Chances are you don't give much thought to the fonts on your computer. They're there, they work, and that's enough. Yet like most things software-related, fonts are the product of someone's hard work, and they're often subject to strict licensing. That's why Adobe's release this week of its first open-source type family is big news. Read on for details.

There are plenty of open-source typefaces in existence already, of course -- like the collections here and here. Adobe's not forging any new paths simply by open-sourcing a type family. But the quality of open-source typefaces -- like that of most open-source software -- varies widely. And more importantly, their support outside of the open-source world is not always a sure thing.

At the same time, many of the world's most popular typefaces -- Times New Roman, Arial and the other font families many of us grew up with -- are governed by proprietary licenses. They're consequently not always included by default within Linux distributions or other open-source products.

Of course, proprietary typefaces are easy to install manually if you don't care about the licensing issues. And, if licensing does matter, Red Hat's Liberation fonts provide a pretty complete and compatible alternative to popular proprietary typefaces. All the same, the lack of open-source fonts backed by major organizations with a presence outside the open-source channel can still pose problems for some users.

Adobe: Throwing a Bone to Open-Source?

Within this sticky context of fonts and the open-source world, Adobe's recent announcement that it would release a new type family, called Source Sans Pro, under an open-source license is significant news. The fonts, which can be downloaded from SourceForge, mean that for the first time, the open-source community will have full and ready access to a set of fonts created by a major software company known much more for its proprietary products than its work in the open-source world.

But that's not the only important part of this news. The move also seems to reflect a potential new face for Adobe, which -- just maybe -- is taking a friendlier stance toward the open-source community.

Adobe has not typically been a company known for showing too much love to developers outside its own ranks, especially those in the open-source world. Few of Adobe's most popular applications are available to Linux users, and it was just last February that the company, in a massively unpopular move, decided to stop developing its Linux Flash Player  -- which was always kind of a half-baked joke from the start.

But now, Adobe has not only released an open-source type family, but is also talking up its commitment to using this new initiative to enhance collaboration with the community:
In addition to making these files available as a learning resource, we are eager that this project will become an undertaking in which we can collaborate with others in the design community. We hope that if any of you want to build upon these assets that you will consider coordinating with us to help add features and increase language support for this family.
Granted, the release of a basic font family is hardly likely on its own to make up for all of the ill-will Adobe has garnered for itself in the open-source channel. But it's a step in the right direction, and another sign that the proprietary and open-source worlds are not always at total odds.