extension in version 2, where opening a document would automatically activate any fonts it referred to, doesn’t work in Mac OS X.

A characteristic of Mac OS X, either valuable or a nuisance depending on your perspective, is that fonts can live in four locations: the System’s Fonts folder; the top-level Library’s Fonts folder; your user Library’s Fonts folder; and your Classic System Folder’s Fonts folder. Font Reserve wants to help you straighten out this situation. When you first start up Font Reserve Browser, you’ll choose System Font Handler from the File menu, producing a dialog that shows all the fonts in those four locations. It then offers to let you remove those fonts not required by the system itself and hand control of them over to Font Reserve. This, by the way, does not contradict the multiple-user orientation of Mac OS X: by default, the vault lives in the Shared folder where all users can access it, but you are free to give different users different vaults instead.

A big disappointment is that Font Reserve doesn’t yet handle .dfont and .otf fonts – thus placing about 40 fonts that come with Mac OS X completely out of its control. Despite this limitation in Font Reserve, the System Font Handler offers to remove many of these from their font folders. This makes no sense to me; since you can’t hand these fonts over to Font Reserve, removing them would make them completely inaccessible. To make matters worse, the System Font Handler dialog is confusing; if you’re not careful, you could remove most of these fonts unintentionally. Also, even if Font Reserve can’t enable and disable these fonts, I don’t understand why it can’t list them (for example, in the "System Fonts" set that you can’t modify); this means you can’t use Font Reserve even to find out where such fonts are located, or to discover a duplication between a Helvetica .dfont font and a Helvetica TrueType font. Font Reserve also can’t handle Windows TrueType .ttf fonts; Mac OS X’s acceptance of these is a major benefit, and I use quite a few of them.

On the other hand, a great new feature of Font Reserve 3.0 is Classic Activator. To grasp what it does, you need to understand the default situation: Mac OS X can see Classic fonts but Classic can’t see Mac OS X fonts. Classic Activator, an invisible Classic application that Font Reserve starts automatically whenever Classic launches, essentially reverses this situation: it causes any fonts enabled by Font Reserve in Mac OS X to be enabled under Classic as well. Classic Activator thus eliminates headaches of duplication and worries about whether a Classic application will have access to needed fonts. You’ll gladly let System Font Handler remove most fonts from Classic’s Fonts folder and let Font Reserve manage them instead.

Another upshot of this is that you don’t need the Classic version of Font Reserve 3.0 when booting from Mac OS X, though it’s still necessary for people who regularly boot into Mac OS 9. Unfortunately, the Classic Font Reserve doesn’t automatically sense what operating system was used to start the Mac, so if you want to use it when booting from Mac OS 9 you’ll have to enable it manually, and remember to disable it before booting into Mac OS X again (or use Casady & Greene’s Conflict Catcher 9, which can disable certain extensions when booting in Classic, as opposed to Mac OS 9).


Manual Labor — Font Reserve 3.0’s documentation needs work. The main manual has not been rewritten for Mac OS X at all. The QuickStart Guide has been, but it contains some errors: for example, it refers to the System Font Handler menu item as "Check System Font Folders," and it wrongly tells you to start the Font Reserve Browser right after installation (you must start Font Reserve Settings first). The applications themselves make similar mistakes: the installer talks as if it’s going to install a control panel and an extension even though there are no such things under Mac OS X, and a dialog in Font Reserve Browser refers to Font Reserve Settings as a "control panel" as well.

Rough edges in the interface also remain. The first thing I tried to do with Font Reserve brought up a meaningless error dialog, "ResError() == noErr". The Font Reserve Log file is also full of mysterious error messages about "font references at the top level". Visual glitches are not infrequent. On the whole, one has the sense that this release could have used more polishing – it seems likely that a small bug fix release may arrive shortly.

Upbeat Conclusion — Despite these largely cosmetic annoyances, Font Reserve 3.0 couldn’t have come too soon for me. Even though it can’t manage all my Mac OS X fonts, it organizes TrueType and PostScript fonts just as it used to; this, along with the Classic Activator, is probably worth the price of admission. If you’ve been longing to get more of a handle on the Mac OS X font mess, Font Reserve is worth a look; if you’re a user of version 2 who has upgraded to Mac OS X, you should certainly upgrade to Font Reserve 3.0 as well.

Font Reserve 3.0 for Mac OS X requires a Power Mac G3 or better with 256 MB of RAM. It costs $90; the upgrade is free for purchasers of version 2.6, otherwise $30. A free trial version – Font Reserve 3.0 Lite – supports only 100 fonts, allows only one database, and can’t print specimen books, but it isn’t time-limited and is thus probably sufficient for many users – a generous policy that will no doubt bring numerous additional users to the fold.

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