Fast Company

Could Firefox 3.5 Spark a Web Design Boom?

One feature of Firefox's new version allows the browser to display any font. Here's how good-looking the results can be.

Font Face

Mozilla recently released version 3.5 of its browser, Firefox, and it contained one tiny feature that could be a huge boon for web design: The ability to display any font, thanks to "@font-face," which allows designers to store fonts on their own servers, and reference them on their web pages. Designers Ian Lynam and Craig Mod have just posted a primer on the new feature, which shows just how much is possible. (A screencap of the primer is pictured above.)

If you have Firefox 3.0 but not 3.5, update now to see how dramatic the page looks, before and after. Previously, web designers who couldn't bear the thought of compromising on their type have relied on Flash or Javascript--which are, of course, clunky and annoying. @font-face is miles more elegant.

Safari has offered @font-face linking ever since version 3.1; Opera, meanwhile, has announced that the protocol will be supported in its next version. Internet Explorer, of course, is waaaaaay behind.

If you're interested in a longer, more detailed discussion of @font-face, check out this post on Mozilla Hacks.

[Via Jean Snow]

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  • Cliff Kuang

    @Snapper--Fair enough. Thanks for sticking with this, and starting up an interesting debate!

  • Snapper Cridge

    @Cliff - No you just went to sleep. Flash and javascript websites for the most part do suck! But the use of flash and javascript as and add on to xHTML and CSS will make them more robust and user friendly..if implemented properly.

    Somehow you are missing the point I am making. I am simply saying that the title of the article makes a statement that this new feature is going to make some paradigm shift in how designers design websites. I do extensive user testing on my websites and again while I don't design flash (with exception of one site in which I used sIFR for the page titles).

    My gut tells me that this is going to make the end user experience more complicated. And knowledgeable (inject opinion) designers will want their designs to look and feel seamless across browsers. Crossbrowser compatibility is a VERY important user experience factor to consider when designing for the web.

    I am not saying that IE is better than FireFox by any means, but IE is still the dominant browser and for that reason...@fontface is gonna be away from the mainstream in design until ALL BROWSERS are on board and/or IE finally gets a curbside seat!

  • Cliff Kuang

    @Snapper---Are you seriously saying that IE is as good as Firefox? Did I just fall asleep and wake up in 2004? Am I arguing with a PR rep for Microsoft? I hate it when that happens.

    Also, I still content flash and javascript websites suck. Again, I'm talking about user experience, not programming ease. Facebook is fine, but Facebook isn't a corporate website, or a website that's aimed at sharing information with the general public.

  • Cliff Kuang

    @Thomas--Thanks for adding your insight to the issue of font licensing--obviously a thorny subject.

    @Snapper--I still don't see much to recommend what you're saying. Basically, it all boils down to: This new feature of Mozilla isn't cool because IE doesn't use it; besides, Flash and Javascript aren't that bad; and it'll just make it easier to illegally use fonts. That's a fairly rearguard position to take. Negative examples of what could go wrong and why something new isn't needed aren't really how design or technology have generally progressed. I, on the other hand, think that any innovation that makes fonts easier to implement is pretty cool. Who knows if the thing will catch on, but there are reasons to think it might, since Safari, Firefox, and Opera will all use @font-face. Meanwhile, IE uses something similar which only allows linking to faces that are in Microsoft's proprietary font format. In other words, the point is that IE is once again way behind the curve, running plays from a book written in 1995.

  • Snapper Cridge

    @Cliff - "Flash or Javascript--which are, of course, clunky and annoying". This statement is also all opinion and flawed.

    "Internet Explorer, of course, is waaaaaay behind." This statement is inaccurate.

  • Snapper Cridge

    1. Read what Thomas wrote. My statement was not based on just opinion, it's based on the notion that there are thousands of shady "designers" that will exploit this new technology. The end result will most likely be a battle between Mozilla and font creators (which will be a failure and complete waste of time, but will most likely happen nonetheless).

