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Fonts in Microsoft Windows

To the average PC user, fonts may not seem like the most interesting of topics . However, there is more to the subject than many may think. Windows comes with a considerable assortment of different types of fonts and characters that allow for considerable flexibility in format and a wide assortment of distinctive and artistic effects in Windows documents. There is support for a number of languages and for many special symbols. In this article, I will cover some of the aspects of Windows fonts and some ways that you can liven up your documents or make use of the special symbols.


The fonts on the Windows system

Font files have the extension .FON or .TTF (true-type) and are listed in the special system folder /Windows/Fonts/. (If you have additional fonts that are specific to a particular printer, those may be elsewhere and have a different extension.) The system font folder can also be reached through Control Panel-Fonts. To see what a font looks like, left double-click on its file (or right-click and choose "Open"). This procedure can be tedious if you are interested in looking at more than one or two fonts or if you want to compare fonts. There are many software programs, some free, some shareware, for viewing or managing fonts. One good freeware program is from Karen Kenworthy.

The standard Windows installations have around 100-200 fonts (the exact number depending on your setup). The following fonts are included with Windows and are installed on every computer

  • Courier New (TrueType, including Bold, Italic, and Bold Italic variations)
  • Arial (TrueType, including Bold, Italic, and Bold Italic variations)
  • Times New Roman (TrueType, including Bold, Italic, and Bold Italic variations)
  • Symbol (TrueType)
  • Wingdings (TrueType)
  • MS Serif
  • MS Sans Serif

In addition, Windows has several hidden system font files (for example, Dosapp.fon, Vgafix.fon) that don't show in the Fonts folder or in Control Panel. These fonts may be shown, however, in some font management utilities. Windows requires these hidden font files for various system interfaces. There are also standard fonts intended mostly for use in displaying Web pages or in applications like PowerPoint (the Garamond, Georgia, Tahoma, Trebuchet, and Verdana families, for example). Some fonts are for foreign languages (WST_czec.fon, WST-ger.fon, for example). As well as the fonts intended for screen display, there may be additional fonts just for printers.

If you look at the whole list of fonts that are on your computer, you will probably find some that are rarely, if ever, needed. Since all the fonts are loaded each time Windows is started and each font file requires a certain amount of time to load, some people shave a little bit off the startup time by uninstalling some unused fonts. In a normal setup with 100-200 fonts or so, it is unlikely to make a big difference for the average user. However, sometimes software programs install extra fonts and if you find yourself with 1000 fonts, you may wish to consider reducing the number. A study has shown that 1000 fonts impacts startup times noticeably.

Installing and uninstalling fonts

If you do find that you wish to uninstall a font, you can simply go to the font folder and delete the unwanted fonts. A better idea might be to move the font file to another folder. This will keep the font from loading but will not remove the font information from the Registry. Should you want the font back, then it is a simple matter of putting the file back into the Fonts folder.

The fonts that come with Windows or that other software programs install are by no means the only fonts that you can use. To augment the fonts that come with Windows , there is a coterie of font fanatics who love nothing better than designing new fonts, some of which are freely available on the Web. Many others are for sale. Once they start adding new fonts, some people seem to find it hard to stop. Anyway, there are many sites on the Web for obtaining new fonts and getting information about fonts. See the section below.

Windows has support for a number of modern languages but if you need fonts in more esoteric languages, Microsoft lists some vendors at its foundry site. To search for a particular font, go to this Microsoft page,

To install or reinstall a font go to the Fonts folder, either through Control Panel or by opening Windows\Fonts. In the "File" menu, select "Install New Font". A dialog box will open. Select the drive and the folder where the new font file is located. A list of any font files that are found in the indicated location will appear under the "List of fonts" heading. Highlight the desired font and check "Copy fonts to Fonts folder". To select multiple fonts, hold down the Control key and highlight all desired fonts. Click "OK".

The procedures for installing and uninstalling fonts are also given in this Microsoft Knowledge Base Article.

If you use fonts that are not standard in Windows, keep in mind that documents or Web pages that you prepare with these fonts may look nifty on your machine but will probably have a different appearance on any system lacking any special fonts you use.

Font Resources

ClearType

In Windows XP, Microsoft introduced some new technology called ClearType. It is designed primarily for LCD displays and is therefore mostly applicable to notebooks and to desktops using flat panel displays. It improves font display resolution and screen readability for this type of display. Some people claim that it helps regular CRT monitors also but I could see no effect when I tried it on my CRT. (Of course, my eyesight isn't too good.)

To turn ClearType on:

  1. Right click on the desktop and select "Properties".
  2. Select the "Appearance" tab and click the button "Effects…".
  3. Put a check in the box next to the words "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts" and select "ClearType" from the drop down box.
  4. Close the Effects dialog by clicking "OK" and click "Apply".

Microsoft also has a Web site where you can turn ClearType on and go through a configuration process for the best settings.

Character map and special symbols

Windows comes with a special accessory program called "Character Map" that provides for a wide array of special characters and symbols, which are derived from the font files. These are discussed on the next page.


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