Web Typography in Ubuntu: Part 1

One of the first things a care­ful observ­er will like­ly notice about a fresh Ubun­tu install is the dis­tinct­ly odd appear­ance of their favorite web­sites. The cause for this is that, although Ubun­tu ships with a fair selec­tion of fonts, they aren’t prop­er­ly assigned as alias­es to the pro­pri­etary fonts that most web­sites call for; Hel­veti­ca and Ari­al have a per­fect cousin in FreeSans, yet are sub­sti­tut­ed with Lib­er­a­tion Sans by default, the lat­ter of whose stemmed “1” and barred “J” (among oth­er things) is a dead give­away. Like­wise, Ver­dana is also sub­sti­tut­ed with Lib­er­a­tion Sans, when DejaVu Sans is a much clos­er fit. Then there’s Times New Roman, Luci­da Grande, Baskerville — none of which is ade­quate­ly mim­ic­ked.

Sev­er­al of these fonts are bet­ter served by some Ubun­tu defaults, and still oth­ers — Gill Sans, Opti­ma, Caslon, Tahoma, and more — have decent sub­sti­tutes just wait­ing in the repos­i­to­ries. Typog­ra­phy plays a greater role in user expe­ri­ence than I think most peo­ple work­ing on Ubun­tu real­ize, and it should be a goal of 10.10 to ele­vate this part of the OS as much as pos­si­ble. This requires just a few extra kilo­bytes in pack­ages and some changes/additions to the files in /etc/fonts/conf.d/. In a sub­se­quent post I’ll be cat­a­loging what those changes should be.

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