Font Auto-activation: Global vs. Plug-in based auto-activation - Extensis.com

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Font Auto-activation: Global vs. Plug-in based auto-activation

Monday February 23rd, 2009 by Jim Kidwell

Extensis Font SenseFont auto-activation is the holy grail of font management. When it works properly, when any document is opened, the precise fonts used in that document’s creation are activated. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

There are many ways that font management companies like Extensis have been implementing auto-activation over the years. Automatic activation can depend heavily upon the operating system, or be controlled by external plug-ins that must be written for each design application.

In the case of Mac OS X, global auto-activation is controlled deeply by the operating system. If implemented properly by the software developer, an application can send a request to the font manager to activate a font. This is called global auto-activation. Typically the applications request fonts by the PostScript name. This works well if you only have one version of a font. But if you have multiple versions, such as a TrueType, PostScript and dFont versions, they may all have the same PostScript name. Thus, you may inadvertently get a different version than the font originally used in the document.

Plug-in activation can work in much the same way, but the font activation requests are sent directly from the plug-in to the font manager. Depending upon how the plug-in was developed, you may or may not get any better activation results than with global auto activation. If you use a non-professional font manager, you can never be sure how the plug-ins were developed.

With Extensis plug-ins, we have integrated a font matching technology called Font Sense. Through this technology, we are able to accurately identify a specific font, not only through its type, but also through its kerning metrics and other characteristics unique to each font. Think of Font Sense like a fingerprint for your fonts. When the plug-ins for Suitcase Fusion or Universal Type Server make a font activation request, you can be sure that the correct font is always activated. We currently have plug-ins for the most commonly used design applications, including Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and QuarkXPress.

As an additional precaution to prevent inadvertent activation, we also integrated a new feature in Suitcase Fusion 2 that gives you the ability to limit which applications are able to globally request font activation. Basically, you create a list of applications that you consider OK to automatically activate fonts. So, while you’re working on an Adobe InDesign document, if you open another document in Microsoft Word, you can be sure that Word isn’t able to activate fonts that may conflict with those you’re currently using with your InDesign document.

So, if you haven’t tried plug-in based font auto-activation, I highly recommend that you download a demo of any of our font managers and check it out for yourself.