Bitstream suggests they open TrueDoc PFR technology to Mozilla

  1. Background - who I am and how I got to this topic
  2. "Mozilla/4.76 on Linux - loads the PFR but doesn't display the font!"
  3. First contact of the Bitstream support and bug report to Netscape
  4. Info I got from the netscape.public.mozilla.unix USENET forum
  5. My call to Bitstream to go open source for Mozilla benefit
  6. Bitstream official message to netscape.public.mozilla.unix
  7. Mozilla developers: ask for the source code from Bitstream now that their promise is still hot

1. Background - who I am and how I got to this topic

In general, I am a software engineer, with 10-year-long working experience in various fields. I am also a user, picky beta-tester, and occasional developer of free software. See for more.

For the purpose of this article, I am a designer of a nostalgia web page, devoted to a Russian/Soviet Z80-based Spectrum-compatible computer "Hobbit":

While designing it, I stumbled upon a Spectrum freeware font (TTF), and decided that the page might look cool in this font. It turned out that there are two used technologies for font embedding to date: Bitstream TrueDoc(TM) technology, and Microsoft Typography. Look for the thread "embedding own font" in the "comp.infosystems.www.authoring.stylesheets" newsgroup if you want details.

I then desided to start with the non-Microsoft option, to achieve UNIX compatibility. I downloaded a Bitstream "WebFont Wizard" trial version (limited to creation of just 10 fonts - O.K., I needed just one), and plugged it into my page as suggested. It worked in Netscape, but my valid HTML stopped being valid. As Bitstream support contact explained (BTW, they have very good response times from their support contact, only one of the about 5 questions I asked them remained unanswered, and all the rest were answered within 1 day on average. Remember I was a non-commercial customer using trialware), the necessity to write

	LINK REL=fontdef SRC="ZX-Spectrum.pfr"
rather than use HREF instead of SRC comes because they introduced this tag before there was a std for LINK tag. I don't quite understand, though, what precludes from changing this in a backward-compatible way in future browsers so that older markup is understood... Look at my page HTML source if you want to know further details on my emotions about this ;-)

I then tried the same thing with Internet Explorer. For the 1st time I loaded my page, the ActiveX control that plays the PFR fonts asked my permissions to be installed, and then nothing happened. I had to manually refresh the browser view to have the page rendered in the custom font. (Why, you ask? This is the very question that Bitstream never answered. It has to do with their .js that embeds the ActiveX and with Explorer. This is anyway a side issue, so let's forget it).

O.K., so far so good, now to Linux! And here the tough stuff began...

2. "Mozilla/4.76 on Linux - loads the PFR but doesn't display the font!"

What I discovered, to my surprise, for various versions of Netscape (4.0x, 4.5x, 4.7x) on various platforms (Linux, SCO UnixWare, Solaris), is that, according to the server's log, the browser does recognize the PFR font embedding made by my page, and even downloads the PFR font. Then... nothing happens, the page is rendered as usual.

I spent some 2 hours around the net looking for reports of this issue, in a hope for a known workaround. Well, I found almost nothing, except for an ancient (May 1999) thread in "netscape.public.mozilla.unix". Look for "PFR": [search google groops]

3. First contact of the Bitstream support and bug report to Netscape

The previous section is named after the subject line of my letter to Bitstream support. What Bitstream said, was that it's Netscape problem, not theirs.

So, same report was published also in the "comp.infosystems.www.authoring.stylesheets" group, and also submitted as a bug report to Netscape (which never bothered to answer, according to their official nasty bug-reporting policy from non-commercial users).

4. Info I got from the netscape.public.mozilla.unix USENET forum

Meanwhile, I contacted Franck Portaneri (from the aforementioned ancient thread). He was my first witness of actually displayed PFRs on some Unix variant platforms on some older Netscape browser versions. However, he wrote, among other valuable info:
"However at that time (may 1999) I realized that this feature will have no or a poor future. The reason was because Netscape went Open Source (Mozilla) and Bitstream were not open to publish their code in OpenSource. Netscape 6 is based on Mozilla and just do not include this TrueDoc engine at all. So I just stoped the reseach. "

5. My call to Bitstream to go open source for Mozilla benefit

Guess what my frustration was! I wrote a letter to Bitstream, which I hoped would penetrate the front line of the support staff and reach some marketing/senior development persons. Here is a quote:
"...what you have originally said is claimed to be not "all truth". Here is an excerpt from a letter I have just got:
[above Franck's letter excerpt goes here]
Is that true? If no, I think you should just go to netscape.public.mozilla.unix and ask whether people would like to develop the webfont player support for the mozilla platform, in case you release the code under the Mozilla OpenSource license. Rest assured, you'll be heartily welcomed by this move, you'll earn great publicity, Slashdot front page scoops etc.

If, however, this person is correct, no wonder Netscape developers keep ignoring your requests. What use is for them to support a technology they know they can't include into their browser due to legal issues?

