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Linux Desktop Distros with Quality Fonts? 178

Posted by timothy
from the out-of-box-experience dept.
occamboy writes "I'm trying to make a case for switching to Linux desktops, and would like to demonstrate how advantageous Linux is. While the advantages of Linux are more obvious for us techies, I'm finding that many non-technical types are immediately negatively biased by the look of Linux desktops. The problem boils down to screen fonts. It seems that, in the distributions that I've demonstrated, the screen fonts are either all aliased, or are aliased in some places and antialiased in others, which I've been told resembles a ransom note with letters cut from different magazines. I can understand where these critics are coming from; after all, they are staring at fonts on a monitor all day long. Are there any distributions that I can demonstrate which provide smooth and consistent screen fonts without requiring a lot of messing around?"
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Linux Desktop Distros with Quality Fonts?

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  • here (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    try bitstream vera sans and use kde control center to set antialias settings. gnome has a tool too for font stuff. oh and btw stop demoing cli ok?
    • So what does he do, work with only one font?

      I was using a few Bitstream fonts yesterday, putting graphics together for a web page, and couldn't believe how crappy some of the text looked in Gimp.

      One font does not a solution make.
      • Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

        This has been the absolute opposite of my experiance. I've found the fonts on WinXP are either antialiased with colored edges or aliased, and that linux tends to get everything right with the exception of capital letter "o"

        I would be really interested in seeing a screenshot or detailed description of what you notice as being craptacular about the fonts.
        • If I had it, I'd be glad to get it to you, but when it didn't work, I created a graphic, put it in as bg for a table, and did the text as regular text. I figured that way, if there were a problem, I could always blame the user's browser. (I love blaming the user's browser -- especially if it's IE!)
        • Re:Really? (Score:2, Informative)

          by tepples (727027)

          You know, you can turn Windows XP's ClearType off, which will give you antialiasing with gray edges, the same way it was on Windows 98 and 2000. The colored edges are there to make it show up better on LCD panels.

        • Re:Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by No_Censorship (667118)
          Try out Lycoris [] Desktop/LX 1.4. They just yesterday released 1.4, and it's got something new from Bitstream called btX2 that makes all fonts render better, even better than Windows.

          I updated my system yesterday and the fonts are so crisp it's not even funny. Most distros use freetype, and a couple of them turn on the hinting illegally, but Desktop/LX apparently has licensed font hinting and antialiasing that even surpasses Windows and Mac.

          Just one screenshot here [].
      • Re:here (Score:3, Informative)

        I love the Bitstream fonts - on Windows and Linux.

        It's 3 fonts really...
        Bitstram Vera Sans
        Bitstram Vera Sans Mono
        Bitstream Vera Serif

        Bitstream Vera Sans is very readable in web pages - IMHO more so than Verdana. And the mono font is ideal for when I write SQL/XHTML/etc at home/work. []

        I dont have any problems with fonts on Fedora Core 2. The fonts look pretty decent in Knoppix 3.6 too.

        PS: Bitstream fonts look great in Macromedia Fireworks, but the gimp still rocks. ;-)

        • Re:here (Score:2, Interesting)

          by wolftone (609476)
          I have one major gripe with the Bitstream Vera family (and other fonts common in the Linux arsenal, such as the Luxi family). There is no italic, even in the Serifed font: Bitstream Vera uses an oblique rather than an italic. The difference is most notable in the miniscule "a", which in an italic looks a cursive letter, and italics often (though not always) have different gravity and internal structure than the humanist ("normal" or "plain") letters. Obliques, on the other hand, are merely humanist forms wi
      • From a quick search in my debian unstable:

        # apt-cache search ttf-

        ttf-arabeyes - Arabeyes GPL TrueType Arabic fonts
        ttf-arhangai - A TrueType font with Mongolian Cyrillic letters
        ttf-arphic-bkai00mp - "AR PL KaitiM Big5" Chinese TrueType font by Arphic Technology
        ttf-arphic-bsmi00lp - "AR PL Mingti2L Big5" Chinese TrueType font by Arphic Technology
        ttf-arphic-gbsn00lp - "AR PL SungtiL GB" Chinese TrueType font by Arphic Technology
        ttf-arphic-gkai00mp - "AR PL KaitiM GB" Chinese TrueType font by Arphic Technolog
  • SuSE 9.1 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cymen (8178) <cymenvig AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @08:11PM (#10223997) Homepage
    I recently installed SuSE Professional 9.1 and the fonts look really good. I use Firefox on both Windows and Linux and I even forgot which OS I was using the other day when only the browser was open.
    • Mandrake 10.0 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by leonbrooks (8043) <SentByMSBlast-No ...> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @08:46PM (#10224144) Homepage
      I've had people walk up to Mandrake machines, use them for a day, and walk away not realising that it wasn't MS-Windows. If I switched those boxes to XPDE instead of KDE and did a little tweaking, I'm sure it would be easy to fool ten times as many people - if that was my aim.

