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FreeType Project Cheers TrueType Patent Expiration 203

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the just-wait-it-out-i-guess dept.
FlorianMueller writes "The FreeType project celebrates the expiration of Apple's TrueType bytecode patents. The open source font rendering engine now has the bytecode technology enabled by default. The relevant code existed for some time, but the project felt forced to disable it and advise everyone not to use it due to patent encumbrance. The 20-year maximum of validity of software patents is long, but sometimes the stuff that becomes available is still useful. The Unisys GIF patent was an example. And anything open-sourced 20 years ago would also be patent-free by now (except for the code that has since been added)."
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FreeType Project Cheers TrueType Patent Expiration

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  • Didn't most distributions that shipped FreeType enable usage of TrueType fonts by default already, or am I misunderstanding this?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:06PM (#32952024)

      The bytecode in question is about hinting and gridfitting (try Googling those terms): it tells the rendering engine (e.g. FreeType) how to scale fonts at small sizes so they look good. By default, FreeType just scaled text down, which can make it hard to read at small sizes and give blurry edges. Although it did make some efforts to guess what would make good grid alignment decisions, they couldn't used the wealth of information that some fonts' designers painstakingly design into their work by default. It's one of the reasons why fonts on Linux look like crap at small sizes, especially with antialiasing turned off. (Remember that Windows never had problems when fonts were just displayed as black and white!)

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        Thanks for the info.

        Maybe they'll look even better now, but I actually thought I'd figured out what had my fonts on a stock Linux distribution looking bad: they were just too damned big :). It's one of those simple things, but compared to a Windows or a Mac desktop, I'd open up Ubuntu or the like and things would just look WRONG. After struggling with trying different fonts, anti-aliasing settings, etc, I eventually discovered that the "trick" to making them look right, for me, was just to drop the defaul

    • by russotto (537200)

      Didn't most distributions that shipped FreeType enable usage of TrueType fonts by default already, or am I misunderstanding this?

      Not using the patented method didn't disable TrueType, it just made TrueType fonts uglier. However, at least last time I checked, Ubuntu shipped with the patented method enabled, though Debian did not.

  • My google-fu must be weak today: is there an example comparing small font sizes with and without the byte code interpreter enabled?
    • by jisatsusha (755173) <sadako.gmail@com> on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:17PM (#32952170) Homepage
      There's this image [entropy.ch] (left without bytecode, right with) I found which has a comparison for a number of fonts, but the site mentions that other patches were also included, so it may not be entirely representative. Perhaps someone else can find a better example.
      • by stefanb (21140)
        Excellent! That was exactly what I was looking for. Looks like a very decent improvement with many fonts.
        • "Improvement". Um... no, the details of what makes the font appear distinctive area destroyed by "BCI". The fonts are not the same -- perhaps in terms of set-width, but not at all for typographic detail.

          I guess "BCI" simply replaces the actual character forms with something else at lower pixel resolutions.

          For example, look at the 13th line in the example - look at the lower case "c" and "d". Notice that the "BCI" version is considerably more open. Indeed, it has become a much more modern font! Note that ker

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        I'm having a very hard time trying to figure out any difference between those. What exactly should I be looking at/for?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by elmartinos (228710)

        Here you can see a comparison with mouseover effect:
        http://martin.ankerl.com/2009/01/22/beautiful-font-hinting-in-ubuntu-810/ [ankerl.com]

        • by spitzak (4019)

          That does not look like any hinting change, rather it is some kind of change to the subpixel filtering. As far as I can tell it is just switching from a more blurry version to a sharper (and lighter) version in the "old" one. I don't think either picture is showing correct subpixel filtering.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        So, the bytecode enabled column just looks blurrier. Not exactly a major leap in font technology.

  • This may become the next drive where software patents are concerned. In much the same way that the H1-B programs get extended and increased while unemployment is hitting new highs, software patents stifle business and innovation and keep the courts systems over-burdened... we need more of it!

  • Funny Enough... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wandazulu (265281) on Monday July 19, 2010 @11:59AM (#32951930)

    Apple apparently uses FreeType in the iPhone. Go to settings->General->Legal and you get the long list of projects uses in the iPhone; the Freetype project is mentioned about a third of the way down (right below the copyright notice for ncurses).

    I suppose Apple had no issue recompiling with the flag turned on.

    • I guess they felt they could violate their own patent?!

      • by DittoBox (978894)

        Funny me laughs at this.

        Pedantic me says that since they own the patents, it's just like if one of us was licensing the patent. Ergo, turning that option on at build-time would have been legally hunky-dory.

        Funny me laughs at it again though.

      • Wouldn't the GPL3 give them trouble with that, if someone called them on it?

        • I think the resulting irony would destroy the universe. Lets hope no one else ever thinks of it (or takes it seriously).

        • by compro01 (777531)

          I believe Freetype is only available under the GPL2 or the Freetype license (basically the 4-clause BSD license).

    • by Cyberax (705495)

      They are patent holders for that particular patents :)

    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:21PM (#32952238)

      I suppose Apple had no issue recompiling with the flag turned on.

