October 4, 2005

FONTpage: A quick and easy font viewer

Author: Joe Barr

The importance of an application has less to do with its size or popularity than it does with the importance of the need it fulfills. Recently I needed a font viewer, so I was happy to find FONTpage 0.2, a new font viewing utility written by Paul Sherman. FONTpage allows you to input text, display it in any of your system fonts, and, if you like, create a PNG image of the text. I found it handy for creating Web site logos.

FONTpage is a GPLed Python program. You can download it as a Slackware package, source code, or as an executable binary. You'll also need GTK+2-2.6, Python-2.4, pyGTK-2.6, and Fontconfig, unless you grab the binary, in which case all the dependencies are taken care of for you. Being the lazy type, that's exactly what I did.

About the author

FONTpage is not Paul Sherman's first free software offering. A quick look around his Web site shows a number of handy tools. I was curious about his background, so I asked. Paul explained that he is a "newspaper photographer turned stay-at-home Dad doing computer repair." He needed a Web site for his computer repair work, so he decided to try Slackware and -- in his words -- "fell in love with open source."

Sherman said, "I make apps primarily for my own use. I used to do a lot of Web pages and I was never happy with the editors available, so I wrote Abacus with VB for Windows -- many years ago now. I did the same when I changed all my machines over to Linux, making HTMLRox, which evolved into HTMLpage. I wanted something simple but with the functions I wanted and would use.

"That is the main attraction to the type of software most open source is -- simple, single-purpose tools. The greatest value to me of open source is not that it is free, it's about control -- doing the job I want it to do, and nothing less, and hopefully not much more."

Sherman also explained why he licenses his software under the GPL, saying, "Others want the same control. I appreciate other people's tools and examples, so I feel I should give back."

One thing that's been missing is feedback. He told us, "I was hoping for help and feedback -- but have been disappointed. Except for Tilo Reimer (original Monica author) I haven't gotten much of any feedback about anything yet. But I think if I make something more useful and more widely used, feedback will follow."

After decompressing the tarball, I followed the notes in the INSTALL text and created a symbolic link named FONTpage in /usr/bin from the executable FONTpage in the installation directory. (Because I'm a lazy typist, I later deleted that link and created one of the same name, but in all lower case.)

Start the program, and up pops the FONTpage window you see below. Under the covers, FONTpage uses the fc-list utility from Fontconfig to get a list of all the fonts known to it on your system; if you have added fonts and have not told Fontconfig about them, they won't appear. FONTpage displays the names of the fonts in alphabetical order beneath a caption reading "Font Face Name." You can click on the font name or the up/down arrows to the right of it to display all the fonts available or to choose another font.

The bottom portion of the FONTpage window shows the current text, which starts out as the name of the font face being displayed. If you want to display your own string of text, enter it in the entry box beneath the "Set Text" button, then click that button when you're done.

You can also select bold or italic style, font size, and background and foreground colors to use. These options make the utility useful for quick-and-easy creation of logo, banner, or navigation images for a Web site. To save your image, click on the Make Image button when what you see is what you want. Of course, if all you want to know is how a certain text string looks in a certain font, all you need to do is select the font you want to see. It's quick and easy, just as it should be.

FONTpage lets you easily add and delete fonts from the list of those available under Fontconfig. If you find a cool new font and want to use it in the GIMP's Script-Fu, a few clicks in FONTpage will make it available to the GIMP and any other applications on your system that use Fontconfig.

So there you have it. The next time you want to view some new fonts, find just the right font for your own special need, or even create a PNG text graphic using the font you've selected, give FONTpage a try. It's a quick, easy solution to all three needs. And if you do, complete the circle by providing its author feedback on the project.

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