Best font managers for linux?

Date: 17 Jan, 2009
Posted by: admin
In: design, fonts & graphics|hints & tips|linux, open source & software

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The first question is “Are there any font managers for linux?”. Here I mean an application for sorting and categorising fonts that presents ready previews and allows for easy font selection. Of course there are lots of other useful features, like creating printable “font books” …

The answer is that there doesn’t seem to be one good solution to font management, not really yet from what I can see. Sorry.

Font managers for Linux

Here are some maybes, in rough order of my preference, YMMV:

  • Fonty Python , the clues in the name, it claims to do what I need!
  • FontMatrix 0.4.2-2, can’t work out how to tag my fonts with this, bit flakey for me on Kubuntu. Note this is in active development and so the latest 0.5.x release may be worth compiling for yourself.
  • Font Manager – another python script that looks good, nice and clean interface but quite “hacky” according to the dev; as yet untested by me.
  • defoma 0.11.10-0.2ubuntu1, sounds promising “Debian Font Manager”, but is actually an esoteric command line application
  • KFontInst (from kdebase-workspace-bin 4.1.96) is not yet worked up but in KDE4 is rumoured to be getting a make over as a full font manager

To be fair to Kubuntu, using the fonts:// location via the dolphin file manager is pretty good. I can easily add and remove fonts and the previews aren’t too bad. The thing I really need out of all this is a way to tag and select fonts so when I’m next looking for a shaky cursive font I can find one in a couple of minutes rather than trawling thousands of fonts.

Fonty Python

Used to be at nongnu.org having moved from fontypython.webfactional.com with the main developers blog also being a source for news apparently. There’s 0.3.7-alpha from November 2008, the previous version being 0.3.6 (from January 2008, which is also when the dev last blogged about “Fonty”) so it doesn’t look like there’s fast progress. Definitely worth looking at and considering further. Tombuntu covered installation in it’s May 2008 issue although it is currently available in the Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid (Universe) repositories and so package fontypython_0.3.6-1_all.deb can be installed with apt-get.

Font Matrix

Was discussed in Linux.com’s December 2007 issue which is also coincidentally when the app was mentioned in a Scribus Developer blog.

Questions from other reviews

Why deactivate fonts? + howto print a font book

Linux.com did a review including Font Matrix and Fonty Python. Questions asked their include why you would want to deactivate a font when Linux doesn’t hold them in memory just because they’re installed and also removes [from memory] fonts used when the application using them closes.

So, the main reason I see is that applications that compile a list of a couple of thousand fonts don’t always handle them well. Apps like Scribus and Inkscape do sanity/quality checking of fonts when the application opens – that can take a long time. Moreover scrolling through a list of a huge number of artistic/fantasy fonts in your word processor (OpenOffice.org, KOffice, etc.) can be tedious when you only normally use one of perhaps 20 fonts in letters and the like.

Printing a font book can be achieved with several apps. I used a windows application whose name I can’t remember. But I do know that Scribus has a python script that will compile a font book … it doesn’t seem to be very optimised however and has taken a long time to run for me in the past.

Features I’d like to see in a font manager

Some ideas:

  • Tagging and scoring like a cross between Firefox’s awesome bar and Amarok.
  • Filtering by score (eg 5 stars) and by tag names, with logical operations. Thus you could show all “((5 star AND serif fonts) OR 4*+ non-serif fonts) NOT dingbat fonts, for example.
  • Glyph comparison – show a grid of all glyphs corresponding to the same letter (ie same Unicode number). This would be handy for doing a visual search for particular letter shapes.
  • Glyph matching by drawing – draw a font glyph shape and get the closest matching fonts (like how Retrievr works on Flickr’s most interesting pictures; off-topic you might like Spell with flickr too).
  • Font testing features like Typetester would also be nice, using a narrow selection (3 on Typetester) of fonts one can compare them side by side with different weights (boldness), types (eg italic, book, serif) and sizes.

Other?

A few other possibles are available on SF.net and Freshmeat, but not many that are active (in the last year) and do anything more than just show fonts. I trawled through UbuntuForums.org too without really finding anything good. LinuxPlanet gave me an idea (though had nothing else to add to what I’d found) about looking at font choosers in graphics packages, the example that sparked it was CorelDraw from 2000; OpenOffice.org for example has a lovely drop down selector with a good preview of the fonts.

These are my pick from SF.net based on the info, not on installation (yet!).

  • orfont cross-platform, tagging, grouping, poor UI, old
  • gfontview 0.5.x, March 2001 – this I think is still in Gnome as the font viewer?
  • xfontselector April 2002 – font selection and comparison

Know of other font managers for Linux, then let us know about them in the comments section.

Now I’m off to compile and try the latest Fontmatrix …

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