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While at Macworld 2008, we took the opportunity to record a few quick demonstrations of features included in Universal Type Server. I asked people who were staffing our booth to each describe a different feature of the product in 60 seconds or less. These short little videos give you a quick look into the features of the product.

Product Marketing Manager, Cindy Valladares demonstrates the backup feature.

Megan Banman shows off the Smart Set feature of Universal Type Server in this video.

In this one I describe the benefits of the font license tracking feature.

Claire Taylor demonstrates the keywording feature.

Marisela Alzuhn describes the QuickFind feature, and how it helps you to quickly locate fonts in the Universal Type Client.

Also, if you missed it, this earlier post contains videos about the Previewing capabilities of the Universal Type Client as well as the web based server administration tools.

Stay tuned to Manage This for more product demos and information about release dates.

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So, the newest from Extensis and Apple is now revealed. We’ve got two great new products this morning – Universal Type Server and the MacBook Air. Both are extremely cool. If you aren’t able to be in San Francisco at the Moscone Center today, here are a few photos from the event.

The Extensis team at the booth

Macworld 2008 - the extensis team at the booth

Extensis Product Manager Cindy Valladeres demonstrates Universal Type Server Macworld 2008 - Kelly demonstrates Universal Type Server

There are, of course, some rather interesting booths. I like this one from Moshi:

Interesting looking booth - Moshi

And Crumpler always has interesting designs. This one looks a bit like a castle to me:

Macworl 2008 - crumpler booth

I like the living room feel of Microsoft’s Blogger’s Lounge.

Macworld 2008 - Microsoft’s Blogger’s Lounge - preshow

The John Lenon bus has a bunch of musical instruments outside, as well as demos of Mac-based music editing tools.

Macworld 2008 - the John Lennon bus

And, probably the most unique product available at Macworld, an iPod ready TP roller – because a little music never hurt the “process,” I suppose.

Macworld 2008 - probably the most unique product available here - an iPod TP roller

Of course, you’ll be happy to see that the MacBook Air was well received.

Macworld 2008 - MacBook Air

Macworld 2008 - MacBook Air table

Stay tuned for more updates, and everything Macworld.

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Let’s get right to it–Here’s the first peek at the end user interface for the new Type Server Client.

Client - medium

I do feel this doesn’t do it justice, after all, a font manager looks a lot like a font manager. It is what’s under the hood that makes the big difference.

For the end user, here’s the short list:

  • Multi-face previews combined with QuickType. You can even set preview point size by line. Plus, previews are even better and faster than Suitcase Fusion.
  • Smart sets: save your search criteria as a set and the smart set will automatically find the fonts for that set- dynamically- each time the set is selected.
  • Search on multiple criteria. Can’t remember the name of that typeface? Then narrow-in by searching on what you know:
    • OpenType + Humanist sans + Adobe = whoops, there it is.
  • Granular font information. You can see file type, date added and by whom, version number, unique Font Sense ID, workgroup, classification, etc.
  • Type Server auto-classifies your fonts when they are added- style, foundry, etc. And yes, you can also add your own custom keywords, as well.
  • Highly accurate activation with unique Font Sense ID’s.
  • Activate either the entire family or just individual faces.
  • My favorite fine-tuning thingy: adjust preview size on the fly with the preview size slider (see bottom right of the screen shot above).
  • Did I mention ‘faster’?

If you want to see the new Type Server in action, come check out our booth at Macworld Expo in January. We will be showing the new Type Server on the floor. If you don’t have tickets yet, stay tuned to Manage This. We’ll be giving away tickets to the exhibit floor as we get closer.

There is a lot more to show before then, however. Next up: we’ll talk about what’s under the hood for administrators- and a UI sneak peek for IT types is right around the corner.

As always, let me know if there is something you want to see.

(*This is Alpha, so I make no promises that things won’t change a bit between now and then. After all, this is software.)

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In the last installment, Mike Bacus walked us through the iterative development process that his team has implemented for the new Type Server development. Today I chatted with our Product Manager, Davin Kluttz, about what a font manager should be.

Amanda: Who needs font management and what makes you the expert?

dkluttz.jpgDavin: Well, I’ve been working with font managers for years- long before I started at Extensis. I’ve used them all. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot. You could say a font manager takes all the guesswork out of working with fonts and you can forget about it. But, many people who work with fonts don’t want to forget about them- or completely tune them out- they want their fonts to work with them, not against them.

