Default Fonts

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    Operating system defaults

    What fonts can you assume Windows users will have? Mac users? And how about (gulp!) Linux & other UNIX users? Oh, & don't forget mobile users: iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), Android, & Windows Phone 7!

    One answer can be found at Code Style Font Sampler, which asks visitors to fill out a survey asking them about the fonts they have on their computers. You should take the results with a grain of salt, as the results are biased in favor of users who:

    1. visit the site,
    2. agree to take the survey, &
    3. are able to correctly determine the fonts on their computers

    Still, it provides some useful results. Go take a look & it'll give you some numbers you can work with.

    Various resources also exist that give web developers some hard numbers & lists they can use when determining the fonts available on various operating systems.

    Windows

    The number of fonts Microsoft includes with its OS has been steadily increasing:

    For more info, you can look at various webpages:

    In addition to these, you should also check out Microsoft's “Fonts and Products”, which lists fonts supplied not only with Microsoft’s products, but also included in UNIX, Mac OS X, & Adobe products.

    Mac OS X

    You can find out information about the fonts that come with Mac OS X from various websites:

    UNIX & Linux

    There are hundreds of different UNIX variants out there (Linux itself is one, and there are hundreds of variants of Linux!), so saying with certainty what fonts are safe to assume are on any particular user's UNIX box is difficult. Fortunately, even though there are hundreds of UNIX flavors, there are only a few that make up the majority of desktop use.

    With that in mind, here are some webpages that will help you get an understanding of the fonts you can expect to find on UNIX systems:

    iOS

    When the iPad came out, it had more fonts on it than did the iPad. Apple has since rectified that, & it's my guess that it will continue to make sure both devices have the same number of fonts on them.

    iOS Version Fonts
    iPhone iPad
    1 12
    4 40 57
    5 58 58

    For more info on iOS fonts, check these websites out:

    Android

    Android is a bit more complicated, because while it doesn't include very many built in fonts, apps can bundle whatever fonts they want (note that this is now true for Apple's iOS as of version 4; however, since iOS also comes with over 50 built in fonts, most apps don't need to include their own).

    Android versions 1 through 3 (code names: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, & Honeycomb) included only 3 fonts:

    You can read more about Droid:

    Starting with version 4 of Android (codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich), Google introduced a new standard font: Roboto. Here are some webpages about Roboto:

    Windows Phone 7

    Windows Phone 7 out of the box supports 16 fonts, including those in [Core Fonts for the Web][] plus a few others. If you do not specify font-family, Segoe WP is used by default. However, like Android & iOS, developers can embed their own fonts in their apps if they desire.

    Microsoft's Core Fonts for the Web

    From 1996 to 2002, Microsoft made a collection of fonts it called "Core Fonts for the Web" available for free to anyone who wanted to download them (they were included on Windows, of course).

    Why? The company wanted there to be a standard set of fonts that web developers could count on in their work. By & large, that objective was met, & even though Microsoft officially ended the program a decade ago, those fonts are still included in Windows and on all Macs, and are still legally available all over the Web (in fact, a survey on the Ubuntu Forums indicates that over 75% of Ubuntu users have the Core Fonts installed; Ubuntu, for those who don't know, is the most widely used desktop variant of Linux).

    Now let's briefly look at those fonts.

    Andalé Mono

    Type: Monospace
    Width: Narrow
    Should you use it? Sure

    Andale Mono

    Andalé Mono (pronounced an-delay) is a pretty good monospaced font, & it used to be my favorite for coding. In particular, Andalé Mono does a great job distinguishing between zero & capital O, & the capital I, the lowercase l, & the number one. However, Microsoft no longer distributes it on Windows (although it still comes with Mac OS X), & instead promotes Lucida Console as its replacement.

