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Fonts for web design: further comparison of cross-platform dependability

When selecting fonts for use in web pages it is all too easy to fall into the ‘playing it safe’ rut of the supposedly web-safe set of fonts. Alternatives are invariably ignored, as is the way font-families based upon this small subset of fonts degrade on minority operating systems, i.e. unix.

In expanding upon the basic summary of Reliability of ‘Web-safe’ fonts, this article (updated: 26 October, 2008) goes beyond examining just the ‘safe’ set and presents results for 49 of the most commonly encountered fonts from all operating systems, in a way that more easily allows for cross-platform comparison.

For each operating system, the top 12 – 16 fonts, as listed in the Codestyle font survey were assembled into a single list, comprising 31 fonts across all-platforms. The frequencies with which these fonts were found in each operating system were then compiled into the tables below. In addition to these,  extra typefaces were added to the list in October 2008 to address developments in both the Windows and Unix platforms.

As of October 2008 all frequencies presented below are derived from Codestyle.

Table 1: Comparative dedpendability of fonts for web-use: ordered from most to least frequently found in Windows
Font Windows Mac Linux
Arial Black 97.73% 95.67% 54.44%
Verdana 97.41% 94.02% 55.00%
Arial 96.97% 96.41% 62.78%
Courier New 96.79% 92.08% 61.94%
Comic Sans MS 96.72% 91.63% 51.94%
Lucida Console 96.65%
Tahoma 96.61% 72.50%
Impact 96.33% 88.04% 53.89%
Trebuchet MS 95.79% 92.38% 51.39%
Lucida Sans Unicode 94.09%
Georgia 92.62% 93.57% 53.33%
Times New Roman 87.32% 90.28% 56.67%
Arial Narrow 87.25% 90.73%
Century Gothic 85.73% 39.17%
Bookman Oldstyle 84.22% 14.17%
Book Antiqua 83.79% 11.67%
Calibri 42.78% 6.67%
Cambria 42.45% 6.67%
Consolas 42.45% 8.33%
Candara 42.29% 6.67%
Corbel 42.04% 7.50%
Constantia 41.55% 6.67%
Courier 96.26% 74.17%
Helvetica 96.26% 57.50%
Geneva 92.08%
Monaco 96.71%
Skia 89.99%
Times 87.89% 48.30%
Bitstream Vera Sans 20.83% 78.77%
Bitstream Vera Sans Mono 22.50% 81.01%
Bitstream Vera Serif 20.83% 68.99%
Utopia 2.50% 60.83%
New Century Schoolbook 3.33% 46.94%
Fixed 50.28%
Nimbus Mono L 89.17%
Century Schoolbook L 88.61%
URW Chancery L 89.17%
Bitstream Charter 90.00%
DejaVu Sans Mono 90.00%
DejaVu Sans Condensed 82.50%
DejaVu Serif Condensed 77.50%
DejaVu Sans 76.00%
DejaVu Serif 60.00%
Free Mono 60.00%
Free Sans 60.00%
Free Serif 62.00%
Liberation Mono 47.50%
Liberation Sans 47.50%
Liberation Serif 47.50%

Table 2: Comparative dedpendability of fonts for web-use: ordered from most to least frequently found in MacOS
Font Windows Mac Linux
Monaco 96.71%
Arial 96.97% 96.41% 62.78%
Helvetica 96.26% 57.50%
Courier 96.26% 74.17%
Arial Black 97.73% 95.67% 54.44%
Verdana 97.41% 94.02% 55.00%
Georgia 92.62% 93.57% 53.33%
Trebuchet MS 95.79% 92.38% 51.39%
Courier New 96.79% 92.08% 61.94%
Geneva 92.08%
Comic Sans MS 96.72% 91.63% 51.94%
Times New Roman 87.32% 90.28% 56.67%
Arial Narrow 87.25% 90.73%
Skia 89.99%
Impact 96.33% 88.04% 53.89%
Times 87.89% 48.30%
Tahoma 96.61% 72.50%
Century Gothic 85.73% 39.17%
Bitstream Vera Sans Mono 22.50% 81.01%
Bitstream Vera Sans 20.83% 78.77%
Bitstream Vera Serif 20.83% 68.99%
Bookman Oldstyle 84.22% 14.17%
Book Antiqua 83.79% 11.67%
Consolas 42.45% 8.33%
Corbel 42.04% 7.50%
Calibri 42.78% 6.67%
Cambria 42.45% 6.67%
Candara 42.29% 6.67%
Constantia 41.55% 6.67%
New Century Schoolbook 3.33% 46.94%
Utopia 2.50% 60.83%
Nimbus Mono L 89.17%
Century Schoolbook L 88.61%
Fixed 50.28%
Lucida Console 96.65%
Lucida Sans Unicode 94.09%
URW Chancery L 89.17%
Bitstream Charter 90.00%
DejaVu Sans Mono 90.00%
DejaVu Sans Condensed 82.50%
DejaVu Serif Condensed 77.50%
DejaVu Sans 76.00%
DejaVu Serif 60.00%
Free Mono 60.00%
Free Sans 60.00%
Free Serif 62.00%
Liberation Mono 47.50%
Liberation Sans 47.50%
Liberation Serif 47.50%

