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Older fonts in Windows

This page is here mainly for historical purposes. It is intended for users of Microsoft Word 2003 and Windows XP (and earlier versions of both of those products). It explains how fonts worked before Unicode. Some of this information applies to HTML and to PDF documents as well.

The widespread acceptance of UTF-8 Unicode (which is able to represent over a million different characters and symbols using from 1 to 4 bytes) happened around 2007 or 2008. Prior to that, there were forms of Unicode that used 2 bytes. However, the overwhelming majority of documents—especially Microsoft Word documents and HTML documents—represented all characters using a single byte.

If you already know what bytes are, skip this . . .

You might be asking, "What's a byte?" A byte is a group or set of 8 consecutive electronic charges called "bits". Each electronic or magnetic bit has a positive or negative charge, like the poles on a magnet or a battery. Each charged particle is called a "bit", and each bit can be either positive (+) or negative (-), which is represented numerically as either one (1) or zero (0).

Therefore, every group of 8 bits can have positive or negative values at any point. Logically, computer scientists could represent this set as "--------" (all negative) or "+++++++++" (all positive) or as any combination of negatives and positives in between, such as "---+--++" or "+++--++-". However, computer people usually like math and numbers, so they find it much easier to represent the sets above as 00000000 or 11111111 or 00010011 or 11100110.

You may recognize this form of counting, where numbers which can only be 0 or 1 (and no higher), from your days in school. These are called "binary numbers" or the "base 2" number system. (For a refresher on Base 2, visit this page: Binary Number System.) A group of 8 binary digits (or 8 bits) can have a maximum of 256 separate values. Why? Because 11111111 in Base 2 is the same as 255 in Base 10, our normal numbering system. The total number of values is 256, including the zero—just as when you count the digits from 0 to 9, even though 9 is the highest number, when you include the zero you get 10 numbers.

That explains why a byte, the primary unit of computer information, can represent a maximum of 256 distinct values. Computer scientists chose the byte to represent most English letters, digits, punctuation marks, and a few dozen special control codes and symbols. They called this system ASCII, and it represented English letters and numbers plus about 140 accented letters and special symbols.

How fonts work in Windows XP and before

A basic font would display about 96 printable characters (assuming they only used 7 bits, which was very common). Then there would be a command to change the font. The new font assigned each value to a different shaped character or symbol, replacing what was previously represented by the base font. Probably the best way to explain is with an example from HTML.

The base font is going to be "Times New Roman" (something very common). Then we will switch to some totally different fonts, that are found in most Windows computers. Here's how it looks in the code:

Times New Roman Same chars, different font Name of the 2nd font
ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | ABCDE   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | Rockwell
ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | Symbol
ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | Wingdings
ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | Webdings
ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | ABCDEFG   1234   abcdefg   ~ ^ @ | Marlett

Microsoft Windows didn't come with different foreign-language fonts built in, except for the Symbol font, which had the full Greek alphabet, but didn't have accented Greek characters. So, if you wanted a Word document or PDF file or web page to display words or sentences in another language, you had to add that font to your own computer. Then you had to inform the recipient that if the page didn't display correctly, they needed to add a particular font. Then they had to install it.

Work-arounds to adding fonts

If you were a student at a university (like I was) and you used the campus computer network, the permission settings on the computers were quite properly locked down to prevent users from installing or uninstalling programs. So, how do you use a font that is not installed on the computer?

On my campus, you were allowed to download files and save them to the local directory or to a USB drive (also called a "jump drive" or "flash drive"). Locate a web site with the font you need, download the font. If it's in a ZIP archive or other compressed file, extract the font from the ZIP file (its name should end in .TTF or .OTF) and put it in a folder you can write to. Double-click on the font. This does not "install" the font to the Windows Fonts directory, but it will display the font characters in a separate window. As long as Windows has the font "open", even though the font has not been installed, you will be able to display, use, and print files which require that font.

Yes, this procedure works for composing, printing, and reading Word documents, either your own Word documents or those sent to you by someone else.

What about sending files to other people?

A new problem occurred when you wanted to send your document to someone else. If your document used special fonts, the sender couldn't be know if the recipient had those fonts, except in a small number of cases. In my experience, many expert scholars with Ph.D.s were clueless about fonts. They typically emailed or posted their documents online, oblivious to the fact that these files now required certain fonts to display properly.

Even when they knew, there was the problem of licensing. Though some foreign-language fonts were available for free, many of them had licensing restrictions. Anyone who wanted to read the document was legally supposed to locate the font owner, pay them a fee, and then install the font.

But who want to pay for a font, when all you want to do is read somebody else's paper one time? Font-licensing wasn't very friendly to single-use people, especially users who might not have a network connection or the financial reserves to pay for these fonts.

Getting free fonts

As you might guess, I became an advocate of free software and also free fonts. Yes, I use a lot of "non-free" and commerical products, as some things really are worth paying for. But in the main, I advocate for free software (and free speech), expecially for things

Greek Fonts

My introduction to Greek came from Basics of Biblical Greek, a textbook written by Bill Mounce, who has a web site of the same name with a fair bit of additional study material on it, free of charge, which is worth investigating if you want to learn biblical Greek. The parent web site also has study material to learn the Basics of Biblical Aramaic as well as the Basics of Biblical Hebrew. He even has special introductory classes to teach kids Greek!

The Greek language, like English, reads left-to-right. You can get Bill Mounce's older (pre-Unicode) Greek font for Mac or Windows here. The main benefit to using old-style (pre-Unicode) fonts like this is that you can type transliterated Greek words like "logos" or "agape" or "exousia" using English characters, and then with a simple highlight-and-click instantly convert them to literal Greek.

Hebrew Fonts

The Hebrew language and other Semitic languages (such as Aramaic and Arabic) is written right-to-left, the opposite of the English format.

Download Bill Mounce's free, old-style (pre-Unicode) Hebrew font from this page: here.

These pages created with GNU Emacs, xhtmlpp, Take Command, and Altap Salamander. Icons courtesy of Qbullets
Last modified: 2015-01-07