      IIRC, the Freetype FAQ suggested that for commercial use, you could talk to Apple and get a license so that you can legally recompile with the flags on. I assume Apple sent an email to 127.0.0.1 to request such permission.

    • by Vahokif (1292866)
      That's because they don't need to license their own patent.
  • summary not precise (Score:2, Informative)

    by aepervius (535155)
    The code would be under copyright, but patent free. Not the same things. That mean you would not be able to COPY the code snippet, but you would be free to make your own implementation.
  • by nstrom (152310) on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:12PM (#32952102)
    Here's a side-by-side screenshot of Linux font rendering with and without the now patent-free byte code interpretation: http://avi.alkalay.net/2007/01/freetype-with-bytecode-interpreter.html [alkalay.net]
    • Oh no. I find the shot without BCI easier to read.

      Am I getting old? Do I like old things better than new things?

      I don't wanna grow up! I'm too young to own a lawn!

    • From your linked page:

      BTW, anti-aliasing is useful in 2 situations only: if you are rendering fonts in big sizes (bigger than 13px)

      And guess what: LCD subpixel rendering stretches the font outline horizontally by a factor of three as its first step. So if you're rendering a font at 9px, it's as if you were rendering it at 27px across.

      or if you have bad, non-hinted fonts (as Bitstream Vera)

      Case in point: I had to switch a client's web site from Helvetica to Arial (sorry, smug typophile weenies) because Helvetica's hints handle this stretching poorly, causing the upper bowls of letters like m, n, and r to overshoot the x-height by a whole pixel. When FreeType's autohinter performs better than Microsoft ClearType with BCI on Helvetica, something is up.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        When FreeType's autohinter performs better than Microsoft ClearType with BCI on Helvetica, something is up.

        Well, Microsoft ClearType was designed with the assumption that "better" = "readable on screen", not "faithful to the typeface design".

  • Copyright needs to be lowered. I find it amazing that huge industries were unable to extend the patent duration while the entertainment industries were able to extend this to over 100 years from the original 14+14 years.

    • Work around (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tepples (727027) <tepples@gmaiBLUEl.com minus berry> on Monday July 19, 2010 @12:49PM (#32952642) Homepage Journal

      Patents used to last 17 years after issue. But certain patent owners would employ dirty tricks to keep a patent in the "pending" state (filed but not issued). Now they last 20 years after filing, with an available 5-year extension for certain health care products to compensate for delays in getting the FDA's marketing approval. This greatly reduced the available techniques to keep a patent below water, though nonpracticing entities have discovered a few that still work.

      U.S. copyright is longer because a copyright is far easier to work around than a patent is to invent around. The methods used in a computer program cannot be copyrighted (17 USC 102(b)). Only the expression can, and the key case for that was CA v. Altai. Names of commands were ruled uncopyrightable in Lotus v. Borland, allowing look-alikes and work-alikes of office applications such as OpenOffice.org. But two disturbing copyright interpretations remain: the uncertainty in the scope of copyright in video game scenarios (Atari v. Philips ruled for wide copyright; Capcom v. Data East ruled for narrow), and the possibility of accidentally infringing the copyright in a sequence of musical notes that someone else happened to claim first (Bright Tunes v. Harrisongs).

  • Just because the patent expired doesn't make it great. Some of the stuff rendered with BCI almost makes me want to go back to bitmapped fonts. Or maybe it works well, but only with non-free fonts. If that's the case, here's hoping that free operating systems that use FreeType do NOT make this the default immediately.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxwell demon (590494)

      Well, it's simple: It gives good results if the designer of the font put considerable work into it (and the software correctly interprets it, but I assume that's the case). It gives terrible results if the font designer didn't. Now if it looks bad for free fonts, then I can imagine several possible causes:

      • There are simply no good font designers making free fonts. If that is the case, the patent expiring will not help.
      • The designers of free fonts didn't consider it worthwhile to put work in it because it was
  • Does anyone know how to enable with Freetype, the same kind of font appearance as apple does on OS X?

    Some say apples font rendering is a bit more blurry, but I find it easier on the eyes than stock font rendering under linux.

  • Well, Truetype BCI is useful but today most computer screens are LCD it isn't enough anymore, we also need a good subpixel rendering method, the one included in Freetype isn't so bad but isn't as good as Cleartype either. And the Cleartype code in freetype had been removed, unlike the BCI, which is only disabled, so we who don't live in the US can't use it either. (there are still a way to patch freetype though). I wonder how long will we have to wait until we can have nice looking fonts on Linux desktop.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Cleartype is awful. If we had that on Linux, I'd turn it off, just as I do on ever LCD XP machine I use.

  • by Linker3000 (626634) on Monday July 19, 2010 @01:23PM (#32953104) Journal
    Useful font stuff here:

    http://linuxtweaking.blogspot.com/2010/03/fedora-12-improving-awful-font.html [blogspot.com]
    I've just enabled byte code support on my laptop - makes a big difference.

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