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The Application Formerly Known As. . .

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: Programming

The Application Formerly Known As. . .

by Dean Shavit

Holding Out For QuarkXPress

It was ten years ago this summer when I helped a client, a small monthly print magazine, bring their desktop publishing operation in house. At the time, the operating system (Mac OS 7.1) and the hardware (Quadra 840av) were very different than today, but two key components of the solution still remain in place for my client and other publishers: QuarkXpress for the layout of the publication, and Adobe Type 1 fonts for the typefaces. The initial project had some typographical obstacles including body text that borrowed capital letters from other fonts for use with the main typeface, and some other elements from disparate fonts, including asterisks and dashes within the body text. These peculiarities made the cost of laying out the magazine quite high, since the typographers either had to search and replace the characters every month, or change the selected font as they typed the text.

So, while planning the project, I proposed that they edit their font (Bembo) to accommodate the capital letters from other fonts, the dashes, and the asterisks so that they would appear naturally within the body copy while a typesetter was entering text. At the time, it was also clear which tool was appropriate for the customizing the typeface: Altsys Fontographer (now owned by Macromedia, and still available for purchase but never updated to be a native OS X application). The client purchased Fontographer; I went ahead and modified the font for them, and they adopted the Mac for their desktop publishing (and have been a Mac company ever since), eventually leaving behind dbase for their circulation database and moving to FileMaker. The resulting font, called "SpecialText" proved to be a great solution, as they migrated from Mac OS 7 to 8, and 9, and even OS X in mid-2003.

With the successful transition of the client to OS X and an Xserve and Xserve RAID system, the one application that lagged behind was QuarkXpress 4.1, which they ran in the Classic environment, but grudgingly. My suggestions to look at Adobe InDesign as a possible OS X native replacement for QuarkXpress fell on deaf ears. After all, they publish a relatively straightforward text-based magazine, and just want to work with the same familiar application, just not in Classic mode, and even so, everything worked as they expected, with some additional complexity brought on by the GUI changes when switching from Quark to OS X applications such as FileMaker or Microsoft Word but on the whole without disrupting their work flow.

QuarkXPress 6 Is Released - "Start The Presses"

When QuarkXpress 6.0 was released in June 2003, after two years in the making, the message on Apple's home page proclaimed, "Start the Presses." QuarkXpress 6 was the last major OS X desktop publishing application to be updated for native OS X operation, and many publications had been waiting for just that moment to make the move to OS X, or upgrade from QuarkXpress 4 or 5. Quite naturally, my client was very interested in upgrading, but based on severe issues with .0 releases of QuarkXpress in the past (versions 3, 4, and 5) I advised them to wait a while to see what early adopters experienced. So they waited a few months, then went ahead and purchased QuarkXpress 6 in January of 2004, with the goal of putting into production by March 2004.

Stop The Presses

After some initial testing the client decided to put QuarkXpress 6.0 into production in early February. Evidently, the initial tests didn't include printing documents, because immediately upon installing and attempting to use QuarkXpress 6 on their design Macs, I received an emergency call, "Quark is claiming that our SpecialText font is corrupt and won't print anything." After talking them through installing fresh copies, changing font locations, disabling their Suitcase XI font management software, we were still unable to get QuarkXpress to cough up a printout.

So there it was, with a deadline looming only a two weeks away, the presses were stopped, the work flow halted and an emergency dumped squarely in my lap: the fonts I'd edited ten years earlier were corrupted or "not done right in the first place" in the opinion of my client. What I'd heard from other consultants was indeed true: Quark had outsourced their technical support to India, and "John," who spoke the King's English beautifully, was obviously reading from a script, and had absolutely no Mac OS X experience, or knowledge about the font issues my client was having that I could discern. Our discussion yielded nothing except a general disclaimer, "it's not our fault, there must be something wrong with your font." That was quite difficult to swallow on my part, considering that the SpecialText font had performed flawlessly without a single error since 1994, with all previous versions of QuarkXpress, all the Adobe design applications up to the current version, and all iterations of FileMaker and Microsoft Office. A quick review of QuarkXpress 6 issues on the Internet yielded many examples of other adopters experiencing the similar difficulties, including problems creating PDFs from within QuarkXpress, and even distilling the Postscript output with another tool such as Acrobat Distiller or OS X's built-in Preview application.

