FontForge was an evolution

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

I like this history of what became FontForge. It sounds like a very slow process; a side project which got out of control.

In the early ’90s I was working at a little web start-up company, called NaviSoft, which was almost immediately bought by AOL. My product was an html-editor (best known as AOLpress). As I was working to convert it to handle Unicode I became concerned about the lack of Unicode fonts. I began working on my own Unicode font (just the alphabetics and symbols, I knew there was no way I’d be able to deal with all the CJK characters). I designed a font based on Caslon’s work with Bold and Italic variants. And then I started working on monospaced and sans-serif families (I called the sans-serif design “Caliban” as a play on Arial).

Aldus (the makers of Fontographer) had been bought by MacroMedia, and MacroMedia seemed to have no interest in continuing Fontographer. So development on Fontographer ceased. It did not support OpenType, and its unicode support was minimal. I began to write little programs to decode Type1 fonts and fix them up in various ways.

AOL did not really know what to do with AOLpress. AOLpress had been designed with web designers in mind, not with Steve Case’s mother (which was AOL’s target audience). So development on AOLpress ceased and the Unicode/CSS version never was completed. I continued to work on my fonts however and continued to be dissatisfied with Fontographer. In 1998 my AOL options matured and I was able to retire.

I wanted to try to become a primatologist and had made arrangements to spend 4 months in Madagascar as a field assistant to Chia Tan studying the Greater Bamboo lemur (Hapalemur simus). Sadly I found that I was not really cut out for that life. I had a hard time recognizing individual animals, and found that after a few months the leaches were more annoying than I had expected.

So I gave up on that.

Instead I set about working on an improved version of my html editor, and started by writing my own Unicode based widget set for it (this was before pango was out). When the widget set was usable I decided to write a small application to test it, and something to display the splines of a postscript font seemed just the thing. Having done that I figured I might as well allow people to edit those splines and save it back. And so was born the first version of PfaEdit.

Somehow the html-editor never got written.

I quickly discovered I was better at designing a font editor than I was at designing fonts, so I gave up on them too.

After a couple months of work I had something which worked, or so I thought, and I posted it to the web (my friend, Dan Kenan, very kindly gave me some space on his server, aptly named bibliofile) on 7 November of 2000. Within a month I had received my first bug report, and presumably had my first user.

I continued working on PfaEdit, adding support for pfb fonts and then in December for truetype and bdf fonts. I learned about sourceforge and moved PfaEdit there in April of 2001.

In April of 2001 I added support for type2 fonts embedded in an sfnt wrapper (opentype fonts, but not the advanced typographic tables). In July of 2001 MinGyoon (from Korea) asked me if PfaEdit could support CID keyed fonts so I learned about those and added support for them in August.

Valek Filippov suggested that I make PfaEdit be internationalizable, so I provided a mechanism and he provided a Russian translation of the user interface in June of 2001. On December of 2005 I gave up on my own system and switched to GNU gettext.

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