January 18, 2003
ubik ≠ Verdana & Acrobat Reader?
Recently I was surprised to discover that a couple things I've long taken for granted do not hold up under scrutiny: the Verdana font and .pdf files are not universally viewable. This challenges some design assumptions I've made in the past, and I'm willing to bet that some of you may have done the same thing.
Many developers consider .pdf files to be the choice for delivering platform-independent documents that display and print the way you want them to. This is supported by the number of companies, organizations and government agencies that rely on Adobe's technology to deliver downloadable documents where consistency is critical or even a legal requirement. Adobe allows for a relatively unfettered distribution of the free Acrobat Reader application (Acrobat is a tool Adobe sells for authoring PDF files).
So, I was surprised to find that on my fresh new PC running WinXP Pro, the Adobe Acrobat Reader was nowhere to be found.
We Mac users have had a copy of Acrobat Reader seemingly since the dawn of time, which makes sense if you think about it, as Apple and Adobe have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, recently leading to Apple's licensing of Display Postscript in OS X. In fact, there's a "Save as PDF" button in the standard OS X Print dialog and screengrabs are saved in the PDF format.
Takeaway: Don't assume that the majority of users have a copy of Acrobat Reader. Due to OS bundling, practically all Mac users will have at least an older version of Acrobat Reader; without that benefit, many Win users will not. Always offer a link to the free Adobe Acrobat Reader download page for web pages that link to .pdf content.
When the True Type font Verdana came out in late '96 and began to be seen on sites created to demo the Win IE 3.0 betas, I was struck by how web pages that used it seemed somehow more warm and friendly. It's easier on the eye, and in fact was designed just for that purpose—for text meant to be read on-screen, where previous fonts had been designed more for readable print output.
Microsoft later bundled the font as part of a set of "Web Fonts" included in Mac IE browsers, and Apple licensed the font for inclusion in Mac OS 8.6. Somehow, by the time Mac OS 9 was rolled out, Verdana was no longer invited to the party.
Chances are though, that if you are a Mac OS 9.x user, you do have this font, but you would have aquired it by either upgrading from Mac OS 8.6—when it was part of the system font set—or by having enabled the 'Install Web Fonts' option in an upgrade or re-install of Mac Internet Explorer. However, if your Mac came with OS 9 and you never upgraded your IE browser, or you chose not to install the optional web fonts, then it's likely that you will not have Verdana available for your web page viewing.
I uncovered this when a Mac IE 5-using client was unable to see the proper bold text formatting on one of her pages. These pages specified Verdana with a fallback to Arial which, at smaller sizes, will not render bold on a Mac screen, cluing us in to the missing Verdana.
Takeaway: well, um, just beware, ok? If you've followed best practices and have allowed for appropriate font degradation, then your designs shouldn't be too terribly impacted. If one of your Mac clients or users find they do not have Verdana installed, tell them to download the latest version of Mac MSIE and install with the Web Fonts option enabled. Sadly, Microsoft no longer allows free downloads of Verdana. We can't have those free software Linux users also having readable web pages now, can we?
I'm happy to report that Apple brought back Verdana (and added a million other fonts) with OS X.Posted by Lewis Francis at January 18, 2003 10:56 PM