The nascent Web Open Font Format (WOFF) is getting a boost this week thanks to some new initiatives being kicked off by the W3C, the web’s governing body.
The W3C recently created a working group to build a WOFF into a web standard, and that group will be holding its first face-to-face meeting at theTypeCon 2010 conference taking place this week in Los Angeles.
Representatives from the major browser vendors, several font foundries and web services providers will be in attendance. Also, a dozen or so select individuals will be participating in a series of presentations and panel discussions about WOFF throughout the conference. All the design industry folks in attendance will get a peek at the future of high-quality typography on the web. There are scores of topics on the program, but this year, WOFF is getting top billing.
Things are looking up for web fonts in general. Monday, Typekit announced a partnership with Adobe to include the company’s fonts as part of its licensing service. Last month, Google launched a new tool (tied to its Font API) that makes it dead easy to include any of its open source fonts in website designs.
The Web Fonts working group was formed earlier this year at the W3C, and the group has already released the first working draft of the specification that will eventually lead to WOFF becoming a recommended web standard.
WOFF works just like OpenType and TrueType — you use the
@font-face CSS property to drop the fonts in — but the font data is compressed, so the files download faster, and you can include more fonts in your designs without worrying as much about payload bloat.
The W3C adds this bit: “The WOFF format is not expected to replace other formats such as TrueType/OpenType/Open Font Format or SVG fonts, but provides an alternative solution for use cases where these formats may be less performant, or where licensing considerations make their use less acceptable.”
Support for WOFF is already strong — Google, Mozilla, Apple, Opera and Microsoft browsers either ship with or are building support, and the fast-moving foundries are releasing WOFF fonts — so why is the W3C’s involvement a big deal when the open source format is enjoying such success?
Standardization by the W3C is the best path to true interoperability. It will keep all the parties on the same page when it comes to things like accessibility, cross-browser compatibility, internationalization and search engine indexing. How much metadata to include and how it is handled are also big issues. Plus, fonts have taken an astonishingly long time to arrive on the web because of red tape around licensing, and a collaborative process for developing licensing infrastructures will go a long way toward convincing some of the more conservative type designers to make web-friendly versions of their creations.
The standard will take years to complete (the process is very slow — we’re guessing 2012 or so), and until then, we’ll see designers, developers and innovative service providers like Typekit and Google continue to feed the interest in fancy web fonts. Those not on the bleeding edge may be stuck in the boring world of “web safe” fonts for a while, but at least the future is bright.