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Use Free Fonts

I just caught up on my feeds, and read Carthik Sharma's post, Installing Vista Fonts In Ubuntu. From a completely Free Software standpoint, I'm going to argue why you would not want to do this.

First, is the license itself, which should always be looked at when dealing with fonts, media, codecs or software. These fonts are not Free Software in the least, as the license is extremely restrictive. Directly from the mouth of Microsoft (emphasis mine):

Q. What can I do with the fonts supplied with Microsoft products?
A. The fonts are governed by the same restrictions as the products they are supplied with. You are not allowed to copy, redistribute or reverse engineer the font files. For full details see the license agreement supplied with the product.

Why would you want to intentionally install non-free software on your machine? Especially, when there is such a massive availability of Free Software fonts? Are these fonts really that great? I took a look over them (PDF), and I think not. These are just core fonts, and I personally think there are better ones out there.

To start, there are the Liberation fonts from Red Hat. These are also core fonts, which personally, I think have the upper hand on the ClearType fonts from Microsoft. Not only are they Free Software, licensed under the GPL, they are tight, clear and good looking. Next, I found a core font list from Fedora listed by license, most of which are very appealing. These can be found here. Finally, Debian only includes Free Software in their main distribution, including a great list of Free Software fonts.

Please don't take this negatively, but promoting non-free software on Planet Ubuntu should be discouraged. We want to encourage the use of Free Software whenever possible. Of course, Free Software doesn't meet everyone's needs, but nevertheless, still should be advocated. We want to advocate the use of Free Software drivers, fonts, media, codecs and software at all costs. We want to encourage hardware vendors to open their specs. We are the GNU Generation- what message are we sending when we install and advocate the use of non-free software?

Carthik- thank you for your post, but I hope people do not install the Microsoft ClearType fonts, and choose Free alternatives instead.

Thanks for reading.

{ 17 } Comments

  1. Derek Buranen | September 16, 2007 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    here here!

  2. dbr | September 16, 2007 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Why on Earth does it really matter if your fonts are 'free' or not?
    If the MS ClearType fonts are good, why not use them?
    I don't exactly how the software deals with it, but say you get a Word .doc that uses Times New Roman, or Arial and open it in OpenOffice. It doesn't have the right font. Sure, you could change it to some other free and open source font, but it's not the same font.
    For letters and such it's probably fairly negligible, but for graphics and such, it might be more important.

    I never understood using open-source applications for the sake of using open-source applications. Sure, if it makes sense to use it (Like Linux for a server makes much more sense than Windows), or if it saves you spending £200+ on a copy of Windows when you'll only use it for web-browsing and email.
    But not using a *font* just because it's not "free software" is.. silly..

  3. sparsec | September 16, 2007 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Aaron, thanks for the post. I think that the post about Vista fonts was completely misplaced and shouldn't even be there on planet ubuntu, one reason being that what it describes is completely illegal, another reason being that the new "oh-so-cool" Vista fonts are not that "oh-so-cool". Personally, the only thing I changed in gnome after installation (concerning its look) were the icons and the theme (I'm using the classic clearlooks). I find the default fonts perfectly readable and pleasant to the eye.

    dbr: It's not about open source for the sake of open source.

    1. It's legal with open source.
    2. It's free.
    3. By using FOSS and providing feedback, the product actually develops and betters with time. It also supports further development of related products. If everyone used MS fonts, there would be no need to develop a free and open source alternative, that can be used anywhere, not just on some certain bloated software.

    Now I mean no harm, but this will probably take some time to sink into you. It did with me back when I was beginning with linux and FOSS in general.

  4. Aaron | September 16, 2007 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    @dbr- It matters, because I'm not interested in breaking any laws. When using software on your machine, you are required to become familiar with the licenses. As such, installing Microsoft ClearType fonts in any operating system other than Microsoft Windows is breaking the license, and thus, the law. So, rather than break any laws or licenses, use Free Software to protect your freedoms and your liability.

  5. Carthik Sharma | September 17, 2007 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Hi Aaron,

    I agree with your comments. This was a case of me trying to help someone who left a comment, and I presumed that the cleartype fonts were of the same kind as the fonts in 'msttcorefonts'. I'm sorry if my post seemed misplaced.

