Three sections: BASICS, TECHNICAL & TROUBLESHOOTING, and ZZCODES.
A: Use it at 12pt on a PC (aka 16px).
Q: WAIT WHAT?
Q: WHAT IS FIXEDSYS?
A: Fixedsys was one of the first fonts to be included with DOS and Windows. It has lasted a long time, maybe due to being perceived as ideal for consoles and IRC clients, and it’s often a favorite among programmers. It is monospaced, and contains only the basic western ANSI character set, although localized versions for Hebrew and Russian were distributed with Windows 95 in territories requiring those scripts.
Q: WHAT IS FIXEDSYS EXCELSIOR?
A: Fixedsys Excelsior is a ‘pan-unicode’ version of Fixedsys. The original characters are left alone with one minor exception (the bowl of the lowercase Icelandic thorn was, in the original Fixedsys, the wrong height, no doubt because the designer didn’t know it was a letter: þ). Additionally there are many, many new characters supporting diverse languages, foremost those employing varieties of the Latin, Arabic and Cyrillic alphabets (see this image for a list of the supported scripts and examples.
Q: WHAT IS NEW IN THIS VERSION?
A: Fixedsys 2.00 was the first version to become widespread, and it included Latin and its extensions, Cyrillic, Arabic, Armenian, Katakana, Ogham, Runic, Dehong Dai, Ethiopic, Greek, Hebrew, IPA, Gothic and the ‘cursive’ version of Latin, as well as numerous symbols and stuff like braille. It also included a large series of mr. potato head type components that could be combined to make a million new emoticons. This new edition focused on adding support for more languages, and the new scripts are: Georgian, N’Ko, Pahawh Hmong, Tamil, Thaana, Thai, Tifinagh, Old Hylian and Tengwar. I also added some SERIOUSLY COOL variations on Latin: narrow, italic (with extensions), serif, and fraktur.
Q: WHAT IS CHANGED IN THIS VERSION?
A: Most noteworthy is certainly that three scripts were remade from scratch: Arabic, Hebrew and Armenian. All three are better looking and all three are monospaced (Arabic previously was not). The next big change is that the height of the font is now 16 pixels instead of 15. One reason is to accomodate Vietnamese Latin and Arabic better, but there is another, more pressing reason for the height change (see the technical section below). A lot of improvements were made to the Latin extensions and Cyrillic, though I didn’t both improving the extended Cyrillic as much as I should have. There are far fewer double-width (two monospace cells: ‘duospace’) characters, which will improve compatibility with some programming environments. Also, I removed the Japanese kana entirely, because they are used mixed with kanji/han ideographs and the mixture of bulky Fixedsys-styled kana with nice clean complex kanji from another substitution font was pretty awful. And of course I fixed the underline error from Fixedsys 2.00.
Q: TOTAL CHARACTERS?
A: 5,992 I think. The limit is 6,399 in Fontlab, so unless someone wants to get me Asiafont Studio (with a much, much higher glyph limit) there will probably never be another language added to this font (most which are left are Indic scripts, which generally require between 500 and 1,000 glyphs).
TECHNICAL / TROUBLESHOOTING:
Q: WHY IS IT BLURRY?
A: ‘Fixedsys’ is a bitmap font, made of defined pixels rather than vector shapes which are scalable. But Fixedsys Excelsior, in order to be compatible with more modern software, only emulates the original bitmap font. To accomplish this, pixels are actually drawn as (very precise) squares on a grid. As such it is actually scalable, but it doesn’t really ‘want’ to be. Only one font size will work, and this native font size is 16 pixels. On a PC, 16 pixels is the exact equivalent of 12 points. On a Mac, 16 pixels should be 16 point, because the ratio there is 1:1 as opposed to 4:3. But see below for more about mac issues. ONCE AGAIN, FIXEDSYS EXCELSIOR (on a PC) IS TO BE USED AT 12pt.
Q: WHY ISN’T IT APPEARING IN MY LIST OF FONTS?
A: It’s there, just look towards the bottom. In some software, fonts which support certain non-Latin scripts get placed in a ghetto at the end of the font list.
Q: WHY ISN’T TAMIL WORKING?
A: You need to update Uniscribe. Windows only added Tamil support recently.