If you just have a very basic need, like displaying fonts- well the OS (operating system) provides a base level of functionality here. But where this becomes an issue is for the people who have a lot of fonts, or who receive a lot of fonts from clients. So in this case, you need a professional font manager.

A: In your mind, what is the real job of a font manager?

D: It is not just about organization. You can be a meticulously organized person with your fonts in nested folders, etc. But font management is really about having a system that works for you. I think the real job is to put you back in the driver’s seat. Enables you to get as much detail as you want and still allows you to dial it up to a high level of automation.

An example: When you add a font to a database-driven font manager, the database records all the useful information about that font. In this process it can tell if you already have a copy of this version, or if the font is corrupt. Over time this reduces your clutter. Plus it reduces your mental clutter because you don’t have to worry about organization.

A: Then what should users expect of a professional font manager?

D: It should have a database, which enables searching by many criteria, including foundry, file type, classification, etc. It should also put fonts in intelligent groupings (Old Style, OpenType, Adobe, …) This lets you scout through your library quickly both visually as well as through a search field. If you can’t find what you need quickly, what good is it?

Each font should have a unique ID. The only way you can guarantee that you are getting the exact font used in the document is for it to have it’s own identity. A font manager should never just pick the first font in your list with the name ‘Helvetica’. Or worse yet, give you the list of all the ‘helvetica’ on your system and ask you to choose. If I didn’t create it, how the heck should I know? “Just because you walk into a crowded room and yell “Jimmy” does not mean you get the right guy.” That sums it up.*

A font manager should auto-activate fonts called from your parent applications, like Adobe CS3. If the font manager gives your fonts unique ID’s, then you know you’re set.

I don’t think font management is about having all your daily favorites ‘on’ at all times. That’s a given. People who work with fonts already do that. It is about the rest of your library. It is about having creative options at your fingertips without the clutter of the fonts you don’t like, don’t want, don’t need or can’t print! Its about speeding up the viewing and choosing. Who wants to spend a whole day scrolling from Zapf dingbats all the way to Arial? I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better ways to spend my time.

One final thing your font manager should do: Clean up after itself! A lot of people don’t think about this, but it should close what it opens to get it out of your way. This lowers the risk of your system ‘misbehaving’. In other words: if you put your toys back when you’re done, you won’t be tripping over them.

In the upcoming “We hear you!” installment we’ll have a sneak peek at the new UI. It’s beautiful, so don’t miss it.

(*Full disclosure: I stole this quote from our Technical Support Lead, Kelly Guimont.)

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Like anyone else in this game of commerce that we play, we like to create work that resonates with our customers. We communicate through all of the standard means – our website, blog, events, and our advertising efforts. We try to create fun and interesting advertisements that will leave a positive impression with our customers and future customers. Yet, it’s often difficult to know how our target audience is responding.

Fortunately, one of our favorite magazines, Communication Arts does a reader survey every so often that allows us to get a glimpse into how people respond to our advertisements. Most recently, we placed our “Street Fight” font management advertisement in a recent issue that was part of the survey. The messaging impact study, performed by Readex Research, covered both quantitative (believability, information value, etc) and qualitative (what feeling did they get) information from readers.

The final 19 page report is a treasure trove of charts tables and reader quotes. I’m happy to report that our creative endeavors paid off with the ad receiving the second highest rating in the entire issue.

Suitcase Fusion Font Conflicts advertisement

What’s even more fun than the charts of data are the reader quotes. These really give an insight into the thoughts of individual readers. Here are a few that I’d like to share:

  • “The personification of type is very clever. It’s creative, which gives the feeling that these people know how to use type, which in turn helps convince me of buying the product.”
  • “They might have a solution for the problem I have.”
  • “Familiar and trusted products. This supports the playful computer needs with headline as payoff— works.”
  • “Fresh. Modern. Eye catching.”
  • “I think this ad is very unique and attention getting.”
  • “Image is clever. Use of fonts is amusing. Would file for use later.”
  • “Interesting. Clever. Made me curious about the product.”
  • “It’s a little gloomy and very dark image for fonts, but the fonts do have a twist on it which helps. Brings fun into it, but you have to look twice at it.”

Overall, we’re very happy with the final results. Do you have a favorite ad that you’ve read, created or reviewed?

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VP of Product Development, Mike BacusIn the last installment of our ongoing series of discussions about the development of our new server based font management product, the design team talked about developing the interface artwork for the new type server. In this installment, I sat down with our VP of Engineering, Mike Bacus, to talk about the development process behind the new type server.

We recently embraced a new development process here at Extensis. What was the catalyst for this?