  6. Jonas | September 17, 2007 at 3:30 am | Permalink


    Yes, I agree it is generally not a good idea to get fonts in this manner. However, sometimes it is necessary. For example, I get a lot of documents from windows users. OpenOffice has never failed me in opening the word-docs I'm being sent, but some are next to impossible to read if they are not laid out using the correct font - that is, the font the writer intended. Granted, that is because the writer did something he or she shouldn't, but that does not help me does it?

    The problem disappeared when the correct font was made available. The mstcorefonts package was not enough, and the Red Hat libre fonts didn't help enough either. The problem was lessened, but it didn't disappear. True, free fonts are good to have but sometimes they're not enough. Not because they're of a worse quality than say MS or Apple's, but because people expect you to have certain fonts even if they're not aware that they expect that.

    I have yet to come across this phenomenon when it comes to Vista-fonts, but I'm sure it will rear its ugly head sooner or later.

    And honestly, I don't think I'm in the wrong for circumventing the problem by using Microsoft's fonts either. I do have valid licenses for both Vista and Office after all, even though neither is installed. In my opinion, that should keep me legally in the clear. The waters are a bit muddier if you use the fonts provided with the powerpoint installer,

    Still, the Q and A you posted above does not give an answer either. Yes, you're not allowed to redistribute them but by downloading them from, well it's Microsoft that is doing the distribution isn't it? The only legal problem I can see, for someone that downloads the viewer himself, is that apparently the license only allows you to use it using Windows, but it should be up to the user to decide whether to violate that part of the license or not. Then again, it is not necessarily a crime to do so. It depends on where you live, for starters.

    Would I prefer not having to use Microsoft's fonts? Yes. Because they are Microsoft's? No. Because they are proprietary? No. Because I'm a FOSS purist? No.

    I have no problem in using proprietary apps/fonts/whatever when that is what does the job best. I have likewise no problem in using Microsoft's products when that does the job best. I prefer FOSS whenever possible, but when it's not...well, so be it. Why would I then prefer not using Microsoft's fonts?

    Simple. FOSS or not, I prefer to support the companies that support my preferred platform. I've made it a point to not use wine-technology too, for the same reason. But here's the rub: if I was to take that to the extreme (in other words, only support companies that explicitly supports Linux), I wouldn't be able to use Linux as a tool. Microsoft doesn't support Linux, so I wouldn't be able to access word documents despite OpenOffice since I would be endorsing using proprietary document formats. Adobe is only marginally better. At least they provide a flash-player, but they have no Linux products to read Illustrator or Photoshop documents (when saved in Adobe's formats that is).

    I guess you could call me a Linux pragmatist.

  7. yosch | September 17, 2007 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your post and linking the the current review of open fonts in Debian and Fedora.

    There's work underway to create an common freedesktop set of open fonts that should be expected to be available everywhere:

    We're working on packaging more open fonts with the Debian and Ubuntu fonts team.

    And is a great open font resource:


    Well, ignoring clear licensing restrictions hardly counts as "pragmatism". Better build upon the open fonts and recommend them to others so the trend is reversed.

  8. MeneerR | September 17, 2007 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    The problem is compatibility.
    We need those fonts (at least the XP ones) currently because:
    - certain websites expect you to have them
    - certain .doc files expect you to have them
    - certain wine applications expect you to have them

    The thing is: it's not about the fonts.

    We need a system that when you ask for say Microsoft Verdana, it will actually load a free font with the same text-dimensions (the same character width's)

    Just knowing which closed source font maps to which and getting some symlinks in /usr/share/fonts could be enough!

    This way the .doc file will render almost identical (without weird line breaks), websites will not break and wine apps look better integrated into the current desktop.

    We would still be using free fonts that provide the sort of hints that actually make them look good. (true-type fonts aren't rendered as nicely as normal linux fonts it seems: they don't provide the same hinting or it isn't used)

    Who will take care of this?

  9. Jordn | September 17, 2007 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I'd love to use completely free fonts, but the thing is that I find they just aren't always 'beautiful'.

    The Liberation series is good because they are better than MS's core fonts, but I simply can't find nice enough substitutes for fonts like Segoe and Cambria, which are really, really nice - Segoe is a fantastic UI font.

