September 9, 2002

The quality of Linotype Palatino


Linotype's Palatino is supposed to be a Unicode-compatible extension of Hermann Zapf's famous Palatino font. There are of course plenty of places on the web where this font can be grabbed for free. But professionals and companies pay a hefty fee for its use. On the web, there have been several complaints about the quality of this font. For testimonies and technical explanations, read on.

The complaint

Weebol complained on the comp.fonts newsgroup as follows: I'm using Office XP SP1. The drop-down box is there, and unicode (hex) selected. Everything else is there: standard fi etc ligatures, polytonic Greek characters etc, but not the additional ligatures (eg Qu, Th, sp, ct...), the small caps, old-style numerals and various other characters Fontlab shows to be present. Can anyone confirm that they *can* access these characters?

The explanation

Apostrophe provides the expert opinion on comp.fonts on September 8, 2002: I just took a quick look at the Palatino Linotype that ships with Windows to confirm my suspicion (funny I should see this thread here, actually -- read on). You will not be able to access these characters except in InDesign or the latest version of Photoshop. The reason for that is pretty simple: these glyphs were not assigned a Unicode value in the font, so they will not be seen by the Unicode table in Word (or any other table Word has, for that matter). It's a naive technician error. I have no idea who did this for Linotype/Microsoft, but whichever company assigned it didn't thoroughly test it before it shipped. I don't think the error is intentional either. It's more ignorant than anything. About 2 more hours of work on this font would have made it perfect.

Last week a client of mine brought me a very similar problem, except this has to do with the version of Zapfino that ships with the latest Mac OSX 'Jaguar'. The latest Zapfino is a .dfont, so I had to go through hell and high water to see the tables (using Apple's own tools is not a walk through the park). The similarities in erroneous work suggests to me that the person who built Palatino is the one who built this latest Zapfino as well. Lots of glyphs, dysfunctional Unicode tabulation, the majority of glyphs named with an underscore followed by 3 digits for some reason, some glyphs even named wrong or carry the same name as other glyphs... it's messy. I have no idea who this technician is, but whoever is commissioning him/her is not doing operating system manufacturers and users any favours. And for heaven's sake, why do we always embarrass Zapf!?

At any rate, the Palatino characters you will not be able to access in Unicode-enabled apps (such as Word) are: Kcedilla, Lcedilla, Ncedilla, Rcedilla, Tcaron, Tcedilla, alternate Eng, ggrave, kcedilla, rcedilla, tcedilla, lcedilla, ncedilla, all-cap germandbls, Qu, Th, ch, ck, ct, ft, fft, fb, ffb, fh, ffh, fk, ffk, fj, longsi, longsl, longslongs, longslongsi, longslongsl, longst, longsb, longsh, longsk, sp, tt, tz, all the superiors except the figures, all the linear non-tabular figures, all the OS figures, none of the fractions except oneeighth, threeeighths, fiveeighths and seveneighths, the alternates for yen and dollar and florin and paragraph, Pts, cruzero, sheckel, Abreve, Ebreve, Ymacron, Yhungarumlaut, abrave, ebreve, uni0438grave, uni0438macron, ymacron, yhungarumlaut, uni0463acute, Alphatonos, Etatonos, Iotatonos, Omegatonos, Upsilontonos, Omegatonos, alphatonos, etatonos, iotatonos, omegatonos, upsilontonos, omegatonos, all of the small caps characters, and pretty much all the accent mark alternates.

The OSX Zapfino is much much messier than this.

But hey, cheer up, you can access the interrobang.


David Opstad's reply

David Opstad replied: It's not an error. There's nothing that requires all glyphs in a font to have entries in the Unicode (or any other) 'cmap' subtable. Indeed, it's probably the case that those glyphs don't have assigned Unicodes, and the font manufacturer chose not to include then in the corporate-use areas. Those glyphs are generally accessed using other facilities via AAT on the Mac or OpenType on Windows.

Apostrophe's answer

Apostrophe refined his answer: I understand that, Dave. The Palatino glyphs that are not accessible via Unicode-enabled apps are certainly accessible with apps that support AAT and OpenType (all 2 of them). However, since this Palatino ships with Windows, why not spend the 2-3 extra hours and make it properly usable with Microsoft apps? Also, the amateurish parts of how the font was built are really really obvious, namely things like why would a font allow the second-level Greek sets to be accessed by Unicode apps but not some of the main characters like Alphatonos, Etatonos and Omegatonos, or why allow access to all the CE characters except the Tcaron, Abreve and Ebreve, or why only 4 fractions are accessible out of a compete set?

In the case of Zapfino, you will probably hear of much more trouble than inaccessible glyphs. The same name assigned to multiple glyphs can confuse a lot of printers. Apple promising Unicode compliance and shipping fonts that are not Unicode-compliant is just not right. Don't get me wrong... I love Apple, and I don't think they would knowingly sell a faulty product, but come on, a little more testing or a little more technician education would avoid a lot of user headache.

The font license

The Palatino Linotype that ships with Windows XP comes with this license: "This font file came with a piece of Microsoft software and is governed by the license agreement for that piece of software. This font may not be given away, sold, rented or loaned to others in any way, but you are allowed to make a backup copy of this font file. Additional Licenses Additional licenses may be purchased from Linotype Library GmbH. See for details or write to Linotype Library GmbH, DuPont Strasse 1, D-61352 Bad Homburg, Germany, Fax (49)6172-484 499. Modification You are not allowed to edit or modify this font, even for your own use. Please contact Linotype Library GmbH if you require a customized version of this font. You may pass the font to a service-bureau if you receive proof of ownership of a valid user license."

Apostrophe's reply to the user who would like to correct the errors in Linotype Palatino: Soooooooo, it says in there that you cannot modify the font, even for your own use. You cannot fix the manufacturer's incompetence with your own competence. Sorry, friend. Looks like you're out of luck. If I were you I'd email Lino and give them hell for this. I'm sure Microsoft paid an arm and a leg for these goods too, so perhaps emailing them would also help, since they'd probably take it up with Lino themselves -- but that may be one of the longer routes to take.


Copyright © 2002 Luc Devroye
School of Computer Science
McGill University
Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6