Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Is Times New Roman Being Handed Its Hat?

By Dennis D. McDonald

Bloggers are commenting (e.g., here) on the replacement of Times New Roman as the default font in the beta version of Microsoft's Office 2007 released earlier this year. An initial lamentation is that the new font sets may not be available for the Mac without separate licensing. The deeper significance of this move may be that a serif font is being replaced by a sans-serif font, perhaps because the sans-serif font is easier to read on screen.

So, who cares about fonts, anyway? Well, I certainly do, ever since my introduction to the Mac back in the 20th Century. Back then, and for many years, my favorite font (a serif font, by the way) was Palatino, which I thought was more elegant and interesting than Times New Roman (or just plain "Times."). As I started using Windows computers as well I searched for similar fonts and finally settled on Times New Roman as a "least common denominator" when creating documents for printing, but I don't think I ever put much thought into it. Nowadays I generate few paper documents on my own and when I do so for clients I usually follow their rules; Times New Roman is still a pretty popular "least common denominator."

But the switch to a sans-serif font is an interesting event, especially if the reason is to optimize on-screen reading. What that would seem to say is that the futuristic promise of having computer screens display information at the same resolution as high quality print on paper hasn't really been met, and this plays havoc with the rendering of fine typeface details. I was reminded of this recently when I experimented with different serif and sans serif fonts here on my blog ALL KIND FOOD, and you may now notice (assuming you have your browser set to display the fonts I am using)  that I am again using good old Arial.

Of course, I don't really know what typeface you are using to read this; you may be, for example, reading this through an RSS feed reader that is rendering a bare bones display minus even the modicum of typographic features I incorporate in each entry. Or you may be setting the display to render using a typeface of your own choosing, which is your right and privilege.

So while I applaud Microsoft going to a sans serif font as its default (assuming the final product has that feature) I am not as interested as I might have been back when I was more concerned about the appearance of print on paper.

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