    Bitstream and DejaVu are alright, but they're tormenting me in all my older GTK apps because I haven't seem to have set up my .gtkrc file properly.

  10. Jonas | September 17, 2007 at 6:47 am | Permalink


    No, but using what works is. Your suggestion about building upon the open fonts is good and may work in the long run, but that doesn't help people that needs those fonts now does it? And I mean need, not want because of their perceived beauty or whatever.

    Like it or not, but we NEED better compatibility with Windows. As far as word-documents and fonts goes, right now the best option is to use the genuine fonts (best from a usability point of view that is, not legally). If a better option of providing such compatibility comes along I'd be more than happy to use that method instead. I don't mind if webpages look somewhat different in Linux compared to Windows, but fighting with formatting in word-docs time and time again is not an option, at least not for me.

    Oh, and speaking of illegally...the XP EULA does not prohibit you from using the fonts outside of Windows as long as you have a legal license. That is, you can transfer the fonts from XP to Linux and then scratch the XP installation without violating the license (assuming you don't sell your XP license second-hand). That is NOT the case for Vista though, which stipulates that Windows must be running. So I guess I did violate the Vista EULA, but had I done the same thing in XP I wouldn't have.

    I like MeenerR's idea of doing some form of remapping - that should be sufficient if implemented correctly.And MeeneR - regarding the hinting. IIRC, the hinting is available for the font-rendering libraries but is usually disabled at compile time because the technology is potentially violating some patents. I say potentially because it hasn't been put to the test.

  11. yosch | September 17, 2007 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    @ Meener

    This is where the fontconfig matching comes in. We're working on complementing the xml definitions.

    @ Jonas

    So the XP ones are not as restricted... How long will it last?

  12. mr troll | September 17, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Aaron, the Microsoft's new font family is a result of serious research on what is usable and readable, and a great amount of work. The result is stunning - there are not even nearly as good looking "free" fonts available.

    Like it or not, GPL'd (or whatever) fonts will be options when they are at least as good.

  13. Athropos | September 17, 2007 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I never got used to any of the "free" fonts I have tried. I hate to say this, but the best fonts I know, and that I use, were made by Microsoft.

  14. Aaron | September 17, 2007 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    @mr troll- Thanks for your input. However, I have not discredited Microsoft anywhere in their font choices or styling. I merely mention that I like the Free fonts better than the Microsoft fonts, and that if you're promoting and advocating Free Software, then you shouldn't be giving tutorials on how to install non-free software on your system. That is all.

  15. Jonas | September 17, 2007 at 5:09 pm | Permalink


    Probably not for long...if I'm not mistaken you cannot buy new XP licenses even if you want to. Okay, mistake. You can, but not for much longer. Wonder if that license can be changed retrospectively...

    Still, I hope no one misconstrued me in advocating piracy. I do not. I just question the need for the free vs non-free dichotomy. Either something is suitable for what you want to do, or it is not. Well, with one caveat.

    People need to know what they are allowed to do with whatever they install (including the right to install it in the first place), I truly can not see where the problem is, assuming people are being told what kind of license is needed. And yes, I see no problem in posting tutorials about how to install non-free stuff on Planet Ubuntu, Planet Debian, or anywhere else - as long as the poster says something along the lines of "I make no warranties whether you are legally allowed to do this in your jurisdiction or not. This is how you do it, but it is up to you to determine whether you are allowed to do it and whether you should do it."

    Rather the same principle that applies to playing encrypted DVDs in Ubuntu (for example). Not installed by default, but there are instructions at on how to accomplish it, with a legal disclaimer.

  16. Brad Johnson | September 18, 2007 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Installing Microsoft Fonts, whatever the legality, is common on Linux and there have been planet articles in the past about doing so. The new font article is legitimate in that sense.

    People want their documents to render as the author intended. I'm glad to have read the article.

    That said, you are right that we should advocate for free software. I do, but not to the point of alienating myself. I go first to free software and if that doesn't fit, then to "other avenues". One of those avenues as consistently been installing Microsoft fonts.

  17. antistress | February 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    This article has often inspired me and not only concerning fonts. Actual "H264 vs Theora" debate about the good codec for the web is also concerned.
    I've made a translation in french of your article

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