Windows Font and Unicode

By Xah Lee. Date:

I use Unicode a lot, especially on my website, of math symbols, computing symbols, and other misc glyphs. For examples:

In my midst of doing a lot things setting up my PC, somehow i thought that Windows doesn't display most of the Unicode symbols i need out of the box. So, i spend like 4 hours researching and trying to find solutions. The following write up is the result of that. However, in the end, i was mistaken. Windows Vista does support displaying most Unicode chars out of the box, just not as good as OS X.

On the Mac, Unicode chars shows up beautifully out of the box. On Windows, more math symbols shows up as a square, and Chinese are rendered as bitmapped font. Further, to input Unicode math symbols in Windows is inconvenient, with its ugly and hard-to use [ Character map ] [ ] app. On the Mac, you can press “Opt+‹key›” for commonly used symbols. There's also Character Palette, similar in functionality to Character Map, but much better user interface.

For inputting math symbols and other special Unicode symbols, i rely on emacs, since i have a system setup in emacs that lets me input my personal set of frequently used Unicode chars.

Brushing up on my font knowledge: [ Computer font ] [ ]. In particular, the role of [ TrueType ] [ ] and [ OpenType ] [ ] in the market today. Looks like OpenType is almost the universal standard now.

Mac has this technology [ ATSUI ] [ ] for rending Unicode. That is, a font needs not to contain all Unicode chars. When a font doesn't have some Unicode chars, the glyph from other font that contains it are automatically used. According to Wikipedia [ Font substitution ] [ ], Internet Explorer 7 uses font substitution too, but apparently not as well as Apple's Safari on Mac. (Note: looks like ATSUI is replaced by [ Core Text ] [ ] in Mac OS X 10.5.)

On reading [ Unicode font ] [ ], i discovered [ Lucida Sans Unicode ] [ ]. To get browsers or any app to show Unicode, just set it to use that font, which is included in Windows Vista. This discovery is nice, because that means i can also set CSS to use that font on my website, so that my pages looks good for Windows users. (A nearly identical font shipped with OS X is [ Lucida Grande ] [ ]. These are sans-serif fonts. Haven't looked for Serif ones yet.)

Other Unicode font mentioned in Wikipedia that shipped with Windows are: [ Unihan font ] [ ] and [ Everson Mono ] [ ], but these does not seem to be in my Windows Vista.

Other Unicode font mentioned in Wikipedia that seems best quality is Arial Unicode MS, however, it comes with MS Word/Office only. Another one, pay-if-you-like shareware, is [ Code2000 ] [ ], which is the first i tried to download and use. What a ugly garbage. Another one mentioned, that contains a lot glyphs which may be a candidate of what i need, is [ GNU Unifont ] [ ]. However, it is bitmapped font. Bitmapped font in 2009? Hello? Low life Open Source idiots.

Since i own a Mac, i can take TrueType fonts from OS X to Windows, since i think Windows also read TrueType fonts. This is good for just for displaying chars in my own PC though, such as in emacs. Will have to try this out since fonts shipped with OS X are much better. Will also have to look for a Unicode monospaced font down the road.

See also: Common Fonts on Both Windows and Mac .