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What exactly is the MeeGo font?

Spent an interesting week at MeeGo Conf in San Francisco this week.  Overall, a very impressive project that’s doing something no other embedded OS is even attempting: building an open source, cross-platform OS for devices (netbooks, phones, tablets, cars, TVs & set-tops, etc., etc.).  Why is that important?  Cause if you think “app stores” are going to stay on phones and phones alone, you’re woefully behind-the-times.  And all MeeGo products are guaranteed to be compliant, so the same apps will run on all of them.  Even Google, in spite of the fact that Android is ostensibly open source, is trying to push three separate OSes for its device strategy: Android, ChromeOS, GoogleTV.  Hope you like writing the same game/music player/browser three times, developers!  And the fact that MeeGo just happens to be compatible with desktop Linux distributions — just gravy.

On the other hand, there are some unfortunate “black boxes” in the larger MeeGo project, presumably relics of upstream corporate bootstrapping.  One of those is branding.  At more than one session, I heard community members beg and plead for somebody to drop the preschooler-like cartoon characters.  That’d be wise.

More directly, however, we have a problem with the logotype.  The MeeGo wiki details the logo itself:

… and gives typography guidelines for the “MeeGo font,” which it describes as DIN, linking to the Wikipedia entry on the family.  It also shows a specimen, in three weights:

Pretty clear, right? Well, not really. You see, whatever font they actually chose, it’s at the very least a proprietary remake of DIN.  You can verify that by looking at the two open font implementations of DIN, Paulo Silva’s Open DIN Schriften Engshrift and Open Source Publishing’s OSP DIN. Here’s a side-by-side sample:

As you can see, neither is even close. Starkly different proportions and weights.  Neither has the same non-alphabetic glyphs (though I have no idea where any of them come from).  And that includes the text sample; re-reading the MeeGo wiki page, it could be interpreted to say that the MeeGo logotype is not in DIN at all, but rather is an original design. But regardless of whether that is the intent, the vague “use DIN” instructions can’t be followed, because whatever font they’re using, it’s not available in open source form.  Moreover, since both of the open DIN revivals are based on scanning the original paper designs, it’s clear that they better represent the original typeface — the MeeGo design team may have bought a nice font, but you can hardly call it DIN.  It’s some sort of derivative.  And they won’t say which.

So what now? Adopt an open source DIN for MeeGo? Specify which proprietary DIN-derivative is in use, then wait for a font designer to produce a MeeGo-compatible variant of one of the open versions? Ditch it all together, and pick something with a little more character?

The latter option might be worth considering, since even if you ignore the fact that DIN is a blasé street-sign face that makes you sad just to look at, reading through OSP’s blog on the subject reveals that the widely-repeated mantra that the original DIN was “put into the public domain” is less-than-documented and less-than-clear.  So that’s at least two strikes, maybe three, depending on how highly you value your local streetsign.  But who knows; maybe there is a third open source DIN revival out there that I simply haven’t located yet.  Any hints?

Oh, two

Minor news flash! I’ve recently released News Cycle 0.2, my fledgling open font, which you can grab from glyphography.com/fonts. Or from the project’s infrastructure homepage at Launchpad.net.  This is the first public release, which ought to be more-or-less stable for everyday use.  It includes all of Unicode Basic Latin, Latin Extended-A, and Latin Extended-B, which covers Western & Eastern European languages any many African writing systems as well.  It is fully hinted, instructed, and kerned.  The downloadable package is a plain TrueType .ttf file — just drop it in the appropriate folder on your OS of choice.

I’m also happy to announce that thanks largely to Dave Crossland, Google has added News Cycle to the Google Web Font Directory.  This means if you want to use News Cycle as the body copy font for your site, you don’t have to download it at all; just visit its page on the GWFD site, and copy-n-paste the sample code.  Google serves up the font; everybody wins.  So far, it seems to be doing respectable numbers-wise, a little over 55,000 hits in the first five days.  That’s a start.

I’ve also added a Flattr micropayment link to the project page at Glyphography.com; if you want to help out and you use Flattr, every little bit helps by freeing up some time for me from the drudgery of freelancing to work on drawing glyphs and demystifying the technical aspects of font creation.  A substantial portion of the latter process involves me bugging Dave with beginner-level questions, to which I owe him a lot of thanks and hopefully a reduction in future pester-loads.  Google also has a donation link on its directory site, so feel free to use both if you really want to help.

That whole “keep the project going” thing ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie, either.  This 0.2 release is pretty basic: it covers a lot of punctuation and enough Latin to write in, but there’s still more to come.  My plan is for the next stable release (0.4) to include Cyrillic, Greek, and an extended selection of mathematical symbols.  There will be a lot of work involved in that.  After that, I have to start in on italic and boldface variants.  It never ends.

Anyway, my thanks to everyone who’s dropped a note to say they liked how it looks, plus a special thanks to those who helped me test out the font in languages other than English.

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