Real World Style

fonts for unix

Giraffe peeking out of the DIV...

Finding Fonts for Unix

One of the banes of designing for Unix based operating systems is that they often use a screen resolution that is much greater than that of Windows or Macs. And they are often found on large monitors, resulting in type that is rendered much too small, even when the same type size looks huge on a PC or Mac.

Granted, most of these users are used to seeing very small type when browsing on their Unix machines, but the problem is exacerbated when you want a sans-serif font. The typical declaration includes Verdana, Arial and Helvetica. The first two are not so common on Unix, the third was not designed for the screen and becomes all but illegible on a Unix monitor.

What to do?

So I was happy to hear about Code Style's Font Sampler Survey. It was there that I discovered a nice sans-serif font called Lucida that, according to their Unix Font Survey, is present on over 90% of Unix machines. This font, like Verdana, has a larger x-height, making it more legible on monitors, especially those set to high screen resolutions.

The day I added it to my style sheet I received a comment from a user that the web site was suddenly much more usable.

On the Mac, OS X includes a similar font, Lucida Grande, that is a nice change from the many sites currently using Verdana. OS X also includes Verdana, as well as Arial and Helvetica.

So now when I want a sans-serif font-family for my body text, I include the following declaration in my rule:

font-family: 'Lucida Grande', Verdana, Geneva, Lucida,
     Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;

Why that order?

Lucida Grande is first, for OS X (which also typically has all the other fonts, save Lucida). Verdana is next for just about everyone else. Geneva is preferable to Arial and Helvetica, so I include it for older Macs that may not have Verdana. Lucida is there for Unix boxen. Arial is there for older Windows machines, and Helvetica for Unix without Lucida (or any of the previous choices). Finally I declare the generic sans-serif for other platforms (e.g. handhelds).

If you have a significant number of Unix users, you might want to give it a try!


Lars Kasper wrote me with the excellent idea to include some screenshots of Lucida on Unix and Lucida Grande on OSX for those who may not have access to those operating systems. And so I present them below.

Some text set in Lucida Grande as it appears in the OSX operating system.

Lucida Grande as it appears in OSX

Some text set in Lucida as it appears in Unix...

Lucida as it appears in Unix