Back in 1996, Microsoft started a project called "Core fonts for the Web." The idea behind the project was to create a set of fonts that were intended to be used, for free, on the Internet. Some of Microsoft's fonts that were included in the core package included Arial, Comic Sans MS, Courier New, Verdana, Times New Roman, and Webdings. While Microsoft still gives the fonts away for free, it ended the "Core fonts" program in August of 2002, ultimately giving it a monopoly over some of the most popular fonts to date.
The company did have its reasons for discontinuing the program. At the time, a spokesperson for the company said:
"Most users who wanted the fonts have downloaded them already. They ship with recent OS's – Windows XP and Mac OS (via Internet Explorer). Microsoft has also found that the downloads were being abused – repackaged, modified and shipped with commercial products in violation of the EULA."
Microsoft's statements were a direct slap in the face to other operating systems—Linux—that relied on the package. "Although there is no significant open-source font development effort currently underway there are various freeware and commercial alternatives to our Web fonts," said a Microsoft representative. As we know now, all the non-Windows operating systems have found working solutions, but Microsoft still has its hands wrapped around some of the most common typography.
Hakon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software, says that it is time to end Microsoft's monopoly on fonts. Rather than force a legal battle against the giant, he says that "Web fonts" are the way to break free of Microsoft's control. Lie defines "Web fonts" simply as "font families on the web." Instead of browsers looking at the local machine for TrueType files, they would reach out to the 'Net. Better yet, this type of browser functionality would not require a new standard. "CSS2 style sheets can already refer to Web fonts, so there's no need for a new standard," Lie says.
As for the benefits, they are aplenty.
Font designers will find an outlet for their creativity, users will get visually richer content, and non-Western scripts can easily be added. Also, Web page designers can often use Web fonts instead of images to get their designs across.
It all sounds great, but with Internet Explorer's massive market share, Microsoft would need to buy into the "Web fonts" plan in order for it to be a success. And that would mean that the company would have to relinquish some control over one of aesthetic computing's basic building blocks. Could it happen? I don't see it in the cards. Microsoft is sure to say it has better things to do than worry about a font issue, and none of the benefits mentioned pertain to the company's success. Without a major push from the tech community, this is one Microsoft monopoly that isn't going to go away any time soon.