      I was using my laptop (running Mandrake Linux) at a private function last week, and a 10yob I know came up, looked oddly at the screen for a few minutes, then asked "Which Windows are you using?" It took about 15 minutes and much repetition to mostly-convince him that it wasn't running MS-Windows at all, but rather KDE on Linux. This is the level of ignorance we face. This kid knows his own machine inside out, as well as a non-programmer possibly could, but had no clue that anything other than MS-Windows ever existed.

      Both Mandrake and SuSE do the font thing well, including different aliasing at different sizes.

      I haven't seriously tried other distros for a while but seem to remember some of the Debian-based distros (Gentoo, Knoppix) being happy out of the box nowadays, and probably Lin{spire,dows,insertsuffixhere} but that has other issues you don't want to have to deal with.

      If you use the download edition of Mandrake, set it up with the Contribs as a URPMI source, and manually pull down a few things (Flash player, Win32 CoDecs and the like) from the Penguin Liberation Front sites []. Using PLF wide throttle is a bit risky, but cherry-picking only extras instead of replacing standard packages as well seems to work well. I've also tacked together a few extras of my own here [], but that's a skinny DSL line; please don't melt it down.
  • Isn't it pretty much all the same regardless of distribution? It's all the same X. It's all the same KDE and Gnome. Do distribution maintainers really do this much stuff?
    • Re:It's all the same (Score:2, Informative)

      by rincebrain (776480)
      Yes. Yes they do.

      Go compare RedHat to Gentoo to Knoppix to Mandrake.
    • But some make it easier than others; We run RH9 at work and I think it (mostly) looks great. It's also quite easy to install true-type fonts on RedHat.

      There are RPMS available here [] to allow installing the MS core fonts (Arial, Comic, etc).

      Most Windows users seem to miss a few of the MS fonts, and are infinitely happier when they are available and configured for use.

      Nearly all of the applications use the KDE font settings and anti-aliassed fonts. It's only the few older apps that don't get used anywa

    • I kinda tend to side with you: although distro maintainers do put a lot of work into making sure Freetype is working properly across the board (this involves checking the Big Two toolkits, Qt and GTK+, and their companion desktop environments, KDE, GNOME, and XFCE, as well as OpenOffice and Mozilla, who dance to the beat of their own drums as far as fonts are concerned), every distro provides pretty darn similar software, and as long as you know what you're doing, you can get software from whatever distro w

      • by GCP (122438)
        Thanks for the great tip. The Latin-1 glyphs repertoire is obsolete--even popular English-language print publications such as Time and Newsweek have NEVER limited themselves to such a pitiful set of characters.

        The full text of a 1980s Time Magazine article ought to be completely and correctly displayable anywhere text is displayed on a 21st Century computer, including the command line. For this, we need fonts such as this Gentium as standard. (Of course, we need UTF-8-based shells as standard, too, among o
  • I don't think so. (Score:2, Informative)

    by (799344)
    I'm not trying to troll but of all the users that I've encounterd none of them would give a second thought to crappy fonts. You don't know how many times I've sat in front of a user's nice LCD monitor set to a non-optimal resolution with antialiasing OFF!
    • Why is it that people on /. can't ever seem to get the point that there are many users who need things like good fonts, a usable GUI, and other features besides JUST a command prompt?
    • Not to mention the picture is badly adjusted and fuzy. All they need to do is hit the auto adjust button. Some wont care about the lack of picture quality or they will request a new monitor. Nothing like walking in, hitting auto, and saying no to their reuqest for a new monitor!
      • It is a nice feeling, I have had the priveledge of doing that on several occassions. . . .

        As a side note, if I see one more 17" LCD running at 800x600 "because my eyes are not as good as they used to be" I will scream. I think the shitty look large icons, and fuzzy fonts are hurting the eyes a lot more than crisp clean sharp, yet smaller icons and fonts . . .

        oh well. . . .
        • Re:I don't think so. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Blakey Rat (99501)
          It's because software very rarely (really, never) scales well. Windows allows you to set the font zoom, but most software packages can't cope with this and text will run off the side of windows. MacOS X doesn't allow the user to tweak the font size at all (that I can determine, at least.)