    2. Your comment that Flash and Java suck is overrated at best. A. Yes flash is overused and typically not used for it's intended uses, but using a technology such as sIFR for example is far from clunky and annoying. I wasn't speaking of using Flash to build a website I was speaking in terms of font use only. B. Javascript is far from an annoyance...Facebook is proof of that.

    I personally don't like Flash 90% of the time, but it has it's place and Javascript (with languages such as jQuery, MooTools, etc.) is becoming more mainstream.

    3. It is my opinion, but my opinion isn't just thrown out there as fodder for argument. Designers design because that's what they do. This little snippet of technology isn't going to all of a sudden make things easier for designers to code a website. It's a font...that's all it is!

    4. Huh? My point was simply (and I'm sure I'm not alone here) that as a designer, it's best practice to design for all web users, not just those who are using FireFox. And by the way, as much I dislike (that's changing a bit) Internet Explorer for all it's quirkiness, it's "crappiness" seems to get ignored by over half of web users. That's not opinion, that's statistical fact!

  • Thomas Phinney

    Snapper wrote: "Storing a font on your server could land a web designer in a lawsuit for copyright infringement."

    Cliff replied: "Fonts you buy--or fonts that are free--aren't in the purview of this argument."

    Cliff is only about half right.

    First, unless you literally purchase all rights to a font (usually one you commission), you don't normally "buy" a font. You license it, just like any other piece of software. Sticking it on a web server has the same issues as sticking any other piece of software on a web server. If it's open source or freeware, that may be fine, but for retail font software, it is very rare indeed that the license would permit such use.

    Second, the current mechanisms for web fonts don't really directly support any kind of license display. Many free font licenses allow free distribution of the font, but only if the license (or readme) is kept with the font. Just sticking a desktop font on a web server does not (and perhaps can not) comply with even this simple requirement. So not even all "free fonts" can legitimately be used as web fonts under the current scheme.

    There are various other approaches under discussion at the W3C and in the font design community, but just putting desktop fonts on a web server is not likely to be the whole story. Not mentioned above is the formerly-proprietary EOT format invented by Microsoft, which they now published with an offer to make it into an open standard, and have offered to the W3C. This has been supported in Internet Explorer going back quite a few versions now.



  • Cliff Kuang

    @Snapper. Thanks for commenting and thanks for your viewpoint, but nothing you've written actually proves that the article was "inherently flawed and inaccurate" To each of your points: 1. That's an opinion about the way the fonts will be used. Fonts you buy--or fonts that are free--aren't in the purview of this argument. 2. That's an opinion, but I think it's fairly accepted among web surfers that Flash and Java suck. Creating sites with them might be easy, but usability is a widely accepted problem. For example, the problem of not being able to send hyperlinks alone is enough for me not to blog about certain design items I come across. Clunky and annoying indeed. 3. That's your opinion, but I think the example posted is interesting nonetheless. 4. Marketshare isn't a reason to accept crappiness. Especially in design. If it were, we'd all be using Vista.

  • Snapper Cridge

    I am really surprised that Fast Company posted an article that is so inherently flawed and inaccurate.

    1. Storing a font on your server could land a web designer in a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

    2. There are seamless ways to use your own texts using Flash & JavaScript that are far from clunky and annoying. Unless you are referring to the annoyance of coding these methods which yes, are annoying, but not any more annoying than coding a website to work in IE 6.

    3. This feature is not gonna make a web design boom. Good designers will use discretion remembering that most people aren't going to be able to read a bunch of text written in Bickham Script Std. Not to mention this feature alone isn't going to draw people to wanting to design websites (I think huge boost would have been a better term for this article instead of boom).

    4. Finally, regardless of all the hype, Internet Explorer still has a major marketshare. As I designer, the last thing I want to do is add more to my stylesheets to "keep the peace" for my designs in IE.

    This little snippet of technology is a long ways away from being mainstream.