The temperature kept rising at my client day by day; they began looking for a "Quark Expert" who could solve their problem, even though I insisted that the skills necessary for solving the problem went far beyond the realm of Quark expertise. So, with the clock ticking, I began to examine the SpecialText font for possible issues that would offend Quark. The first step was to check the bitmap fonts for possible corruption--I loaded them on an OS 9 Mac and ran ATM Deluxe's "verify" feature, which turned up no alerts, conflicts, or corruption. I then loaded them on an OS X Mac and ran the Font Doctor program that came bundled with Suitcase XI, but found no warnings as well, except for one interesting flag, that mentioned "extra fonts" in the suitcase file that weren't necessary.

The Great OS X Font Diaspora

One of the biggest complaints I've heard, and still hear, about OS X is what I like to call the Font Diaspora. It's almost as if Apple took our familiar Fonts folder inside the OS 9 System Folder and scattered the contents to the four winds . . .well, not quite. If you count up the possible font locations, there's more than just four! I've created a small table below showing where OS X can store fonts.

I've had many questions from clients regarding why Apple chose to transition from a single repository of fonts in Mac OS 9 to this multi-tiered structure in OS X. The answer lies in the more complex nature of OS X as a multi-user operating system, where various rights dictate which parts of the OS are accessible to standard users, admin users, and users with root access (the operating system itself). What most Mac admins do in design studios these days is simply strip out undesired fonts, and let their font management software handle things for the user. While Apple's Font Book program has at least given users the ability to deactivate fonts which reside in areas of the OS to which they don't have read/write access, it still is a long way from being the font management solution that designers or layout operators need or expect in a production environment.

Another significant change that further complicates font management in OS X v. OS 9 is the addition of several additional supported font formats to the familiar Postscript Type 1, Type 3 and TrueType. Here's a list of supported font formats in OS X:

  • OpenType (should work on Mac OS and Windows)
  • PostScript Type 1 (Mac OS only)
  • PostScript Type 3 (Mac OS only)
  • PostScript Multiple Master (Mac OS only)
  • TrueType (both Mac OS and Windows formats)
  • dFont (data fork TrueType) (Mac OS only)

The data fork TrueType fonts that come bundled with OS X are often a source of conflicts, since they are some of the same standard faces such as Times, for instance, that make up the common base set of Adobe Type 1 fonts that are the staple for graphic designers. Data fork TrueType fonts, or "dfonts" as they're often called, are essentially the same as the resource-fork-based TrueType fonts that used to ship with OS 9, but have all of their information in the data fork, so that they can't be damaged by command-line functions like cp or mv. These fonts are often removed as a routine step in preparing an OS X workstation for a designer.

Out of all the formats supported by OS X, it is the OpenType format that's the most intriguing. OpenType is the result of an effort by Adobe and others to produce a font format that works on both Windows and Mac OS 9 and OS X without having support separate versions. Other benefits include a single font file (no separate bitmaps), and a larger, 16-bit address space, instead of an 8-bit address space, allowing for approximately 65,000 "glyphs" rather than the previous limit of 256. The extra capacity allows type foundries to embed swash caps, alternate characters, and more punctuation and dingbats into the typeface, which previously required the production of "Alt" or "Expert" fonts just for that specific purpose. A unique problem with OpenType, however, is that applications must be OpenType-aware to access the extra character space, or they will not work as intended. Accessing the complete set of OpenType characters requires using the Character Palette in OS X, or an application such as one of the Adobe Creative Suite applications that has that ability built-in. To access the Character Palette, open System Preferences, choose the "International" preference pane, click on the "Input Menu" tab and make sure that the "Character Palette" is selected. As an added bonus, you can also select the "Keyboard Viewer" check box, which replaces the "Key Caps" application in OS 9 and versions of OS X prior to Panther.