          If Longhorn's display technology ever makes it, it'll fix all this. Or if Apple beats them to the punch. It'll be nice to run a monitor at 1600x1200 and not have to press my nose against the glass to read text... I hav
          • My laptop has a 1920x1200 LCD monitor, and so I know too well about the problem you are describing...

            Interesting enough, this seems to be solved much better in X than in Windows. All my KDE apps etc. have just normally sized fonts out of the box; whereas in Windows I have to manually adjust many font sizes, and many apps cannot be adjusted at all.

            The only problem in X are programs that assume to know how many pixels their text messages use up, with the result of having text boxes etc. in which the text

          • If Longhorn's display technology ever makes it, it'll fix all this. Or if Apple beats them to the punch. It'll be nice to run a monitor at 1600x1200 and not have to press my nose against the glass to read text... I have poor eyesight, too.

            We need this more than just for those with poor eyesight, though. Monitor resolution is quite low when compared to print resolution, so it would be nice to one day have 300dpi-equivalent monitors. Font anti-aliasing is (IMO) just a band-aid solution in the mean time.

    • Comic Sans

      It should be legal to kill anyone who uses Comic Sans.

    • Even in the stores! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by quintessent (197518)
      You don't know how many times I've sat in front of a user's nice LCD monitor set to a non-optimal resolution with antialiasing OFF!

      It frightens me when I go places like Best Buy and the machines are set to weird resolutions. Shouldn't you know how to make a product look good if you're trying to sell it to people?
      • It sure beats Price Club/Costco back in the mid 90s, where 90% of the machines were stuck saying, "Operating System Not Found" because of soft-vandals.

        Another thing that bugs me now is that I just heard a really expensive home theater system playing a really shittily (is that a word) encoded WMA of R&B music, which would have normally had some nice highs to demonstrate, but it was all tinny articating instead. They're trying to sell these speaker systems, right?
  • Munjoy Linux (Score:5, Informative)

    by degreesK (88693) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @09:21PM (#10224318)
    Good looking fonts is one of the goals of Munjoy Linux [].
    • Looks good, but does using APT break any of its good looks?
      • Re:Munjoy Linux (Score:4, Informative)

        by reallocate (142797) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @11:45AM (#10228146)
        Munjoy looks good because it defaults to the equally good fonts produced by its creator, who also also tweaked KDE's Asteroid theme to good purpose. Toss in dbus, udev and a few other goodies and it is an excellent Debian-unstable derivative.

        As for apt, it handles a dist-upgrade with no problems. Although it is KDE centric, I've installed and used Gnome with no problems appearing.

        The current release can't handle Nvidia's proprietary driver. So, if 3D is a big deal for you, wait for the next release. (FWIW, installing dbus on a stock Debian unstable machine seems to keep X from finding the Nvidia driver.)

  • How to (Score:5, Informative)

    by Apreche (239272) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @09:39PM (#10224400) Homepage Journal
    Set your fonts in X. Use freetype. You have to set fonts in many many places. GTK theme. Qt theme. Xdefaults. Application specific font settings. You have to go through all these places to set the font. Some distros like Fedora Core 2 and the newer Mandrakes I know use a similar font consistently by default in all these places. But if you want consistent fonting your only real option is to go through all these places and change the fonts. It's just a fact of life. If you want the power to have different fonts in different places you have to go to all these places to change the font if you want it to be the same in all places.

    I reccoment Bitstream Vera Sans. It is very nice and simple.
    • That seems like a lot of work. No, scratch that - is is a lot of work.

      And if I want to change the default fonts (say, because I'm sick of I1|, '`, and {([ looking far too similar), what then? Do I get to hunt around in a dozen different places and change them all over again? Can I ever expect my users/customers to be able to do this by themselves?

      At this point, why would I ever recommend any flavor of Linux in an enviroment where fonts were a concern? Why wouldn't I just sell them one of the two popul
      • by lewp (95638)
        I remember the bad old days, and have dealt with more font problems than anyone should ever have to (partially because I've got a desktop vanity complex, partially because I'm a perfectionist, and partially because I'm crazy). People just getting started don't deserve how easy they've got it :). You don't really have to do any work anymore. Here's what you have to do:

        Install desktop distribution X.
        Set font preferences in desktop's font preferences applet. (You can even skip this step if the defaults are pl
    • >> You have to set fonts in many many places.

      That's the biggest problem with fonts in Linux: Lack of an integrated and unified approach to font and display management. Too many developer egos and way too much NIH syndrome. Everyone does their own thing.

      Regardless of the desktop or the window manager you use, you ought to able able to select and manage all your fonts from one single location. Any changes made there should be reflected across your system, in all areas and in all applications.