Q: WHY ISN’T N’KO WORKING?
A: Windows needs to update Uniscribe. They haven’t added N’Ko support yet.
Q: I THOUGHT ARABIC (or some other script) WAS NOW FIXED-WIDTH...
A: It is, but it isn’t the same fixed-width. Arabic is monospace ... where the mono is 11 pixels. For Latin (and most others) it is 8 pixels. To really type in monospace, you need to only use characters which are 11 pixels. For example, there is an 11 pixel space character in the private use range near Hmong (which is also 11). There may not be versions of the punctuation you need in every width. If you can’t find something or need something added, let me know. (Most of the spaces of different widths can be found in the general punctuation range.)
Q: I HAVE A MAC HELP ME I HAVE A MAC!
A: Well ... Fixedsys Excelsior 2.00 did work on a Mac, but Fixedsys Exclesior 3.00 has problems. Some people are able to install it but no matter what size they use the font at, it comes out blurry. I suspect that this has something to do with how a mac performs anti-aliasing, or maybe some Cleartype equivalent. Because Fixedsys Excelsior is mathematically precise (aside from possible rare errors in node placement, but if there are some, they are definitely not in the basic ANSI character set), there is no reason at all that cleartype-type processing should occur -- but then again, that didn’t stop cleartype (see the question about CJK support below..). Others have been unable to even install the font, and they get an error message about opentype. I don’t know what the issue is there, but if someone can provide me with the exact wording of the error message maybe there are some clues there. Theoretically, within graphics software like Photoshop where you can specify pixel size (16) and anti-aliasing method (none), FSEX3 will work on a mac, but no one has tested this for me yet. I would like to make it work on macs, but it isn’t a super-high priority because Fixedsys doesn’t mean anything to a mac user anyway, which is why I have released the font without waiting to find a solution first.
Q: WHY DOES MY SOFTWARE BELIEVE THAT THIS FONT SUPPORTS CJK? (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
A: Because I told it so. Yes, it’s a lie, but it’s a good one. You see, in the years since I released Fixedsys 2.00, Cleartype, microsoft’s sub-pixel anti-aliasing technology for lcd panels, has spread widely. Some people hate it; they usually just have it set up poorly or are using it on a non-lcd monitor, failing to understand the concept of sub-pixel rendering (who can blame them, since Cleartype sure sounds like it’s supposed to be universal)... so let’s get detailed:
On an LCD monitor (and only on an LCD monitor), it is possible for the computer to control what specific physical pixels (i.e. the actual mini three-color light ‘bulbs’ that make up your screen) are what. It was not possible to do this on older monitors. Cleartype takes advantage of this new power by treating each of the three parts of the pixel as a pixel in itself (subpixel). They are three rectangles, side-by-side and vertically oriented. Each is a different color of course, so that’s why heavy Cleartype can produce a colored aura. In effect, Cleartype can triple the horizontal resolution of your monitor, because where there were, say, 100 pixels before, now there are 300. Well, 300 slightly off-color pixels anyway. And vertically, where there were 100 pixels before, now there are ... still 100. It is also imperfect. Even when a font has a perfectly straight line that matches up with screen pixels, CT will create a slight, tiny distortion to its right or left. It becomes more noticeable when the text is brightly colored. This spoils the precision of Fixedsys even though it is a rather minor effect. Now, Cleartype’s imprecision and incapability of improving vertical resolution is also why it fails with ideographic typefaces. It produces a smudged mess on complex letterforms like those used in Chinese. Even though only some fonts benefit from CT, the Cleartype implementers were seemingly too arrogant to allow font designers to override CT for better display (for example with embedded bitmaps, which Cleartype deliberately turns off). But they also knew that CJK fonts were unusable with CT, so they turned off CT for all fonts with both CJK support and embedded bitmaps. And that is why Fixedsys Excelsior 3.00 seems to have CJK support but actually does not: there is no other way to turn off cleartype on an individual basis. On Windows Vista, I worry that even this solution may fail, but I don’t know yet ... if so, you may never see another clear pixel font again.
