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Cross-platform font incompatibility across Windows, Mac and Linux

asked 2019-10-29 23:27:39 +0200

ratkiley gravatar image

updated 2020-08-18 14:45:04 +0200

Alex Kemp gravatar image

I have switched to Linux / Ubuntu / Debian (Linux mint) LibreOffice from Windows Microsoft Word for editing my Resume. I noticed a complex problem of document cross-platform portability affecting the look, feel, and potentially the layout of a word document (.DOC extension). I didn't see this issue discussed in the Libre Office/Linux forums, so I wanted to save other people time by posting this information here.

  1. Each operating system comes with a different set of default fonts.
  2. Windows font files are proprietary files included in windows operating systems that they won't share with other operating systems without a licencing fee. Apple has a different proprietary set of fonts and for the same reason as Microsoft: to ensure the look and feel of their operating system and all the software that is installed on it is unique. Windows Microsoft Word software use the proprietary True Type Fonts (.ttf) that are commonly included in Windows operating systems (but aren't included on Mac / Linux operating systems).
  3. Ubuntu / Debian / Linux Mint only comes with licence-free fonts installed by default. They are available for free on any operating system, but do not come with Mac or Windows operating systems.
  4. If I use Ubuntu/LibreOffice bundled fonts, they will not be viewable on Windows / Mac operating systems. Or at best, in Windows / Mac will be displayed with a different font potentially affecting the layout, length of the document, and look of the words in your document. Unless, you choose an open type font (.otf) and select the option in LibreOffice to embed the font in your document.
  5. Different windows versions even have different mismatched sets of fonts bundled in each OS.
  6. LibreOffice / Linux developers have done a lot of work to make Linux software able to work with fonts that your Linux distribution doesn't have installed by default. If you type the name of a font that is not installed on your operating system, Libre Office finds a similar font for use in the document. In this case, LibreOffice doesn't tell you which (Linux) font it selected.
  7. Just because you can view a windows / OSx created MS Word document in LibreOffice on Linux, doesn't mean that you see the same document/font/layout because free alternative fonts (supplied by your Linux operating system) can't use the exact same font shapes.
  8. Just because LibreOffice can accurately display a word document with a similar free-alternative font(that has slightly different graphics, but the same size fonts), doesn't mean that a word document created / updated in LibreOffice will be accurately displayed by Microsoft Word (various versions) on all Windows / Mac / iPhone platforms MS Word is released for. I doubt Microsoft management finds solving this problem in a free open-source competitor for their flagship product a high business priority for the Microsoft Office development teams.
  9. Writer Version: has a checkmark to embed your selected fonts under the File -> Properties menu. Embedding a font includes the font file ...
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Wow. It turns out you write all that tldr pile of unconnected ideas about problems, and you use version 5.1? That doesn't make sense. New versions contain new fixes, and 5.1.6 from 2016-10-30 is 3 years old, and 6 major releases (5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3) with 6-7 bugfix minor releases each (but last) already released since then. It's possible you simply face problems already fixed.

Mike Kaganski gravatar imageMike Kaganski ( 2019-11-03 06:45:49 +0200 )edit

This isn't a post about software bugs or even about a specific software implementation / version, but a description of broader, insurmountable, inherent limitations preventing cross-platform consistency for proprietary fonts leading to inherent inconsistencies across platforms and software implementations. This problem spans all software providing similar features (with varying implementations) across diverse operating systems. The proprietary, platform specific nature of fonts in each operating system and the extreme difficulty, complexity and limitations of trying to make a MS Word document file universally consistent across operating systems regardless of the chosen document editing software / version.

The best practice, even for Microsoft Word users is to only share their document in Portable Document Format (PDF) to prevent operating system, font substitution, or MS Word software version inconsistencies. This ensures a universally consistent document look and feel.

ratkiley gravatar imageratkiley ( 2019-11-04 21:11:07 +0200 )edit

What you write here is not something fundamental, but something partly unrelated to the declared topic (i.e.,fonts), and partly wrong. But since you wrote a hell of characters, it's simply unrealistic to read everything both to discuss, and to "get it as a useful source of information".

Mike Kaganski gravatar imageMike Kaganski ( 2019-11-04 23:23:55 +0200 )edit

I find it a nice write-up of the issues, and (if it is not already there), maybe this (combined with some info from comments) can be added to the documentation/wiki?

MBB gravatar imageMBB ( 2020-03-15 02:05:41 +0200 )edit

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answered 2019-10-31 06:52:18 +0200

keme gravatar image

The same fonts can be used on all systems. You can uninstall the incompatible fonts in Windows and MacOS, but that may (will) adversely affect other software.

I suggest you install a collection of the free fonts which you prefer (or fonts which you are licensed to use) on all your systems, and set LibreOffice defaults, the documents you are working on and your templates to use them.

Note that using a foreign file format to store your files will usually have a greater impact on your design than the changing fonts. Word and Writer have fundamental differences in the handling of such elements as spacing, and every time you transition from Writer context (editing your resume) to Word context (saving as a .doc file) or vice versa, some translation is required. Over time, the workarounds inserted by these translation cycles usually add up to a considerable "formatting residue".

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answered 2019-10-31 07:23:53 +0200

LibreOffice bundles several fonts specifically designed to be metrically compatible with widely used fonts: they are Liberation family of fonts (compatible with Arial, Times New Roman, and Courier New), and Crosextra (Carlito and Caladea for replacement of Calibri and Cambria).

Metrically compatible means that each character in such font has exactly the same size as the respective character in the replaced font. So if e.g. Arial is used in a document, and is missing on a system, then Liberation Sans could be used for perfect* layout conservation (although glyphs themselves look slightly different).

LibreOffice knows which of these fonts are compatible, so no special configuration is needed for this to work. Additionally, LibreOffice writes the information about alternatives that may be used into documents, so that other programs opening documents created with LibreOffice can use that knowledge.

* Of course problems might arise because of bugs - but any metrical incompatibility in those fonts are bugs which should be reported and fixed. Also problems in layout could be due to bugs in LibreOffice unrelated to available fonts, but that is unrelated to the topic discussed here.

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answered 2019-11-06 09:30:10 +0200

Alex Thurgood gravatar image

Even using a font that is available on all OSes won't necessarily give an identical layout and display of a document, due mainly to differences in how those fonts are displayed by the OS rendering subsystem and the code that LO uses to call that subsystem.

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Any such case would be a bug, though. The character placement code (and generally layout) in LibreOffice is done using the same code (for character, it would be HarfBuzz) on all platforms; so the layout needs to be identical on all platforms (although look might vary slightly because of rendering differences).

For a different case, see e.g. tdf#117411, where Liberation fonts metric compatibility suddenly broke after a change in toolchain, which resulted in inconsistent layout; that was fixed eventually.

Mike Kaganski gravatar imageMike Kaganski ( 2019-11-06 09:40:35 +0200 )edit
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Asked: 2019-10-29 23:27:39 +0200

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Last updated: Nov 15 '19