Table 3: Comparative dedpendability of fonts for web-use: ordered from most to least frequently found in Unices
Font Windows Mac Linux
Bitstream
Charter
90.00%
DejaVu Sans Mono 90.00%
Nimbus Mono L 89.17%
URW Chancery L 89.17%
Century Schoolbook L 88.61%
DejaVu Sans Condensed 82.50%
Bitstream Vera Sans Mono 22.50% 81.01%
Bitstream Vera Sans 20.83% 78.77%
DejaVu Serif Condensed 77.50%
DejaVu Sans 76.00%
Courier 96.26% 74.17%
Bitstream Vera Serif 20.83% 68.99%
Arial 96.97% 96.41% 62.78%
Free Serif 62.00%
Courier New 96.79% 92.08% 61.94%
Utopia 2.50% 60.83%
DejaVu Serif 60.00%
Free Mono 60.00%
Free Sans 60.00%
Helvetica 96.26% 57.50%
Times New Roman 87.32% 90.28% 56.67%
Verdana 97.41% 94.02% 55.00%
Arial Black 97.73% 95.67% 54.44%
Georgia 92.62% 93.57% 53.33%
Impact 96.33% 88.04% 53.89%
Comic Sans MS 96.72% 91.63% 51.94%
Trebuchet MS 95.79% 92.38% 51.39%
Fixed 50.28%
Times 87.89% 48.30%
Liberation Mono 47.50%
Liberation Sans 47.50%
Liberation Serif 47.50%
New Century Schoolbook 3.33% 46.94%
Lucida Console 96.65%
Lucida Sans Unicode 94.09%
Tahoma 96.61% 72.50%
Arial Narrow 87.25% 90.73%
Book Antiqua 83.79% 11.67%
Bookman Oldstyle 84.22% 14.17%
Century Gothic 85.73% 39.17%
Geneva 92.08%
Monaco 96.71%
Skia 89.99%
Calibri 42.78% 6.67%
Cambria 42.45% 6.67%
Consolas 42.45% 8.33%
Candara 42.29% 6.67%
Corbel 42.04% 7.50%
Constantia 41.55% 6.67%

No surprise!

Unix seems to inhabit a little world all its own when it comes to fonts, with its most common fonts falling outside the set that is commonly accepted as being “Web-safe”. OK, font-families is really no reason for the website designer to cede control of this to the browser when suitable candidates do exist and could be specified as part of the font-family.

Some surprises!

What was surprising was the relatively low availability reported for Times New Roman, especially on Windows and Mac platforms, but this is potentially down to the manual nature of the Codestyle font-survey and the “invisibility’ of the Times New Roman typeface.

So what?!

This again is intended as no more than a rough guide, presenting a summary of available information drawn primarily from one of the two available online font surveys, and susceptable to the weaknesses inherent to it.

The numbers are still of interest, and go further to confirm the uniqueness of unix as a browsing platform, one that warrents particular attention from web developers if it is to be dealt with in a controlled manner.

What this article does is to identify some of the best candidate fonts for use on unix, something that the previous reliability article missed because of its focus on the “Web-safe” subset of fonts that the most common unix fonts do not fall into.

Updates

26 October, 2008: Updated with Codestyle survey results for October 2008 and removed all figures derived from the old and inactive Visibone survey.

Developments in Windows (VISTA) and with new linux distributions have also necessitated the inclusion of additional fonts for those operating systems. The VISTA ‘C’ fonts, and for unix the DejaVu, Free and Liberation fonts have
therefore been added, bringing the total font list to 49 (from 31 originally).

11 February, 2007: Updated with Codestyle survey results for February 2007.

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