Currently one of the biggest stumbling blocks to embedded type on the web is of a legal nature rather than any genuine technological barrier. Most of the major browsers have now implemented the @font-face property, and between sIFR and Cufón there are also alternatives for providing non-standard typefaces to browsers that haven’t caught up yet.
So the technology that allows us to embed custom fonts is more or less here, but the licensing debate rages on. Richard Rutter and Simon Klein have written a great pair of posts summarizing the concerns some foundries have with embedding, while countless other opinions have come out in favour of both addressing and ignoring these concerns.
But this is really for the foundries and the browsers to figure out. What you or I think should happen probably isn’t going to change the outcome of the debate; only overall trends in the market have a hope of doing that. So it seems to me that if we want font embedding to take off sooner rather than later, a change in our own methods and expectations is in order. And maybe a little voting with our pocketbooks.
Designers — myself included — are hoping for a wide open playing field; that’s not going to happen yet. What we can have, however, is a larger field than the one we’ve been playing on. There are countless free fonts out there that have commercial-usage licenses which allow for embedding. Yeah, a lot of them (if not most) suck. But there are resources like FontSquirrel and the webfonts.info wiki that are collecting some of the better ones, and the list is only going to increase over time.
If I were to start using font embedding now by, say, designing sites that use only those fonts I know to allow embedding, it opens up my options and causes me to start seriously considering embedding as a legitimate tool in my toolbox. The available typefaces may be limiting, but they’re bound to be a step up from Georgia and Arial everywhere. If enough designers are doing the same, and font embedding becomes a fairly common practice on the web, the foundries may see that they’re effectively being ignored by this medium. Perhaps then we’ll start seeing some actual change.
I’m going to try it. Let’s see what happens.
(This article was set in Museo Sans, a typeface by Jos Buivenga using the Cufón library. There are clearly some problems with the latter, as noted in the comments below; I doubt I’ll be setting full pages using Cufón, probably more like just headers. However, I decided to make an exception for this article for the sake of playing with it a bit.)