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Linux Libertine Open Fonts offers free Times Roman alternative

By Bruce Byfield on August 28, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Philipp H. Poll started the Linux Libertine Open Fonts project in September 2003 because of his dissatisfaction with the fonts shipped with GNU/Linux distributions. "In SUSE 9.x," he recalls, "you had to use a script to download the Microsoft core fonts if you wanted to have good TrueType fonts." To improve the situation, Poll chose to start with the basics with Linux Libertine, an alternative to Time Roman and Times New Roman, the most commonly used typefaces in computing, and to develop it using free software methodologies and tools under the GNU General Public License.

Today, the project has about 10 active contributors working on bug reports, Unicode support, and a port to LaTex. However, unlike other free font projects such as Gentium, the design of Linux Libertine remains the work of one contributor -- Poll himself. "Designing is hardly a collaboratory work," he explains. "Besides, most interested people lack the specialized knowledge for font design."

Poll designs in FontForge (formerly PfaEdit), the leading free font editor. He finds that FontForge has some disadvantages, including using PostScript rather than TrueType geometry, and not supporting hinting (the adjustments made to the letter forms when a typeface is rasterized) in exports to the TrueType format, but considers it adequate for his purposes. Moreover, "when I discover problems with FontForge, I can contact the author," he says, in an exchange of ideas that he cites as an example of teamwork between related free software projects.

Linux Libertine
Linux Libertine & Times Typefaces -- click to enlarge

Although Linux Libertine is meant as a substitute for Times Roman and its online cousin, Times New Roman, Poll emphasizes that it is more than just a copy of either. Times, he explains, was originally designed for newspaper columns, and "has black and exaggerated forms for better readability at even small point sizes." Times New Roman is even more specialized, being designed for screen display, with simplified letter forms that Poll describes as "inorganic and monotonic."

By contrast, Linux Libertine is designed as a general-purpose print font. "A variety of fonts like DejaVu already exist for use on screen and as system fonts," Poll says. "But open source fonts for printed media are rare." The result is a typeface whose characters occupy almost exactly the same space as Times and Times New Roman, but are full of small differences. The most obvious of these differences are the serifs (the small forms at the end of strokes in letter forms), which are more bowed than those of either of its predecessors, and are flatter and less angular than Times' and thinner and more varied than Time New Roman's. In addition, some of the curved letter forms, such as the bottom of the lower case "e" and "c," are shorter than in the two Times variants. These small changes add up to a typeface that, while somewhat less suitable than Times New Roman for screen displays and slightly lighter in color than Times, is highly suitable for a variety of different print jobs.

"I see Times New Roman as a typical example of our industrialized world," Poll says. "It is like an important agricultural plant that has been mutated in a gene tech laboratory and is now found in a monoculture." By contrast, he describes Linux Libertine as "our contribution to organic farming" -- in other words, as more visually interesting and with more character, while serving much the same need for an all-purpose font.

Currently, Linux Libertine consists of more than 1,750 glyphs for Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets and their derivatives, including ligatures and kerning tables. Some work remains to be done on the italics, but the roman or ordinary weight is complete, as well as the bold and underlined weights. A set of small caps is in development, and a grotesque or sans serif font (one without serifs) is planned, but not yet available.

"At present, I'm not thinking about adding other important code pages like Arabic or Chinese and Japanese," Poll says, "because I lack the needed cultural background. This [work] should be done by people who know what is special for their typography."

Linux Libertine is packaged for a variety of distributions, including SUSE, Debian, and Fedora. In addition, both TrueType fonts and source code are available from the site. It represents a reliable, general-purpose typeface of a sort that would otherwise be missing from the small but rapidly growing list of quality free fonts.

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

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on Linux Libertine Open Fonts offers free Times Roman alternative

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Vera?

Posted by: javaman83 on August 29, 2006 11:33 AM
I've always thought that the Bitstream Vera family looked better than anything on windows.

