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Feature: Desktop Software

Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

By Bruce Byfield on December 05, 2007 (4:00:00 PM)

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The GNU/Linux desktop lacks a font manager for design work. Ideally, such a font manager should support currently used font formats, including TrueType, Type1, and OpenType, and allow sets of fonts to be activated on the fly, so that system memory is not choked with rarely used fonts. Until now, the closest to this ideal has been Fonty Python, but, when last seen, it fell short because of it supported only TrueType fonts and had a needlessly complicated interface. Now, however, newcomer Fontmatrix has proved itself a contender for the role. In fact, despite some weaknesses in its features, its basic functionality is already dependable.

Fontmatrix is a font manager for individual user accounts, unlike the one in the KDE Control Center, which can be used for either the system or an individual account. According to Pierre Marchand, Fontmatrix's creator, this decision is deliberate. "System-wide fonts," he says, "are intended to fulfill application needs and must keep in a very stable and predictable state." Design professionals, he says, "need to activate fonts on a per-project basis, without a thought about what the other users of the same system need at the same time."

Fontmatrix is available as a compressed tar file from the project archives, although on the project home page Marchand promises that packages will be available shortly. Although the latest version is .1, with .2 being under heavy development, these numbers are conservative -- despite some rough spots, Fontmatrix is already serviceable.

To install Fontmatrix, you need to install the FreeType and Qt 4.3 development packages for your system. Once you have installed the appropriate packages -- which may take some searching to find the exact names -- run the command qmake -o Makefile typotek.pro, followed by make in the directory to which you unarchived the file. The result is a fontmatrix binary in a newly created ./bin directory.

Before running the program, you should rename the .fonts folder in your home directory to avoid any confusion with the folders that Fontmatrix creates when it runs. Should you decide to uninstall Fontmatrix, you can then easily restore the original folder name.

After Fontmatrix starts, you should import some fonts into it by selecting File -> Import and choosing a directory that contains fonts. The dialog asks you for an initial tag -- most likely, the name of the typeface -- which will display in the left pane of the Fontmatrix window.

The left pane lists fonts by the initial tag in a tree directory arranged by alphabetical order, with a listing of the number of fonts in each tag and a preview of individual fonts on the right. You can activate or deactivate an initial tag, expand a tag's tree to activate individual fonts in the tag, or use the Activate all or Deactivate all buttons at the bottom of the display. No matter which way you activate fonts, select File -> Save, and they are available for immediate use in other programs, without requiring you to restart your desktop environment.

For ease of use with multiple fonts, you can do a general search of fonts entered into Fontmatrix, or add additional tags or sets of tags, then choose which ones to display from drop-down menus. The distinction between tags and sets of tags seems slight, and, to add to the confusion, you create tags in the right-hand pane, but sets by selecting Edit -> Tag Sets. According to Marchand, at least one early user of Fontmatrix says that sets help you unclutter the tree view. You can ignore this confusion by moving all the fonts for a project into a single directory and importing the directory into Fontmatrix.

Besides the tags assigned to the selected font, the right pane has tabs for viewing information about the font, displaying sample text, and showing the glyphs available in the fonts. These last two tabs are probably the weakest part of the current version of Fontmatrix, with the sample text being only the upper and lower case alphabet and the basic numbers, rather than a paragraph of text, and the glyphs display fonts somewhat darker than they appear in other programs. However, both are adequate -- they're just not quite as useful as they might be.

The same is true of the font book you can create from the File menu. In this feature, you can create a file of font samples each using the time-honored Lorum ipsum dolor text. You can then print the font book to file or paper. Unfortunately, in my tests, Fontmatrix printed a black rectangle in place of the font name, rendering the Font book less useful than it should be.

These problems with tags and sets, sample text and glyph tags, and font books all lessen the effectiveness of Fontmatrix. I can see, too, where the inability to delete fonts from the interface could become a problem over time; currently, you have to remove them manually from the .fonts-reserved folder that FontMatrix adds to your home directory.

However, the basic functionality of Fontmatrix is dependable. I have already used it professionally, and its basic convenience is unmistakable. Give Fontmatrix the chance to mature, and it has a chance of becoming a standard part of the tool kit for anyone who uses the GIMP, Inkscape, OpenOffice.org, or Scribus.

Finally, the long wait for a GNU/Linux font manager is ending.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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on Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

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Screenshots?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.31.187.238] on December 05, 2007 05:31 PM
I screenshot or two would be nice.

