Can browsers show text? I don't think so!

From: Michael Jansson (
Date: Tue Jul 02 2002 - 09:39:01 EDT

Postings on this list has recently touched the topic of using various
languages in web pages. Comments has been made of the use of embedded fonts
(eot and pfr), as well as the lack of support for these font formats in
popular browsers. This is a topic which I am very enthusiastic about, so I
can not help but to add a few comments myself.

Let me start by posing a question:
        "Can modern browsers show text?"
Specifically, can they show text of any language and formatting on all
platforms? I have to say; No they can not (possibly with the exception of
the browser Nophus).

The problem with browsers today is that although they may support Unicode
encoding schemes (e.g. UTF8), they typically rely on the platform/OS they
run on to show text. Platform without complete Unicode 3.x support will thus
not be able to show text correctly. For example, IE6 (or any other modern
browser) supports UTF8 but Win98 does not support Unicode 3.x. IE6 is thus
not able to show Unicode text on Win98. You may of course be able to show
some Unicode text on some platforms. This is far from claiming that a
browser support Unicode though. At most, you may claim that a browser on a
particular platform support some part of Unicode.

Further more, even if a browser knew how to rendered text (e.g. know about
the nitty-gritty details of glyph ordering, positioning and shaping that are
language specific), you need something called a font to show text. Fonts can
be provided as web resources through CSS 2, through a construct known as
@font-family rules. However, there are no browser that fully support CSS 2
today, and in particular @font-family rules. There are browser that support
@font-family on some platforms (e.g. for eot files on Windows). Again, this
is far from claiming that a browser support fonts on the web.

Modern browsers know how to show the characters 'A'-'Z' and a few other
characters as long as you don't expect to format the text with a specific
font. You will get into trouble as soon as you want to use a font or
characters from other languages. You may find a solution for some languages
and some fonts on some platforms. Yet again, this is far from claiming that
modern browsers can show text. (I do not consider solutions where you have
to download a 10MB+ language package to see a page in a foreign language.
It's not a viable solution.)

So what we have today are applications called "web browsers" that are very
good at showing images, and animations. They are not very good at showing
text, other than unformatted English text.

Fortunately, there are third party solutions to work around some of the
problems I mention above. Bitstreams "FontPlayer" (for pfr fonts for IE 5.x
and Nav 4.x on Windows), MS Typography's WEFT tools (for eot fonts in IE 5.x
on Windows), and our own FAIRY server solution (for eot fonts and language
support in IE 5.x, Nav 4.x, Nav 6.x and Opera 5.x on Mac and Win).

I do admire the work that people have done in creating quite outstanding web
browsers through the years, sometimes with no other reward than peoples
appreciation. I only wish that time were spent on supporting text, and not
just flashy content.

em2 Solutions
Michael Jansson

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Tue Jul 02 2002 - 08:02:09 EDT