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Re:Vera?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 29, 2006 08:20 PM
Agreed. But the new DejaVu fonts (based on the Vera family) is even better. Try it out, I'm sure you won't be dissapointed.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;-)

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Great!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 28, 2006 11:37 PM
Now the same think that happened to Helvetica can happen to Times Roman. Not that I really care, the typeface sucks anyway.

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Re:Great!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 29, 2006 11:21 AM
Actually, the Helvetica typeface does look good for some things. That's why Arial, a near dead-ringer for Helvetica, came out.

Now, we get to ask the question, why was Arial born? Same reason that Times New Roman, and for that matter, TrueType, was born. Adobe wanted to act like asses with PostScript, so Apple and Microsoft got together and made something else (TrueType). Guess what the standard is now on nearly all PC's, including a lot of GNU/Linux boxes? Yup, TrueType.

It is now Microsoft and Apple that are acting like asses. I will certainly be downloading and giving this typeface a spin.

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Re:Great!

Posted by: Administrator on September 01, 2006 09:37 PM
"It is now Microsoft and Apple that are acting like asses."



Be that as it may, they've teamed up to create the <a href="http://store.adobe.com/type/opentype/" title="adobe.com">OpenType</a adobe.com> font system, which, for print design, is a HUGE leap forward. It's only my guess, granted, but I think you'll see the TrueType star on the wane as OpenType becomes more a publishing standard.

I give the creator of Linux Libertine a lot of credit. Font design is not for the faint of heart, and he's done an admirable job.

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Re:Great!

Posted by: Administrator on September 01, 2006 09:53 PM
Correction - I meant MS and Adobe created the OpenType standard, not MS and Apple.

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Re:Great!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 01, 2006 04:49 AM
But when is someone going to produce what we *really* need: an open-source version of Comic Sans?

(ducks)

Vance

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Looks nice to me...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 28, 2006 11:57 PM
"Some of the curved letter forms, such as the bottom of the lower case "e" and "c," are shorter than in the two Times variants."

Wow! I've always hated that extra 'fat' on the 'e' and 'c'.
That's a great improvement.

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It matters at small sizes

Posted by: Administrator on August 29, 2006 01:54 PM
When using small point sizes (e.g. 10 or 12), that extra "fat" makes for a smooth baseline appearance. In non-raster media (books and newspapers), putting the bottom of the curve on the baseline makes the letter look too short. The below-the-baseline curvature keeps the letter sizes looking consistent.

(For the record: I'm a huge Bitstream Vera fan; combined with sub-pixel rendering, it makes the screen much easier to read with my poor eyes.)

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License?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 29, 2006 04:15 PM
Nice font, I think that it looks really nice.
Linux need some good useale fonts.
What fonts does Apple use in Mac OS X and what license is that under?

What license is Linux Libertine under?
What license is Gentium under?

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Re:License?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 29, 2006 09:50 PM
The Linux Libertine fonts are apparently under the GPL and Gentium is under a license designed for fonts called the "SIL Open Font License"


more info at:


<a href="http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_id=nrsi&id=OFL" title="sil.org">http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_<nobr>i<wbr></nobr> d=nrsi&id=OFL</a sil.org>

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Just tried it with 12 pt. and 8 pt.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 31, 2006 06:10 AM
As I continue to get older (I'm now in my late 30's), I'm noticing that, too.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-) So, I tried putting two "identical" lines on top of each other, like so:

"This is a test with Times New Roman."
"This is a test with Times New Roman (Linux Libertine, actually)."

The first line was in Microsoft's Times New Roman. The second line was, of course, in Linux Libertine.

I did this twice, once at 12pt and once at 8pt. As I predicted, the Linux Libertine text looked slightly "less dark". However, I find it about as legible on screen as Times New Roman. I certainly didn't see any legibility problems.

But what about on paper? So, using OpenOffice.org 2.0, I printed a short document using Times New Roman, and then I printed it again using Linux Libertine. No problem with legibility on paper, either, but since I know up front that they're different, I can of course spot the differences. Linux Libertine does look--again, as expected--a little bit lighter than TNR, and more noticeably so at 8pt than 12pt, but still not objectionably so.