  • by ArmorFiend (151674) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:05PM (#10224514) Homepage Journal
    Its funny, but there's really only one quality AA font for Linux right now: Bitstream Vera. Sure you can buy others, or loot them from your windows partition, but regardless of your disto the only good free one is Bitstream Vera.

    Don't leave home without it.
  •'s a GUI toolkit one. Stick to programs from the same UI toolkit--QT4, GTK2, whatever, as long as it's consistent. All programs written with these toolkits will have AA fonts, and use fonts consistently across the entire platform. Also, users will be ever grateful (although they might not know it), since they'll only have to get used to one style of application. It shouldn't be hard to stick to only one toolkit, with a few very minor exceptions.
  • I am not qualified to suggest any distro, as I am still glued to my windowmaker on RH8, while booting up knoppix now and then in vmware, but I can tell you that if you can take the pain of explaining people, the real eye-candy one can have with some effort, I am sure anyone would get convinced.

    The biggest turnoff with linux for me till a few years ago, was the non-availability of good looking fonts, which made IE look like a god-send. But with the bitstream-vera and msttcorefonts, anything in X looks just
  • by Danious (202113) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @12:58AM (#10225559) Homepage
    Grab Mandrake 10, upgrade to the PLF version of freetype2 (extra patented goodness turned on), install the MSFonts and run KDE.


    Oh, and use a CRT for demo's: LCD + NVidia + XFree can take a bit of tweaking to get right.

    • And if you go with PLF's freetype2, don't use Mandrake's default fonts. Mandrake picked their defaults so they'd look good without the "patented goodness", but once you turn that little algorithm on, their fonts look like crap.

      It took me some time after I added the PLF source to figure out why all my fonts suddenly looked terrible.

      I find the default Bitstream with the default freetype2 looks just fine. Good enough for demos, and probably less hassle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 12, 2004 @01:28AM (#10225744)
    It's because of patents [].

    TrueType font hinting is patented by Apple. To legally use TrueType hinting, you must pay royalties to Apple. This is why fonts look crappy in the free distros. (And no, antialiasing is not a substitute for proper hinting.)

    However, I don't know which (if any) pay-ware Linux distros have TrueType font hinting enabled.

    • So patents are keeping developers from coming up with a better approach?

      The patent prevents developers from stealing somone else's invention, not from orginal thought.
      • So patents are keeping developers from coming up with a better approach?

        The patent prevents developers from stealing somone else's invention, not from orginal thought.

        1. That is not true, if I independently come up with a way of doing font hinting that is similar to the patented one, the patent could prevent me from using it.
        2. That said, the freetype autohinter is a better approach that basically works--look at a modern distro and you'll see font support better than what Windows has.
    • Mind boggling. When was the last time any of you people have actually tried a Linux distro? Pretty much every recent desktop-oriented distribution has placed a high priority on getting really high quality font support.

      They use the font engine Freetype to do the rendering, which uses a non-hint-based (and thus non-patent-infringing) algorithm to acheive much better antialiasing than is possible in even the most recent versions of Windows; it is reasonably equivalent to the quality in MacOS X.

      They also

  • Cyrillic fonts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dimss (457848) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @02:36AM (#10226103) Homepage
    The _only_ way to get cyrillic letters right is to use MS TrueType fonts. There are very few free fonts but they are either low quality or incomplete (no serbian glyphs in particular). I have fonts.tgz which I untar on every Linux/*BSD computer that I use.
  • Even if you find good fonts, it still lays them out in massive menus because they haven't been explicitly designed with decent ones in mind.
  • Nice Font (Score:3, Informative)

    by (687626) on Sunday September 12, 2004 @10:22AM (#10227725)
    I like Mark Simonson's Anonymous font, which is a very nice, fixed width truetype font. You can get it here [].
  • Try manipulating fontconfig Add the following to ~/.Xresources or/and ~/.Xdefaults Xft.hinting:false Xft.hintstyle:hintnone This should smooth fonts
  • Java fonts (Score:2, Interesting)

    by larit (665223)
    I have fonts working fine, but i can't get java fonts look right. I'm using blackdown java and fonts look like crap. They are too big and they don't support any special charters. Is there any way to fix that ?
  • Since you're trying to sway people to linux, Gentoo might be too difficult for them to start on, but setting up fonts is easy. All you have to do is run emerge a few times and it downloads microsoft's corefonts and some other font packages. You may have to add the paths to the xorg.conf file or it does that for you, I don't remember. It's easy to do though.

    The fonts on my system look very nice. Since I have a 15 inch laptop screen at 1600x1200 fonts can sometimes be a pain. They looked horrible in Win

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