Lie’s criticism is odd and hypocritical—he notices that Microsoft’s “core fonts” are not free software fonts
The fonts are still available for anyone to use, but not to change. It is illegal to add support for more non-Western scripts.
Contrary to what some might read into Lie’s wording here, the Microsoft fonts have never been free to modify (they did not undergo some relicensing where they were once free to modify but are immutable now; users have always been forbidden to modify the font or distribute modified versions to others). Lie didn’t use the term “free software“, but this part of his critique is quite comparable to what a free software advocate would notice.
Yet the fonts Lie recommends (Larabie’s “Goodfish” family) are also not free software fonts, they’re merely available at no price (gratis). There are scripts which have no representation in either the Microsoft fonts or the Goodfish fonts. If either were free software fonts (like the Bitstream Vera font family is), this could be corrected by the users as this has been in derivatives of the Bitstream Vera family. Furthermore, only 1-5 users are licensed to use the Goodfish fonts from myfonts.com (the officially sanctioned Larabie font distribution site). This means your distribution freedom is limited and thus the fonts are available gratis and users are denied crucial freedoms. It’s rather ironic that this site claims “Because MyFonts.com’s products are all downloadable, our customers often find that they need to return at a later date to download their fonts again.” which is supposed to justify making site users register before they can get fonts. The irony is that if the fonts were licensed as free software, users could make copies and distribute them to others so they could go to their friends, neighbors, or some other site without these registration hurdles.
So it’s odd that Lie would bother to use this criterion for judging the fonts and then suggest a font family that suffers from the same restrictions as what he’s complaining about.
Furthermore, the hypocrisy of the last part of the essay cannot be overstated: all proprietary software distributors are monopolists. When you get the proprietary Opera browser, you can’t fix the bugs in it, improve it, or share your improved copy with others. If you want any changes, you have to go to the proprietor—the monopolist—for those changes. There is no other place to go because everybody else is prohibited from helping. Opera won’t distribute to you a copy of the Opera browser source code under a free software license to allow any of this activity.
Yet here’s a monopolist decrying the state of affairs for fonts.
I appreciate the bad position the user is in with fonts on the web, but the way out is not to build a dependence on fonts you can’t use, inspect, share, and modify anywhere you want for any purpose. The way out is to find free software fonts (they exist, I’m using some now and I’ve named one such family) or make them, build on them to improve them, use them, and distribute the font so the community benefits. You can find free fonts for a variety of languages, even projects working on fonts that will work with multiple languages. Use your favorite search engine and look for “free software fonts”.