One of the necessary font-related features of OS 9 that has never made it back to OS X, is the ability to move bitmap fonts between font suitcase files by double-clicking, dragging and dropping. In OS X 10.3 double-clicking a font suitcase simply opens the Font Book application, allowing the user to view the fonts contained within it, but doesn't allow deleting of individual fonts or dragging them from one suitcase to another.

Font Suitcase viewed in the OS X Finder

The ability to double-click on Font suitcase files first appeared in Mac OS 7, supplanting the venerable Font/DA Mover application for Mac OS 6.0.x. So, wanting to see just what was in the SpecialText suitcase file, it was time to fire up the WayBack machine and obtain the last release version of Font/DA Mover 4.1 from the Apple "older" software repository at:

Font/DA Mover 4.1 Icon

Font/DA Mover Dialog

Using Font/DA mover, I was able to remove the extra font from the suitcase, and this allowed QuarkXpress to finally cough up a printout, but with a bitmap version of the font, and still with the alert that the font "SpecialText might be corrupt." I felt I was getting closer to a solution with my focus on possible problems with the SpecialText bitmap or the font suitcase which contained it, but moving the fonts to a new suitcase didn't help either. Nevertheless, getting re-acquainted with Font/DA Mover was a real blast from the past, a truly amazing instance of a 14-year-old program still working perfectly in Classic, still useful after all these years.

Back To The Drawing Board

So, my client and I began hunting for the original Fontographer install diskettes, and when we eventually found them, we discovered that they were unreadable by my USB floppy drive (they were 800k disks). So, after digging a PowerMac 9600 out of the closet, I was able to install Fontographer and re-generate the bitmap fonts for SpecialText. However, QuarkXpress had the same complaint about the font. Evidently, the way that particular version of Fontographer produced bitmap fonts (with the file type of NFNT, to be exact), wasn't up to snuff. Other Quark users on the Internet had reported similar printing issues and font corruption messages with older releases of Type 1 fonts that hadn't been edited, such as Frutiger.

So, it was up to me to either purchase, or convince my client to purchase, a newer version of Fontographer (which, though it might be more up-to-date than the Altsys iteration my client owned) that wasn't even OS X native, and there still would be no guarantee that the bitmap fonts it produced would be Quark-digestible. It was time to look elsewhere. Searches on the Internet turned up an OS X native application called Font Lab (, which cost $549, and which by all available reviews and the features listed was "the bomb" when it came to font-editing and conversion. However, as my client was already unhappy, I felt that asking them to spend the money for Font Lab would have been a bad idea. Since I am not a professional font designer, or even a professional graphic designer, spending $549 to fix one specific font problem seemed to be too costly. It was time to look for other possibilities.

X Marks The Spot

Up to this point, possible solutions to this sticky issue had spanned OS X native applications (Quark) utilities from Mac OS version 6.0.8 (Font/DA Mover), an application from the Mac OS version 7.1 days (Fontographer) and utilities from OS 9 (ATM Deluxe). The only free alternative left for me was to search for an open-source solution.

I am devoted to using open-source software on my Mac. X Windows on OS X is a great solution for many tools that would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for their commercial counterparts. In May of 2003, I gave a presentation to the Chicago regional chapter of the Apple Consultants Network on (Apple's release of X Windows for OS X) and the Fink Project (HYPERLINK which ports open-source Linux and BSD software for use on OS X. I specifically remember one consultant's reaction to the presentation when it was announced. He felt that X Windows on OS X was "too technical" and would not attend the afternoon presentation, just the morning business meeting, because he felt it was a technology he would never use, one that provided no useful solutions to his clients. Although he was the only consultant who spoke up, I was pretty sure others had similar opinions: that running Fink and X11 was too techy for the casual user or even most graphic designers, or maybe even themselves.

However, in this case, my familiarity with Fink, X11, and Xcode (Apple's free Developer Tools) provided me with the ability to solve my client's font problem. So, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that all Mac consultants should have Fink and X11 in their bag of tricks. Not having that capability means paying for commercial software (understandable if a customer is to use the solution and doesn't have the time/patience to learn how to work in X11), so why shouldn't a consultant be prepared, save money, and be able to service their customers' needs? In this case, the hours of fiddling with X11 and Fink paid off--I found an open-source font editor called Fontforge, which goes by the stage name "the application formerly known as PFAedit."