    Arial

    Type: Sans serif
    Width: Narrow
    Should you use it? Try to avoid

    Arial

    Arial isn't a horrible font—it's just boring & overused ("generic" & "bland" are used to describe it). It's also, interestingly, a ripoff of Helvetica, one of the best fonts ever made1. Basically, Microsoft didn't want to license Helvetica, so instead it licensed the far cheaper Arial, a poor copy of a far better font2. For years it was the default header font in Word (although that's finally ended since Office 2007), which meant that it was already overexposed before it started popping up on millions of websites. If you must use it, place it next to last in your CSS font stacks, as a fallback before you finally give up with the generic sans-serif. And please put Helvetica ahead of it, so those of us with decent fonts can enjoy that instead.

    Comic Sans

    Type: Cursive
    Width: Who cares?
    Should you use it? Not if you want to get any respect

    Comic Sans

    Widely derided as one of the worst fonts ever made, you should never use Comic Sans on the Web. Or in print. Or in anything, ever. It's a ugly, stupid, crappy font that makes anything it touches look ugly, stupid, & crappy as well. Do not use Comic Sans or you will lose my love & that of your parents & friends.

    Courier New

    Type: Monospace
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Not if Andale Mono is available

    Courier

    Courier New is designed to look like a typewriter. Whoop de doo. It's also a poor copy of the much better (& classic!) Courier.

    Courier vs. Courier New
    Image from http://daringfireball.net/2007/07/iphone_fonts

    Boring, unimaginative, & with no good differentiation between easily-confused characters (see Andale Mono above, which does a great job at this), Courier New should never be anyone's first choice for a monospaced font. Since it's on so many computers, I guess it's acceptable—barely—to use at the bottom end of a CSS font stack, like this: "Andale Mono", Courier, Courier New, monospace.

    Georgia

    Type: Serif
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Sure

    Georgia

    Georgia a serif font designed to be read on screen, not on paper. As such, it's wide, legible, and attractive. Note that I said "attractive", not gorgeous—it's not a font that takes your breath away, but it is one that's easy to stare at for hours. You can use it as a body font, but I wouldn't (I vastly prefer sans-serif fonts for that); instead, I'd feel free to use it as a header font.

    Impact

    Type: Slab serif
    Width: Narrow
    Should you use it? Very sparingly

    Impact

    Impact is a heavy, slab serif font that is designed to, well, make an impact. As such, it should be used rarely & in short bursts. Not for headers (well, I guess on the right website it'd be OK for headers), but for special occasions.

    Times New Roman 3

    Type: Serif
    Width: Narrow
    Should you use it? No

    Times New Roman

    Microsoft made Times New Roman the default body font in Word (although that's changed since Office 2007), guaranteeing that millions upon millions of users had to look at it all day on printouts. To be honest, back then that wasn't awful, since the font was designed for print4. The problem was that Microsoft in its pin-headed brilliance made it the default font in Internet Explorer, which was a terrible decision. Times New Roman might look fine in print, but it looks like utter crapola on screen, being too thin & wispy to work well in that media. And even if it didn't look awful on a computer monitor, it's still ridiculously overexposed, like a rapper that guests on 5 of the top 10 current hits. Do not use Times New Roman on your websites.

    Trebuchet MS

    Type: Sans serif
    Width: Narrow
    Should you use it? Sure, with caveats

    Trebuchet MS

    Trebuchet (pronounced treb-oo-shet, & named for a medieval catapault) is a sans-serif font with a bit of class about it. It looks nice, & if you want to use it as a body font, or as a header (but not both at the same time!), go right ahead. I only have one complaint about Trebuchet MS, & it keeps me from using it on my sites: I dislike, no, I hate … no, I absolutely loathe to the center of my being its ampersand character. If the devil himself were designing ampersands that he wished to use in order to pollute the earth, the ampersand in Trebuchet MS is what he would create. And here it is:

    Trebuchet ampersand

    Vile & disgusting5. And now I will go wash myself.

    Verdana

    Type: Sans serif
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Yes

    Verdana

    Verdana is a font that was designed for screen reading6, & it does a great job at that. If you want to use it high up on your CSS font stack, even first in the list, go right ahead—around 99% of Windows & Mac computers have it on them, & almost 70% of Linux boxes. In fact, I usually change my web browser's font prefs to make Verdana the default (if Candara isn't available; see more below), & my eyes always appreciate it.

