Windows screen fonts. (part 1)
by Clifton Karnes
In this and the next two columns, I'm going to talk about one of the least understood aspects of Windows: fonts. In this column I'll talk about screen and plotter fonts, and next month, I'll discuss TrueType and how to get the most out of it. For the last installment, I'll discuss some utilities that let you translate Post-Script fonts into TrueType, as well as ones that let you manipulate TrueType fonts in some exciting ways.
Windows 3.1 comes with three types of fonts. The first type is screen fonts, also called raster fonts. The second type is plotter fonts, also called vector fonts. And the third kind is TrueType fonts.
Screen fonts are bitmaps, which means that each character in the alphabet is constructed from a collection of dots. It also means that each size of the font must be represented with a different set of bitmaps.
Windows installs many screen fonts, including MS Serif (Tms Rmn in Windows 3.0), MS Sans Serif (Helv in Windows 3.0), Courier, System, Fixedsys, Terminal, Symbol, and Small Fonts.
These fonts are distributed in a limited number of sizes. For MS Serif, MS Sans Serif, and Symbol, the sizes available are 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, and 24 points. You may notice in this group that the sizes are even numbers from 8 to 24 with 16, 20, and 22 left out. This may seem strange, but it makes sense when you understand that these fonts can also be used effectively in multiples of the available sizes. So a 16-point MS Serif can be obtained by doubling the 8-point font, and so on. Courier is available in 10-, 12-, and 15-point sizes, and Small Fonts, which is used mostly for previewing text, comes in 4, 5, 6, and 7 points. As with the other screen fonts, multiples of these sizes are also available. The sizes of System, Fixedsys, and Terminal are determined by your display.
All screen fonts are in a sense display dependent, which we'll discuss in a minute. But first, I'd like to talk a little about each font and how it's used.
The most important screen font is System. You'll see this font in menu and dialog boxes and almost everywhere else in Windows. System is very easy to read onscreen, and all things considered, it's my favorite screen font. In programs that give me a choice of which screen font to use (such as File Manager), I almost always choose System.
System, like most of the fonts used in Windows, is a proportional font, which means that the horizontal space occupied by each character is determined by the character's width. By contrast, in a fixed or monospaced font (such as Courier, which impersonates a typewriter), each character, no matter how wide it is, occupies the same amount of space. In a fixed font, a lower-case i takes as much space as an uppercase W.
In versions of Windows prior to 3.0, the System font was a fixed font, and for compatibility, this font is included with 3.1. As you may have guessed, it's the Fixedsys font mentioned above. Although some people say that this font is all but useless, it's often the best choice for text editors. Notepad, in fact, uses this font.
After System, the most important screen font is MS Sans Serif. Serifs are the finishing strokes in fonts, and a font that doesn't use these is called a sans-serif face. MS Sans Serif is almost identical to Windows 3.0's Helv, and it's used for icon captions in Program Manager and minimized icons on your desktop.
Of the remaining screen fonts, Terminal, also called the OEM font, is important because it's the one you see in a typical DOS box.
You'll find all these screen fonts in your SYSTEM subdirectory with the extension FON. The exact form of the name will vary according to your display type. You'll probably see the following names with the x replaced by either an E (for VGA displays) or an F (for 8514 displays): COURx.FON (Courier), SERIFx.FON (MS Serif), SSERIFx.FON (MS Sans Serif), SMALLx.FON (Small Fonts), and SYMBOLx.FON (Symbol).
The screen fonts that are available in a single point size (which is determined by your display) are xSYS.FON (System), xFIX.FON (Fixedsys), and xOEM.FON (OEM or Terminal), where x is probably either VGA or 8514.
You can have some fun with your system font and your icon caption font by making substitutions. Find the [Desktop] section in WIN.INI that says Icon TitleFaceName and substitute System (or any other installed font) for MS Sans Serif. If the line isn't there already, add it.
The plotter fonts (Modern, Roman, and Script) are scalable, which means they're available in any point size. With True-Type, these plotter fonts are unnecessary, but they're provided for compatibility with previous Windows versions. You'll probably never need them.
That's it for screen fonts, also called raster or bitmapped fonts. Next month, I'll talk about TrueType--how it works and why you should use it.