Getting Prepared For FontForge

Getting Fink and X11 going on the Mac today is far easier than it was in May 2003. The latest Fink installer automatically configures itself and edits the bash.profile script which resides in a user's home directory to recognize Fink installations, which are kept in a separate directory tree under /sw/bin, rather than in the standard /usr/local directory where most installers place command-line binaries that aren't part of the standard OS X package, reducing the possibility of conflicts where packages wind up overwriting each other. Fink's separate directory tree also allows easy backup, removal, and even sharing of those programs over a network, and the ability to use Fink Commander, an Aqua GUI for users who are command-line shy. The Fink project has an excellent FAQ area, a helpful document on Fink usage, and a forum for help with particular issues.

Fink Commander Application.

Geting FINK And X11

X11 requires Mac OS X 10.3, which ships with an X11 installer on install disc #3. Also needed is the X11 SDK, a separate installer on the Xcode Tools CD, or on one of the OS X 10.3 DVDs that ships with new Macs. First items to install:

  • located on install disc #3 or on an installer DVD (also available as a download from HYPERLINK
  • X11 SDK included with Apple's Xcode tools (also downloadable)
  • Full install of Apple's Xcode tools (you'll need this to compile source code to get the latest Fink packages)
  • The Fink 0.7.1 Binary Installer from HYPERLINK, this package also includes the wonderful Fink Commander application.

First, install Xcode, X11, and the X11 SDK. Then, download and install the Fink 0.7.1 installer package. Next, copy the Fink Commander software from the Fink installer folder to the Applications folder and launch it. Go to the "Source" menu and choose "Selfupdate-cvs." Now Fink will go though and update its own binaries, as well as get the latest package descriptions.

There are two ways to install Fink software--downloading a pre-compiled binary version of each package, or letting Xcode compile the binary from the source code available through CVS (the concurrent versioning system). Fink also has two "trees" of software distribution, "stable" and "unstable." Many applications that are available in the "unstable" tree aren't available either as binaries or source code in the "stable" tree. To enable the use of the "unstable" tree, go to the "FinkCommander" menu and choose "Preferences. . ." then click on the "Fink" tab, then select the "use unstable packages" check box, then quit Fink Commander, relaunch it, and let it update the package descriptions.

Fink Commander Unstable Package Preferences

Now it's time to install Fontforge and any dependencies required to run it. If there are dependencies a prompt will come up with choices to make, and generally the first choice will work just fine. Open up FinkCommander, and type "fontforge" into the search box in the upper-right-hand corner. When the fontforge package appears, select it and either choose "install" from the "Source" menu or "install" from the "Binary" menu. Fontforge and all supporting programs will be downloaded and installed. If there's a later version that's not available as a binary, then using the source code is the only way to go, but the binary install will be considerably faster. If errors or warnings come up during the installation, consult the troubleshooting guide within the FAQ section at HYPERLINK When Fontforge is installed, repeat the process for the package "fondu."

Open up the X11 application which will be in /Applications/Utilities, and when the xterm window appears (this is the X11 equivalent to the Terminal), type fontforge and hit return. This should launch Fontforge. If X11 was already open during the install of Fontforge, it may be necessary to type the rehash command in xterm first. To avoid typing the command in xterm to launch Fontforge, or any other X11 application, customize the X11 "Applications" menu so that Fontforge points to the command /sw/bin/fontforge.

Fontforge Splash Screen

Font Editing/Converting With FontForge

So, I now had all of the necessary tools at my disposal to edit my client's SpecialText font, but I didn't know much about using Fontforge, so I needed to find out a few things first. Unfortunately, the first thing I found was that I was unable to open the SpecialText outline font file, but could open the SpecialText bitmap file. I had no trouble opening TrueType font outlines, dfont outlines, or OpenType outlines, but getting to the outlines (necessary to regenerate the bitmap font) for any Type 1 fonts proved elusive. Nor was I able to find any "how to" documents that described how to go about it. The outline files didn't even show up in the "Open Font" dialog that came up upon launch Fontforge:

Outline Fonts not Showing

I was, however, able to successfully open and edit a bitmap font, but that didn't get me far enough to generate a fresh copy:

Editing a Bitmap in Fontforge

Then, I remembered that OpenOffice required a command-line tool, fondu, to convert Mac OS X fonts for use in its X Windows environment, because it couldn't access fonts with resource forks. Evidently, Fontforge couldn't open them either. So, I navigated to the folder with the Special Text fonts in the Terminal, and issued one simple command:

fondu *

Suddenly, within my SpecialText Folder, I had a bunch of files with .bdf and .pfb extensions.

