The Scourge of Arial

The Scourge of Arial

Arial is everywhere. If you don’t know what it is, you don’t use a modern personal computer. Arial is a font that is familiar to anyone who uses Microsoft products, whether on a PC or a Mac. It has spread like a virus through the typographic landscape and illustrates the pervasiveness of Microsoft’s influence in the world. Arial’s ubiquity is not due to its beauty. It’s actually rather homely. Not that homeliness is necessarily a bad thing for a typeface. With typefaces, character and history are just as important. Arial, however, has a rather dubious history and not much character. In fact, Arial is little more than a shameless impostor.

This is the story of how Microsoft stole the Helvetica font, renamed it Arial, and avoided paying any copyrights on it in the process. All legal. All scummy.

4 thoughts on “The Scourge of Arial

  1. it’s kinda bold to say microsoft ‘stole’ the font when (as the article points out):

    a. they didn’t develop it b. it existed long before it’s inclusion in windows and c. the practice in question is so god-awfully common, as to make the whole assertion seems awfully petty.

    i mean, the single most ubiquitous serif’d font, times new roman, is a knockoff of the original times font form the 19th century. i don’t see anyone at the times (NY if i recall right — maybe london, but i’m pretty sure it’s NY).

    since arial and helvetica are two of the three fonts i see the most of in writing and/or creating documents, i do have to say that they are actually rather easily distinguishable, though. the people who do work with these fonts enough to know the diff usually will do so easily enough. to most everyone else, if you lined up either of the two alongside a futura-family font, most folks wouldn’t even know the diff.

    if you wanna toss stones at MS for including it, i’d suggest you start with the companies that started using it prior to MS — they paved the way here. that said, i personally like the look and feel of helvetica better (though my personal prefrence still runs towards the lucida family), but one area where the ttf/of version of arial just plain blows helvetica away is full unicode support. the current iteration of arial found in XP is just about as full-featured a font as i’ve ever seen and none of the helvetica versions i’ve worked with match that (bit different witht he PS version, though.)

  2. What? Microsoft steals ideas and uses them as their own? This isn’t anything new to anyone who has used a Macintosh computer…

  3. The Mac was in development well before the Apple team went to PARC. Xerox dumped the project soon after anyway. Apple did hire the engineers that Xerox let go with that project, though.

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