09 October 2016

[type] Google/Monotype's Noto project: A Half-Gig of Free OTF Fonts To Get The Tofu Off Your Screen

Add to the list of logisms about the type tofu. Any time a computer displays web text, and the fonts on your system don't carry the glyph that the content requests or (worse) doesn't have the font at all, you get small boxes (most of the time) as place holders for the letter from the computer would draw if only it knew how.

For your device, it's a teachable moment. You learn it up by downloading a font, installing, and refreshing the font cache, usually by closing and relaunching the app. To he right of this Latin text you'll see a illustration from Wikipedia's article on the Deseret Alphabet before installing a font that has those glyphs defined.

That's tofu, intermountain-West style.

This is an issue that has developed as more information that didn't come from a core early compuiting constituency … Latinate-script using Westerners … came under the unblinking gaze of the Earth's developing, evolving technological consciousness. A lot of things, like the Deseret Alphabet or the Shavian script, were invented, not evolved and extant at the time computers began developing, and a lot of encodings weren't thought of at first. So, you'll go to the Wikipedia page on Shavian without the proper font file installed and come up with a case of tofu, all nicely arranged in boxes:

Yummy tofu, Shavian style

Which fill in quite nicely once a font file, such as andagii_.ttf is installed and recognized:

Fully cooked, Shavian in all its odd glory
It's a problem that you'd think that Google, with its Borg-like focus on assimilating information and returning it in a usable format, would be thinking about, and you'd be right about this.

Just announced and made available, the collaboration between Google and font foundry Monotype has goal that is simple if huge; eliminating tofu from your screen.  From the Google Developers' Blog:
Five years ago we set out to address this problem via the Noto—aka “No more tofu”—font project. Today, Google’s open-source Noto font family provides a beautiful and consistent digital type for every symbol in the Unicode standard, covering more than 800 languages and 110,000 characters.
There are, at this writing, 114 Noto fonts including Devangari, Cuneiform, CJK, Osmanya and, yes, Deseret and Shavian. Installing the extant Noto fonts should cover you in a variety of situations so wide that the average user stands more of a chance seeing tofu in their stir-fry, where it belongs, rather on their screens.

The biggest news for the font-avaricious is, perhaps, that the entire Noto family is free to download and use as thou wilt, and is licensed under the SIL Open Font License. That means they're free to download and use in any way you deem necessary; not only free as in Open Source, but free-as-in-free-beer-free. The whole zip archive is close to a half-gig of free fonts; the design, as seen in the illustration a the right, isn't out to be flashy or game-changing; the basic Noto Serif and Noto Sans are good, basic book-hands, meant to be pleasing to the eye but not to be the star of the piece. It's meant to harmonize, not to dominate.

The Noto Project's website is https://www.google.com/get/noto/ : this'll take you directly to a download page where you can download any number of the available font files or the whole thing at a go (about 473 MB worth). It's totally and wholly up to you, font explorer.


T.A. Barnhart said...

interesting. not something i need, but at least Google is thinking in the right direction.

Samuel Klein said...

It's a good thing for me, because I do like reading about invented scripts. Shavian is my favorite, and I love Deseret because it looks like Klingons invented it, and Cherokee defies description.

And all that free font? Can't go wrong.