Fontforge recognized these as "Postscript Font Binaries." The fondu utility had extracted the Postscript outline information from the resource fork of the outline file and deposited it in a data fork format that Fontforge could work with. The .bdf extensions are simply for identifying bitmap fonts. It is the .pfa (Postscript Font A SCII) extension that Fontforge, the application formerly known as PfaEdit, was originally named for.

Outline Editor in Fontforge

Fontforge supports exporting/converting to all known font formats, including OpenType. So, I thought it might be nice to remove the bitmap font from the equation altogether. After generating OpenType fonts for SpecialText, I was disappointed to find that QuarkXpress 6 was not OpenType-aware; diacritical marks wouldn't appear, and other essential characters, such as double curly quotes, wouldn't show up or print properly. So, I decided to regenerate the bitmap files as a Mac "family" suitcase, with a .fam extension, which required opening all of the SpecialText Type 1 outline fonts (SpecialText, SpecialTextBold, SpecialTextIta, SpecialTextBoldIta) in Fontforge simultaneously as in the picture below:

Preparing a Macintosh Font Family

To regenerate the bitmap fonts as a Mac family in a single suitcase, there's several steps:

First, make sure that all of the open fonts have the same family information, click on the "Element" Menu and choose "Font Info. . . "

Next, select the "Encoding" tab and change the encoding type from "Adobe Standard" to "Macintosh Latin":

After clicking "OK," click on the "Element" menu again and this time select "Bitmaps Available. . ." and enter any number of point sizes:

Now click on the "File" menu in Fontforge and select "Generate Mac Family. . ."

Generate Mac Family

Be sure to select "PS Type 1 (Resource) as the outline format, and NFNT as the bitmap format. Save the suitcase file with a .suit or .fam extension, and load it up with Font Book! There's now a freshly generated bitmap font suitcase for OS X to use.

Satisfied Quark, Satisfied Customer

The new bitmaps worked perfectly with Quark 6, 6.1, and now 6.5. Quark not only digested the new bitmaps for SpecialText, but seemed to unexpectedly quit a lot less often than with the old bitmaps. Although I'm not specifically against Quirk (whoops, I mean Quark)Xpress 6, I do confess that I'm more than a little annoyed at the fact that somehow it either has bugs that report older bitmap fonts as corrupt, or is missing an essential capability that all other Mac OS X software has to correctly address a bitmap font in a slightly outdated, or different NFNT format. My client is now happily using SpecialText again, and hopefully for the next ten years before another application breaks it, or puts me on the hot seat. Needless to say, I've performed this bitmap regeneration over and over for customers using Quark 6; at one site I fixed over twenty fonts, so the presses could get going again.

Fontforge, unlike some open-source equivalents to commercial software, seems every bit as capable as its counterpart Font Lab, but having never used the latter, I can't specifically say how they match up. But just browsing through the menus in Fontforge is pretty much a mind-blowing ride, revealing things about fonts in general like OpenType extended characters, hinting, kerning, encoding, and other details most of us who aren't font-designers take for granted. But more than anything for me, that weeklong font troubleshooting experience highlighted the wealth and breadth of solutions available on OS X, which serves up an eclectic feast of tools, some new and some not-so-new. So, this article's for all the designers and Mac admins who need to satisfy their font quirks. I hope it plays well in Peoria. And in New Delhi, too.

Dean Shavit Dean Shavit is an ACSA (Apple Certified System Administrator) who leads training sessions and manages consulting projects for MOST (Mac OS Training & Consulting) in Chicago. If you have questions or feedback you can contact him at


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