Wednesday, 5 May 2010

HTML5, Fonts, and the Web Open Font Format (WOFF)

WOFF is a file format intended to enable downloadable fonts to be used on web pages. Developed during 2009, WOFF 1.0 was submitted last month (, April 8th 2010) by Microsoft Corporation, Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software to W3C, the standards organisation for web technology.

WOFF is not the first technology for downloadable fonts but it is the first to carry strong industry support. An implementation is already available in Firefox 3.6. WOFF is expected to be supported in new versions of Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari. In my opinion it is likely that WOFF will become the preferred way of including specialist fonts in HTML5 so a very positive development.

This is significant for applications of Ancient Egyptian and other specialist scripts since WOFF provides an effective way of displaying those scripts on web pages without expecting suitable fonts to have been installed on the host device. WOFF files are compressed and subsets can be used to keep download sizes much smaller than if the original (e.g. TrueType) fonts were used. There are indications that font suppliers will be open to distribution of fonts in WOFF format (in most cases commercial fonts are not licensed for distribution in TTF etc. formats although there are rules that in many instances allow embedding in documents such as PDF files).

It is impractical to use WOFF for published web sites today except for experimental purposes since the vast majority of web browsers in use do not know how to use WOFF. However software tools already exist. As far as my own work is concerned, I’m working on the assumption that over 70% of web browser usage will be WOFF compatible by the end of 2011 (though this is a pure guess!) at which point it becomes appropriate to make web pages that rely on WOFF for Egyptian.

I’d like to state the short to medium term status for my work concerning Ancient Egyptian on the web relating to WOFF.
  1. InScribeX Web integrates a version of my InScribe font so doesn’t rely on browser support. I expect WOFF support will become part of the InScribeX story at some point in time, but not during 2010.
  2. Meanwhile I'd be pleased to hear from anyone also looking at WOFF applications for Egyptian in Unicode and HTML5.
  3. I’m interested in the use of ligatures and combining rules to enable ‘Simplified Egyptian’ to be written without markup so will be testing some WOFF implementations to try and detect any bugs in OpenType feature handling so these can be eliminated by the time browser support for WOFF is widely available.

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