This is also the main reason the font is now 16 pixels tall. Previously, it was 15, and that meant its natural size was 11.25 pt (4px:3pt). Turning off font-smoothing controls from within the font was possible, allowing you to use it at 11pt with no trouble because it rounded to the correct nearest pixel (unless there had been a very wide character, but there were none wide enough to cause problems). Uncontrollable cleartype put an end to this. We needed a whole number on the right side of the ratio.
By the way, there is a great side effect to the new height. 16 pixels is the most common default text size in browsers. Now when a website uses a script you only have in Fixedsys and it gets subbed in, it will most likely be legible.
Q: WHY DO A LOT OF CHARACTERS NOT WORK RIGHT IN PHOTOSHOP (OR SOME OTHER PROGRAM)?
Some software in Windows interferes with the normal function of Uniscribe, the text-shaping engine which supports scripts like Arabic and Tamil that change dynamically as they are typed. Depending on the specific program, the nature of the interference will be different, and is usually just the breaking of support for these scripts, but can also take the form of strange and unpredictable font substitution, especially in the private use range. As in most of the questions addressed here, the culprit is your OS or software, not the font, and I can’t do anything about it.
Q: I AM RUSSIAN MAN AND I NEED MONOSPACE BUT YOUR FONT IS SHIT
A: I get a lot of email from angry Russians (but some nice Russians, too) who want this font to be truly monospaced very badly. They have had two problems: first, several basic Cyrillic letters, like Ж, were double-width (16 pixels). Although this did not break the ‘grid’ because it is a multiple of 8, it could cause trouble in certain settings. This is fixed now, enjoy!
But then there’s the second problem. Some software requires monospace fonts and will limit the font list to faces which are specifically labled as monospace in the font’s metadata. Unfortunately, were I to tick that little checkbox, it would break everything in the font that wasn’t 8 pixels wide, which is a ton (Arabic, Tamil, Thai, Fraktur, tons of symbols, etc).
Q: WHAT’S UP WITH MIRC????
A: No clue, but give them time. Fixedsys Excelsior was, of course, designed with mIRC in mind. At the time, mIRC didn’t support Unicode at all (although IRC had it in the standard for over a decade), so I was a wishful thinker. In 2006, Unicode support was added, three years after Fixedsys Excelsior was born: my wish came true (this is what got me to start working on the font again). But even though mIRC now has Unicode support, it also has bugs related to it. For one, as in Photoshop mentioned above, it will sometimes (but not always) thwart you when you attempt to type in complex scripts. Oddly, it WILL allow you to paste them in if you type them in notepad first! Fortunately, it has no problems with private use characters. REMEMBER! In mIRC the default is NOT Unicode -- you have to set it yourself (you can do this per-channel if you like). Choose ‘View & Encode’ in UTF-8 in the font dialogue.
Q: I use this font a lot. Am I expected to give you money?
A: No, Fixedsys Excelsior is free. If you feel incredibly grateful, send me an email or a letter or something else, maybe rose-flavored Turkish Delight (my address is at the bottom). Other flavors are fine too but rose is my favorite. And I am generally more concerned with music than fonts, so if you have any of that stuff ... Also, if you use IRC, feel free to proselytize to your friends. My real intention, if I have one at all, is to make IRC a more natural world without removing its distinctive feeling. Sure, maybe you don’t speak Farsi, but next time you encounter someone who does, they’ll be typing in Arabic, not question marks or boxes. The ultimate form of this dream would be to have Fixedsys Excelsior distributed with mIRC or other IRC clients.
The zzcodes are a series of Latin script ligatures (not in the typographical sense, but in the technological sense). They will not work in mIRC yet but presumably will within the next few releases of that program. They are shortcuts that allow you to type symbols easily your keyboard, and as a bonus, if someone else can’t see the symbol they will see its name instead (kind of). There aren’t too many yet, but the ones that are around are mostly pretty easy to guess.
· Type z-z-h-e-a-r-t for ❤ (heart shape if you cannot see it).
· Type z-z-s-k-u-l-l for ☠ (skull and crossbones if you cannot see it).
· Type z-z-c-o-i-n-b-o-x for (as in the kingdom)
· Type two hyphens and they merge to become a long (em) dash automatically.
Once again, this will not work in all software, but the time is coming ...
... and when it does, maybe I will make Fixedsys 4.00, and IRC would never be the same again!