We adopted iterative development a few years back so we’ve been doing it for sometime. We don’t always follow it; it’s more of something that we strive to do on every release. Process discussions are generally boring and soulless; however several years ago we had a large project get seriously off track, our engineering team was in a dark place as a consequence, and we lost good people as a result. The negative pleasure of this experience served as the catalyst for change, we have done a lot of soul searching about the processes we use to create products and iterative was selected as a good fit for us.

Previously at Extensis, software development had been done using a ‘waterfall method’ where the scope of the entire project was assessed up-front and estimates were made and a delivery date was predicted.

What exactly IS iterative development?

It’s not what Chuck Norris used to hone his fighting technique. There are several flavors: iterative development, agile development, extreme programming, etc. There are many proponents of these development methodologies. It is made up of a series of short development cycles; at the end of each cycle you have a certain set of features which are fully-functional and bug-free. Agile has a higher emphasis on verbal communication. You have a discussion about a feature, go off and build it, test it fully, and move on. The philosophy is that you build functionality in the order of priority, so the most important features are implemented first and by actively managing defect correction as part of each iterative cycle you are ready to ship the product in a very short period of time after you finish your last iteration of construction & testing.

For our new type client we experimented with a few process twists; all source code added to the project was reviewed by a fellow engineer, every feature has unit tests that execute on our build system post compile several times a day, and most functionality is exercised by our test automation group (written during iteration construction) before handing a build off to QA. This allowed us to quickly build up a suite of regression tests over so that we can quickly pinpoint problematic changes introduced to the project and fix those issues quickly. With these recent changes to our evolving process we have achieved more than an order of magnitude lower number of defects per thousand lines of code, the engineers are more productive and the amount of time to regress all features in the product has been significantly shortened so we can move through development cycles faster.

So, the process cares about where you will end up- but it is designed to tackle what is right in front of you today. We used iterative development when designing our Web site several years back, but that is a very different project. How is this process translated to a bigger project like software?

I think Agile/Iterative Development got its start in the Web domain where projects are smaller in scope and feature focused to maximize content change to make web sites more interesting – fast turnaround was a must; high usability was a must (generally no manuals or help accompany web sites); but over time it has been adopted by software companies. Because iterative development philosophy is basically “use what works, pitch what doesn’t”, this makes it very easy to adapt to different products and company cultures. In most cases this model seems to work best for version releases or incremental development. In our case, we have also adapted it for new product development of our Type Server, which many people did not think was doable. I attribute this to the domain knowledge of our Engineers, which is very high, and has always been a real strength for the company

Then what is the payoff here- for the company and for customers?

Productivity, morale, quality are all better. I have rationalized the changes somewhat, it’s not that iterative is better or waterfall is worse. You can have very well run waterfall projects and terrible iterative projects. For us, the process of going to iterative development gave us a framework and a methodology to address a lot of issues that were plaguing us; and lets face it all of these issues are people problems not process problems. The iterative methodology was like truth serum, you still need to act on what you uncover.

That sort of shift sounds like it could be unnerving for a tenured Engineer.

The downside is that it is a paradigm shift, numerous process changes increase chaos – this does ultimately settle down; but we have also experienced a decrease in predictability. We can easily absorb requirements changes mid project and even add or subtract resources to control the pace of the project – but you have to have enough discipline to not fall victim to feature creep. Additions to the project should be balanced by subtractions of scope in other areas or the addition of resources. Engineers that have worked as solo contributors for most of their career may find iterative development awkward initially, so there is an adjustment period. However, now it feels very natural and we all are as always very determined to make this work. It took a long time to achieve process transparency.

The other thing I should mention is our adherence to small teams. I think this has helped quite a bit also; we keep the span of control low so the number of communication channels is minimized. For Mystique, the code name for our new type client server project, we have a server team, a client team, a UI team, and a plug-in team. All teams are limited to no more than 4-6 people and teams work independently and adhere to interface contracts between them for integration.

What’s your final assessment?

In short: “agile” works for us. I’ve always felt that “Waterfall” gave an unhealthy illusion of predictability and disincentivized collaboration between marketing and engineering. There are probably a lot of development shops that could benefit from being more agile; our organization is dynamic, things change constantly. Agile gives us a lot; we get better team interaction and tighter design/implementation/testing loops. I very much believe in it, the focus for all involved is on doing the best job you can on the current feature – schedule and delivery dates (although omnipresent) are de-emphasized. I believe agile/iterative or a variant of that development methodology is how products will be built in the future. It fits the way we work here; we have a lot of cross functional collaboration now that we didn’t have before. Overall, I think it has allowed us to dial-up the craftsmanship and quality on the new Type Server, which is great for our own morale and will be great for our customers.