So, as a test, I called a MS Word-using colleague over and showed him the document; in this case, I used OO.o 2.0 for both screen viewing and for printing. He stood there quizzically, wondering what I was making such a fuss about; I think he figured I was asking him to proofread it or something. I asked him what typeface it was, and he said, "Times New Roman--duh--are you OK there, dude?" Later, I explained to him why that smug smile crept across my face, and the light bulb went on in his head. Gotta admit, I did enjoy that.

I now use Linux Libertine as my "font substitution" for Times New Roman in OpenOffice.org. We'll see how it goes over time with MS Word documents that people always send me (I'm the lone Linux user), but I don't foresee any problems based on my observations so far.

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Re:Hmm

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 31, 2006 06:17 AM
That's where Linux Libertine comes in. It looks enough like Times New Roman--without actually *being* Times New Roman--to allow us who use, say, GNU/Linux and OpenOffice.org, to interoperate with MS Office users even better than before while avoiding lawsuits.

Since a lot of people out here--you and I as examples--are used to seeing Times New Roman, Linux Libertine is very...well, "timely" indeed.

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There are some differences in spacing

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 01, 2006 10:59 AM
Hello folks,

I've been trying this typeface out, and though on average paragraphs seem to land in the same places in Linux Libertine that they do in Times New Roman, I thought I saw some spacing (kerning?) differences. So, I went and found out by comparing the "abcdefgh..." and "ABCDEFGH..." series next to each other. There are some letter spacing differences; TNR takes up a little more space. Also, the numbers look quite different (Linux Libertine's are somewhat shorter), and the number "4" looks very different indeed from that of TNR.

Not that the LL typeface isn't legible--it is, very, and it's Free as in Freedom--but be aware that it does look a little different. I find that I like it and will continue to use it in place of TNR going forward.

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Thank You for Your Efforts

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 04, 2007 11:16 PM
I wanted to thank the developers for their efforts on this font family, which I am currently downloading. I am particularly glad that they have provided the source files as well. That way, assuming that they are actually FontForge files, I can adjust things to fit my own needs.

One of the things that has always been a bug-a-boo for me has been the implementation of small caps on computer systems. I would think that this would be a characteristic that need not be actually contained within the font, but that could be generated on the fly by a well-designed font engine. It occurs to me that what would need to be done would be to scale the caps characters in the font so that their height now fits to the font's x-height, but to do so without scaling the widths of the scaled characters' strokes. It seems to me that in this way, you could have well done small caps be a feature of the font engine rather than of a particular font.

Currently my layout work almost always uses Aldine721 because it (a) is a nice looking, easy to read face; (b) has extensive kerning pairs defined; and (c) has both Light and Regular/Roman weights, which is a feature that I use with this family to simulate small caps by sizing down the target characters, then changing their weight from Light to Regular/Roman. In this family, it winds up giving a very good impression of genuine small caps without there being small caps in the family at all.

I also have an idea on how to make kerning simpler, and faster to execute. It would involve each font having a pair of measurements (call them CloseApproach Vertical and CloseApproach Horizontal) that would set—for the font, not for any particular character in that font—how close any characters in that font may approach each other through the monitoring of a vertical cone region for the vertical measure, and a horizontal cone region for the horizontal measure. In other words, how close does the closest point of “character a” come to the closest point on “character b”? If this were done right you wouldn't need kerning tables or pairs in a font at all, but only the CloseApproach settings.

William F. “Billsey” Maddock
billsey@earthlink.net
Back issues of my St. Louis Amigan newsletter: <a href="http://billsey-christian.net/StLABI/" title="billsey-christian.net">http://billsey-christian.net/StLABI/</a billsey-christian.net>

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Hmm

Posted by: Administrator on August 30, 2006 11:14 PM
The times new roman font is great, it should be kept around in the new windows as well.

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