Typography refresh/Font choice

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This document is in development, see history for sources.

Current situation[edit]

The status quo in MediaWiki core is as follows: for prose, we specify simply "sans-serif" for all text. This results in the following fonts:

  • Windows: Arial
  • Mac OSX: Helvetica
  • Ubuntu/Firefox: DejaVu Sans (presumably other Linux variants are similar)
  • Ubuntu/Chrome: Liberation Sans
  • Android: Roboto
  • iOS: Helvetica

Note that the differences between Firefox and Chrome on Linux seem to stem from Firefox using the OS-standard font resolution mechanism, and Chrome having a built-in heuristic that seems to be very heavily biased toward Liberation Sans.

Body font evaluation[edit]

Ten sans serif fonts were evaluated for use as the body (content) font. Style and technical quality were evaluated in blind tests (the evaluators were not told which fonts they were judging).

  • Appropriate style scores are based on readability, neutrality, and "authority" (does the font look like it conveys reliable information).
  • Technical quality scores are based on how well the fonts rendered combining diacritics, ties, and other "obscure" Unicode features.[citation needed]
  • Installation base scores are based on which operating systems the fonts are installed on by default.
    • Originally based on cursory research on Wikipedia.
    • Some canonical resources for availability (please expand): Fonts supplied with Windows 8 and other Windows; MAC OS X; Ubuntu packages by downloads. And for popularity: Google Fonts analytics.
    • Installation base is often restricted by licenses: in particular proprietary licenses; but also strong free licenses like GPL (cf. FreeFont FAQ) and unlike OFL. Arimo, DejaVu, Droid, Open Sans and Roboto are not copyleft, so they can be distributed almost everywhere.[1]
    • OpenOffice and LibreOffice bundle some fonts by default. It should be checked what distributors bundle either by default in their Windows machines.
Font name Appropriate style[vague] Technical quality [vague] Installation base Total Score
Arial 8 8 9 (Win, MacOS, iOS) 25
Arimo 5 8 1 (Chrome OS [2])[1] 14
DejaVu Sans 0 8 4 (Most Linux) 12
Droid Sans 0 1 3 (Android) 4
FreeSans (GNU FreeFont) 0 10 4 (Most Linux) 14
Helvetica 8 10 4 (MacOS, iOS) 22
Helvetica Neue 10 0 4 (MacOS, iOS) 14
Liberation Sans 10 1 4 (Most Linux) 15
Open Sans 0 1 0 1
Roboto 5 1 3 (Android) 9

Another test done by volunteers aimed to reflect the actual typefaces rendered in different combinations of browsers and platforms under three different scenarios: no typefaces defined, only free typefaces specified, and free & proprietary typefaces defined.

Standard font evaluation criteria include the inadequate rendering support which can allow spoofing.


Future fonts for evaluation[edit]

Sans fonts[edit]

  • Linux: Ubuntu
  • Mac OSX: MS Trebuchet
  • Windows: MS Trebuchet

Notes[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 It is worth having more research on replacements for free and better alternatives to Arial, because it would seem that it's not hard to do better. For instance [1] lists HelveticaNeue as the first font, but proposes Arimo as a web font which may well look better on MS Windows. While it's unlikely that most MS Windows users will install Arimo, it sends a way better message if we can say "to make your Wikipedia reading experience better, download and install the free font Arimo" than it does to say "to make your Wikipedia experience better, please purchase Helvetica Neue for the low low price of $29.95". Furthermore, it may be worth it to try out the web font mechanism, and we might even be able to talk Mozilla and/or Google into shipping a free font or two with the browser so as to get some real install penetration with these fonts.