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itunes-offer-3.pngTreat yourself to some back-to-school (or bummed-that-summer-is-over) tunes. We have a great offer going on the Extensis site. For every $49 you spend, you will receive a $10 iTunes certificate. Offer good thru next Friday on Suitcase Fusion, Portfolio, and others. So stock up and whistle while you work.

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Martin Stein, VP of Products and SolutionsIn the first installment, Brian Berson (Extensis General Manager) explained where the new type server project stands right now. In this issue, I asked the ‘product guys’ about how the whole thing got started.

The Product Guys in the spotlight today: Brian Berson (Extensis GM) and Martin Stein (VP Products & Solutions).

Amanda: Every software project starts with a product requirements document, which outlines what this product will be and do. When you were writing the PRD for the type server – what was your hi-level objective?

Brian: Well, on a high level, we wanted to merge 2 into 1 with the sum being more than 2. The challenge was that these 2 are different products represent 2 different approaches.

Large corporate environments have a large infrastructure, and compliance is a main concern. They need the control that a live system offers. This is the Font Reserve Server model. Smaller, more nimble environments may not have a big IT team. They need complete user flexibility, like the ability to pick and choose their subscriptions. This is closer to the Suitcase Server model.

Since another objective was to continue serving both small workgroups and large enterprises with the same product, the new type server has to give the administrator the ability to configure their desired level of control.

Martin: Next priority was to “Be a better IT citizen”. That’s become an internal mantra around here. To me this means that we have to meet the needs of their current ecosystem. Things like: scalability, stability, rapid development for enhancements, better offline usability, customization, etc.

B: Another priority for me was to take font management to the next level- customers are very clear about what they expect in a new product. They expect simple and powerful UI, precise font activation via FontSense, license management, and a product that takes into consideration how their teams really use it.

And lastly, we have to make the entire transition seamless. Customers want everything that they had before, wrapped in a better package of performance and usability.

A: How did these objectives impact technology decisions?

B: From a technology standpoint, this led us down a few paths. Architecturally, we quickly decided that everything would be centralized: fonts, permissions, sets, keywords, etc. Everything is housed on the server- in a live system. From there: we were trying to decide between the Suitcase and Font Reserve servers as the platform. Ultimately it did not add up to continue building on this proprietary technology when the technology is already out there to leverage. We decided to put our internal resources and expertise where it fits best– solving the business problem.

M: That’s what led to the decision to use open technology off the shelf. We need to fit into the ecosystem of our customers, and these are proven, well-tested and supported in the developer community. This was the right decision from a technology standpoint, and ultimately for the customer, but it has had an impact on time to market. It was inevitable.

A: Now that the objectives and approach are mapped out, let’s talk details. Where did you start and how do you decide what is left on the ‘cutting room floor’?

M: We started by breaking apart all the functionality of each product and then ‘rebuilt’ the product – conceptually. But this is not simply a consolidation, so then we added to the list all the things we always wanted to do. Then the hard part: prioritization. Time to market matters, so we had to make priority decisions.

B: But, this also means we know where we want to take the technology from here- long term. For example, we’d like to implement things like server-to-server replication, etc. But that’s not going to make it into this release.

A: What people can’t see is the excitement on your faces as you’re talking about this.

M: I am excited. I am so proud of this project. It’s the ‘OSX of the font management world’. A beautiful UI combined with the power of a real IT application. This really is a kick-ass product.

Upcoming ‘We hear you!’ installments will include: what’s under the hood, rethinking user interface design, and what’s driving the new end-user functionality.

Have something you are interested in? Drop me a line (via a comment) and I’ll add it to the mix.

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Continuing with the Suitcase Fusion tutorial series, these next two videos cover how Suitcase Fusion helps you manage duplicate fonts, and stay organized using font sets.

Suitcase Fusion Tutorial #9
Managing duplicate fonts

Suitcase Fusion Tutorial #10
Organizing fonts using sets

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Here are the next two videos In our continuing Suitcase Fusion tutorial series. These next two videos cover some basic usage issues with Suitcase Fusion. The first explains how Suitcase Fusion’s font vault protects you from inadvertent font loss, while the second covers some basic usage techniques.

Suitcase Fusion Tutorial #7
Using the Suitcase Fusion Font Vault

Suitcase Fusion Tutorial #8
Adding, viewing and finding fonts

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