    Webdings

    Type: Wingdings
    Width: N/A
    Should you use it? Uhhhh…

    Webdings

    Want to insert little pictures into your document when you press letters on your keyboard? In other words, press these letters & output these shapes?

    Webdings example

    Then you want a font that falls into a special category called dingbats. You will not use these often, but when you need them, they're nice to have. And, I have to admit, they're fun. Webdings is a dingbat font, & it has some fun characters in it, as you can see. One really nice thing about it: most of its characters don't have Unicode equivalents, so these are the only place you can easily get some of these images. Just don't go nuts with the dingbat fonts & litter your webpages with them. Show some restraint!

    Microsoft's ClearType Font Collection

    Introduced with Windows Vista, Office 2007 for Windows, & Office 2008 for Mac OS X.

    Calibri

    Type: Sans serif
    Width: Narrow
    Should you use it? Sure

    Calibri

    Starting in Office 2007, Microsoft replaced the default body font Times New Roman with Calibri, meaning that it's now familiar to millions of people all over the world. I don't prefer it for body text on websites (instead, I'd look at Corbel or Candara—or even good ol' Verdana!—for that), but it's not terrible. If you're looking for a sans-serif for headers (because you're using serifs for the body), Calibri would be a good choice.

    Cambria

    Type: Serif
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Sure

    Cambria

    Not a bad serif font. At least it's a heck of a lot more readable on screen than Times New Roman. In particular, it's nice for business-y sites. By default, this is the new header font in Microsoft Office 2007 & up.

    Candara

    Type: Sans serif
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Sure

    Candara

    Candara has some very interesting design choices in it, including, as Wikipedia points out: "both entasis and ekstasis on opposite sides of stems, high-branching arcades in the lowercase, large apertures in all open forms, and unique ogee curves on diagonals." Candara is a sort of replacement for Verdana, but I still prefer Verdana, although Candara will work if you want something fresher & more stylish.

    Consolas

    Type: Monospace
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Sure

    Consolas

    Since Andalé Mono is no longer included with Windows, Consolas is now the best monospaced font for coding that comes with Windows (sure, you can always search out others & install them, but I'm only talking about those that are already installed with Windows7). For instance, the zero actually has a slash through it so you can tell it apart from the capital O, & it's easy to tell the number one & the small letter l apart. Use Consolas instead of Courier New if you can.

    Constantia

    Type: Serif
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Sure

    Constantia

    It's not a bad serif font at all; it just doesn't do much for me (although others really dig it). Give it a whirl. And keep in mind that Constantia was designed for both screens and print, so feel free to use it in both contexts.

    Corbel

    Type: Sans serif
    Width: Wide
    Should you use it? Sure

    Corbel

    Corbel is a pretty nice sans-serif font, but it's no Frutiger, which it copies closely. In particular, the numbers in Corbel are nicely done. Use this instead of Trebuchet or Arial (please!).


    1. For a nice visual primer about how to tell the difference between Arial & Helvetica (& Grotesque), take a look at "How to Spot Arial". 

    2. For the whole sorry story, see "The Scourge of Arial". To summarize: "Arial gets chosen because it’s cheap, not because it’s a great typeface". 

    3. Note that Times Roman is not the same as Times New Roman, although the two fonts are very similar. 

    4. How much was Times New Roman designed for print? It was actually developed in 1931 for The Times of London newspaper. Doesn't get more print focused than that! 

    5. There is a good historical reason for the Trebuchet ampersand. It still sucks. 

    6. According to Wikipedia, you can tell it was designed for the screen by its "lack of serifs, large x-height, wide proportions, loose letter-spacing, large counters, and emphasized distinctions between similarly-shaped characters". 

    7. If you use a newer version of the Mac editor BBEdit, you're probably using Consolas, as the company that makes BBEdit licensed the font for inclusion with the program. 

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