Web Publishing for Genealogy

Designing Your Web Site

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Using Fonts

The relation between fonts and the Web is currently in a state of transition. The original design of HTML did not have any way of allowing the use of specific fonts on a Web page. Browsers could, and still do, choose between a proportional font and a fixed width font, the latter used for displaying text with a number of particular tags. These fonts default to Times and Courier on Windows and Macintosh systems, but the user can change these to any font installed on his or her system, just like any other browser preferences.

Then, with html 3.0, Netscape and Microsoft introduced a <FONT>tag, mainly used to control font size and colour, but which in Microsoft's Internet Explorer also supported a choice of font face. This tag then became part of the html 3.2 standard, and is now widely used. The problem is that a browser can use only fonts that are available to it on the machine it is running on, something a Web author cannot possibly know. So while you can specify anyfont you like when designing a Web page, the chances of it appearing on the reader's browser are unpredictable. One way round this is to specify a list of similar fonts a let the browser use the first one it can find. So, for example, on encountering the tag:

<FONT FACE="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">

a browser will first look for Arial (present on all Windows systems), then for Helvetica (which it will find on any Macintosh), and if it can find neither of those it will use any sans-serif face it can find on the system.

The other way is to use a graphics program to turn the text in a particular font into a graphic. Obviously this is not something you would want to do for an entire page, but it's a very useful way of getting a precise font match on something like a logo, where it might be important not have some unspecified, vaguely similar font.

Text Box: A further, though only partial, solution is to use Microsoft's Web fonts. These are fonts that have been designed specifically for viewing on screen and have good readability. They are included in Internet Explorer on both Mac and Windows platforms. If you do not use Explorer, they are freely downloadable from Microsoft's Web site.[28] Of course, you cannot rely on all readers having these fonts installed, but many will.

In the future, we will see facilities for a font that is required on a page to be loaded with that page, in the same way that graphics are now. Software companies and w3c are working towards this currently, though there are still technical and copyright problems to be solved.[29]

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4. Designing Your Web Site