Again, presuming this is correct, I still don't understand your policy. If you do release your webfont player under Mozilla open source license or compatible, this will essentially give your technology the status of de-facto cross-browser and cross-platform standard. Which, of course, will give a great boost for your PR & overall typo-related business. If you leave it as is, it will rot away with the older Netscape version. And if someone thinks of using a Microsoft-only solution, surely the Microsoft Typography .EOT will prevail. Why do you guys shoot into your own foot then?

I would really like to see a cross-platform and cross-browser solution emerging out of your product..."

6. Bitstream official message to netscape.public.mozilla.unix

And guess what? It looks like it worked. I got contacted by Bob Thomas (Director of Product Management, Bitstream Inc), who, albeit with a somewhat bitter attitude towards Netscape (justified by some examples he gave me in private correspondence from the relations history between Bitstream and Nestcape), said among other thins:
I would be interested in talking to you and the netscape.public.mozilla.unix forum about creating an open source version and providing a cross-platform PFR solution.

He then promised to write an address to netscape.public.mozilla.unix as a followup. Now that this followup arrived, I am glad to share it.

Response to the netscape.public.mozilla.unix forum

WebFont Maker and WebFont Wizard have been discontinued. Bitstream no longer sells WebFont Maker or WebFont Wizard, but we will continue to support these products for current users.

Unfortunately, we do not build the browsers, nor can we control how they handle fonts, so we can no longer support WebFont Maker retail products for every release of every browser. We would like to support Netscape Navigator 6 and future versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, but we cannot. Bitstream suggests you contact Microsoft and AOL and encourage them to support dynamic fonts in the new releases of their browsers.

We are sorry about any inconvenience this may cause, but after careful evaluation, we believe that it is only fair to retire this retail product line. We will, however, continue to support PFRs through the licensing of our developer products, Font Fusion and TrueDoc.

On another topic, it has recently come to my attention that when Netscape went open source with Mozilla, someone in the netscape.public.mozilla.unix forum or someone at Netscape stated that Bitstream was not open to publishing their code as open source code. I do not believe this is true.

We had been working closely with Netscape for over five years, from about 1994 through 1999. Before Communicator 4.0 came out, Netscape licensed our TrueDoc technology (which we renamed Bitstream WebFont dynamic font display technology) and integrated it into the Netscape Navigator browser. They used our source code and called our APIs. So our technology was tied with theirs, i.e., it was not a plug-in. You could in fact view dynamic fonts in Netscape 4 without a plug-in.

Netscape told us that they did not want to include TrueDoc in Netscape 6.

Never did any developer or product manager from Netscape claim to me that they could not include our technology in their browser because of legal issues or open source issues. As a matter of fact, our PFR (portable font resource, also known as a dynamic font or Web font) is an open specification and has been published by DAVIC (the Digital Audio Visual Council, which set multimedia standards for international broadcasting and, having accomplished its task, has disbanded). The PFR specification is also published on the Bitstream Web site:

We have enjoyed working with Netscape and we support the work of the Mozilla forum.

Best regards,

-Bob Thomas

Director of Product Management, Bitstream Inc.


7. Mozilla developers: ask for the source code from Bitstream now that their promise is still hot

So, given all of the above, I suggest that you ask Bitstream *now* for cooperation. If there is anyone willing to implement Dynamic Fonts support for Mozilla, it looks like you just have to write to Bitstream that you're a "netscape.public.mozilla.unix developer" and you'd like their webfont player code opensourced under a license compatible with Mozilla development, so that you can adapt it for TrueDoc PFR support for Mozilla.

Again, remember Bob Thomas said:

"I would be interested in talking to you and the netscape.public.mozilla.unix forum about creating an open source version and providing a cross-platform PFR solution."

I read this as more than just pointing to the PFR format internals standard documents, but also as a commitment to give away code.

The E-mail address of Bob Thomas is; the general Bitstream contact info is at

I doubt that a Director of Product Management is in a position of techical followup of the Mozilla development, so I think it is a wise idea only to use the address above once to gain access to the code and negotiate the license terms, rather than continuously asking technical questions...

Hoping to see this "enable dynamic fonts" button in Mozilla (and eventually in Netscape) on Linux and other Unix variants,
    Vassilii Khachaturov

P.S. All trademarks and copyrights are the properties of their respective owners.

P.P.S. The article above is an HTML version of what I have just posted to the netscape.public.mozilla.unix newsgroup. If you would like to discuss this in public in the context of Mozilla development, you should probably do it in that newsgroup. If your WWW browser doesn't have its news reader set up so you can join that group, try using the google USENET front-end. If you have any private comments about this article, you are welcome to contact me.

P.P.P.S. [3/Dec/2001] Posted at NewsForge

Technical: Mozilla bugs related to dynamic fonts (bugzilla)

See my votes in Bugzilla. (I will be updating this section as I get updates from the Bugzilla.)