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Finding Free Fonts for Linux

Licensing and Liberation

  • July 6, 2010
  • By Joe Brockmeier

Getting a bit tired of the font selection your distribution ships with? Want a bit more variety for presentations or publications? Tons of fonts are available under open licenses, but only if you know where to look.

You'll find plenty of "free" fonts online, but not all of them are licensed under free or open source licenses. You have to be a bit careful when choosing free fonts if the licenses matter. Some are free to download but not distribute or modify, others are distributed without any licensing information at all. Those make me a bit nervous, as it's hard to tell whether someone is distributing a font legitimately or not. Other fonts have custom licenses that wouldn't qualify as OSI-compliant but might be good enough for personal or business use.

The point is, you need to be careful if licensing matters to you. You'll see lots of blogs linking to tons of downloadable fonts but the actual license is often unclear. So let's look for some resources that are clear.

Red Hat Liberation Fonts

The first project I think of on the topic of free fonts is the Red Hat Liberation fonts. Red Hat commissioned the Liberation family, which includes a serif, sans-serif, and monospace font to replace the most commonly used fonts on Windows. The Liberation family has the same font metrics as Times (serif), Arial (sans-serif) and Courier (monospace). The primary reason for these is to help convert Microsoft Office documents to OpenOffice.org. Having an equivalent font means that users don't lose all their formatting when converting from Word to OpenOffice.org. The fonts are truly Free, licensed under the GPL with an exception to clarify that documents using the font are not subject to the GPL – just the fonts themselves.

You should be able to find the Liberation fonts on most distributions, though they may not be installed by default. Search for Liberation in your favorite package tool, and you should find a package with all three or separate packages for each. On Ubuntu 10.04, for instance, you'll have the ttf-liberation package. Actually, if you do a search for ttf, you'll see a number of fonts you can grab from the Ubuntu archives.

But the open font movement, if can be called such, has progressed beyond Red Hat's triple header of Freedom. Check out the Free Font Manifesto, for example. It links to a number of fonts that have licenses that allow redistribution and modification, as well as a manifesto about free fonts. Check out the blog as well if the free font issue is important to you.

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