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Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 128.115.27.10] on December 05, 2007 05:58 PM
Is there compelling evidence that having lots of fonts installed on a Linux system actually consumes lots of chip memory and hinders system performance?

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Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.73.48.65] on December 05, 2007 06:28 PM
The "Font Installer" page in KDE's Control Center actually works both with user and system fonts depending on whether one clicks "Administrator Mode". Also, in KDE 4, it has a new "Font Management Mode" where one can manage font groups.

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Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 90.184.132.230] on December 05, 2007 07:03 PM
"Until now, the closest to this ideal has been Fonty Python, but, when last seen, it fell short because of it supported only TrueType fonts and had a needlessly complicated interface"

Now, I don't know about the interface issues, but TrueType fonts is all that matters anyway...

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Re: Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on December 06, 2007 05:49 AM
not everything is true type. especially if you come from mac. they have beautiful T1 fonts

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Hail New Yorker

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.196] on December 06, 2007 01:43 AM
Feliz Navidad ! A.E.Newman,Architecture. P.S. Teletransporter- While eating a hot dog at a news stand, I though of giving magazine subscriptions as stocking stuffers. I then remembered seeing 10-20 gift cards at a retail store there were so many it seemed unlikly the store provided them all but got a commision for offering the service for other retailers products and gifts not sold at the store. What if stores banks and credit card companies offered a service like a money wire (western union style) that had a shoping catalog with product numbers. A shopping list of numbers could be brought to a store or local bank and they would send and generic gift card to the recipiant. Ink jet or dvd printing could customize the card with a brief refrence to the local bank. If a store or bank were not located in the recipiants town there could be an industry group that allowed every qualified professional institution to participate. Fraud or abuse would be comparible to bank robery. -this is an incremental step toward incorperating local an costumary financial transactions with online and internet commerce.- Similarly a retail department store could offer parcle dilivery in there giftwrap center. To save or reduce shiping costs, if the item were in stock at a store in the destination city it could be sent from there. Paragraph- There are similar products use for flowers, candy, cards, balloons using the industry group modle these mite provide oportunity from overlap as they attempt to work together in a combined effect.

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Re: Hail New Yorker

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.73.200.49] on December 06, 2007 11:09 AM
Feliz Navidad ! ... combined effect

well said. :)
[Modified by: Anonymous on December 06, 2007 11:10 AM]

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debit style gift cards as advertisment

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.122.165.197] on December 07, 2007 08:34 PM
How about those cards that have a dollar amount that work like a debit card that can be given insted of an actual item at a retailer. What if these cards could be reloadable and use for generic debit cards as a way to sell debit cards. Then if they were reloaded using a form with a mailing address that would be equivalent to a credit card application they could be converted to a debit card with credit overdraft with lower ontime payment rates. There are permutations, a provider of what mite be concidered an essencial service such as utilities, mortgage, insurance mite offer a credit card that helps you pay your bills each time you use the card. So you don't spend all your money and wonder how to pay your bills. This suggests an bookeeping service that could help finacialy inept people manage there finances. I think someone in the music industry promoted a card that fostered finacial responsability. If individuals found themselve exceeding a credit rating threshold or filed bankrupcy or were invoved in some prosecutable act that was motivated or condusive to financial irrisponsability, they could opt. to concent to such assisted budgeting as a condition of probation. Service that collect money could offer sevices by buying debt at say 50 cents on the dollar and selling it back to the costomer at 75 cents on the dollar to help elliminate creditors. There could be features that help manage small bussines distributing debit cards to employees to record payroll and make various payments (witholding, insurence local state tax). The government could provide tax liability insurance by allowing payments of the mean revenue collected interpolated back to the due date to be payed. They mite collect more money by using a 5% increase or as much as would motivate enough bussiness owners in an industry to file in order to determine an industry average. A tax payer would then have 7 years to file there taxes if they thought they owed less money otherwise they would not be pennalized as severily. All these features would likey reqire computers and programs. If a bussiness did not file two of five years and show a profit they would not be regarded as a bussiness as seems to be the current rule in regards to profitability.

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Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 127.0.0.1] on December 12, 2007 06:04 PM
Actually, FontyPython handles OpenType just fine, but it only looks for files ending with '.ttf'. With a tiny patch to include '.otf', it will indeed work with OpenType fonts.

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Fontmatrix: Font management for the desktop finally arrives

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 91.122.152.214] on January 06, 2008 03:44 PM
Awful software. Sorry, people, but is it really so hard to make simple type manager for linux? ATM-like or smth.

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