The questions never end. We hear them from customers on the phone, at events, and during site visits. We hear them from creative agencies and publishing companies. We hear them in the US, Europe and Asia.
OK. We get it. You want more information on the next generation type server that’s in the works. So we’ve decided to do a series here that gives you some exposure to the development process, sneak peeks at some of the functionality, hear about what it is like to work on the team, and learn about the philosophy driving the development of our next generation type server.
The #1 question we get- without fail- is “When will it be done?” So there seems no better place to start than at the top. I posed this question to Brian Berson, General Manager of Extensis. That’s all it took. One question and he was off to the races…
A: Brian, I’ll cut to the chase. Here’s the question: Why is this taking so long?
B: Wow. Don’t softball it!
Really, that is a valid question. Some days I wonder that myself. The short answer is: this project is complex.
On one hand, we’re creating a new product that combines what we already have: two unique font management server solutions, which happen to take different approaches to client-server font management. Font Reserve Server is all about control of the font assets to ensure absolute correct use of fonts, while Suitcase Server is all about the best end-user experience. One focused on the IT administrator and the other focused on the creative user. Both have their place and what we set out to do was to merge the two approaches to give our customers the complete solution. Quite honestly – that’s not as easy as you might think. We did make some assumptions at the outset that didn’t work out as planned. Sometimes that happens.
On the other hand, we are also starting fresh by employing a more modern and adaptable architecture. We’ve recognized that our expertise is in understanding fonts and font workflows, and there is no point in re-inventing the wheel by building a proprietary technology, so we are using open, existing technologies and standards. This will give our customers a faster, more scalable and stable product. It will also allow us to more rapidly adapt, modify, and add new features and functionality. We’ve known from the beginning that this needs to be more than the sum of Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server. Our customers deserve more than 1+1=2.
Then there is the need to hit the ground running. We have a mature customer base with thousands of installations- from small shops to multi-thousand seat sites. For each one, font management is mission-critical. If we miss a step, they’ll be sure to let us know! Our next generation type server can not come out of the gate feeling like a 1.0 product.
Oh yes- and we are doing all of this while continuing to support our other products that are being used in production today. And certainly Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, and Quark don’t make this job any easier! Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server integrate with both the operating system and parent applications. So when the operating system updates, for example, we have to be there with an update ASAP. Users count on it. And with QuarkXPress 7, Intel Macs, Windows Vista, Adobe CS3, and Leopard (Mac OS 10.5) all shipping in the same year- this continues to be our biggest challenge. Keeping up with these changes is a continuing challenge for our IT and creative customers, and the same is true for us as a developer.
So yes, it is complex. That said, I’m really excited about where we are now. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years already and are now in the home stretch. The product team is looking forward to talking about what we’re working on. But I’ve definitely gone on long enough, so that will have to wait for the next installment.
To see the face behind the words, you can see a brief interview with Brian in this snippet, cut from a longer interview.
You can also view the entire 1-hour show, Fonts, Fonts, Fonts!, produced by Left-Hand-Man Productions.
Remember I gave a shout out to the guys at Zig a few months back (based on their writeup in Applied Arts). Well, they’ve done some great work with us which has been written up this week in the Chicago Sun Times.
It very fulfilling when people get it. It’s not about fonts. It’s about art.
Today we announced a new patent for the Extensis Font Sense™ technology that allows you to activate the right font when you need it.
While it might not be immediately apparent, the Font Sense technology is at the heart of accurate font activation. Font Sense is built into the Suitcase Fusion, Suitcase for Windows and Font Reserve line of products, and it’s the Font Sense technology that inspects, accurately identifies and embeds font tracking information into each of your documents. This way, font sense works like a fingerprint for your fonts. A fingerprint that travels with your document ensuring that the right fonts are used each time the document is opened.
Font Sense technology is used by our auto-activation plug-ins for Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and QuarkXPress. And, this information is compatible with all cross-platform documents. So, if you create an InDesign document on a Mac using Suitcase Fusion, providing that you are using cross-platform fonts, you can open the identical document in Microsoft Vista using Suitcase for Windows.
We remain committed to update font activation plug-ins and XTensions as required to maintain compatibility with the most popular design applications and operating systems. We are currently working to finalize changes to our plug-ins to maintain compatibility with the updated Adobe InDesign and Illustrator CS3, and will provide updated plug-ins shortly after CS3 ships.
Check out these links for more info on Font Sense:
March 29th, 2007 by Jim Kidwell
Today we announced new plug-ins that provide font auto-activation compatibility for two Adobe CS3 applications. Within the coming months we will provide free plug-ins that support Suitcase Fusion, Suitcase for Windows, Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server.
For complete details, check out the press release.
Today we announced the next version of our professional font management for
the Microsoft Windows® platform.
This release of Suitcase™ for Windows® adds a number of new font auto-activation plug-ins, an innovative font vault, as well as compatibility with the next operating system, Microsoft Vista.
Auto-activation plug-ins can be extremely helpful. Basically, when you open a document, the auto-activation plug-ins use our Font Sense technology to ensure that you’re using the exact version of the font that was used when the document was created. We’ve created plug-ins for the most popular design utilities. These include in Adobe InDesignCS2, Adobe Illustrator CS2 and QuarkXPress 7.
For the full scoop, read our official press release.
Recently, I sat down with Brian Berson, General Manager of Extensis to ask him a few questions about his experience with software development, the future of font managment, and even a bit about his accent.
How long have you been in the font management business?
I’ve been dealing with fonts for over 15 years now, but I’ve been in the actual business of managing fonts for almost 12 years. After being around publishing companies for many years and seeing the level of font problems users were experiencing daily, I felt it was a problem that was solvable, so I founded DiamondSoft with the express intention of solving all the world’s font management problems. Boy was I ever overly optimistic :-). Twelve years later and we are still at it. But kidding aside, we have made tremendous strides in font management. Technologies such as font auto-activation, Font Sense technology, and server-based font management have helped organizations around the world get their work done quicker, more efficiently, and with fewer errors than ever before.
How many companies have you started?
Just one – DiamondSoft. I tend to stick with things. I have been with Extensis now for 3 1/2 years. I ran DiamondSoft for 8 1/2 years.
Prior to that I was with a company called Island Graphics in Marin County in California for about 10 years. I was the 14th person to join Island Graphics initially and we grew to over 200 employees during my time there.
How many products have you overseen development?
Quite a few. Much of my time has been spent in the development of software for publishing and graphic arts areas. I have been involved with the development of some of the original early graphics software like paint systems and early page layout and pagination type systems.
Island Graphics was a real bleeding edge developer with some truly amazing products. It was developing Photoshop and Illustrator type products before these products were ever dreamed up – running on the first generation Sun Microsystems computers off the production line.
That is going back a ways – but I have worked with some great people on some very exciting products over the years.
What brought you into the field of software development?
I think I sort of fell into it. I studied engineering in college without really knowing what direction I wanted to go in. Somewhere along the line I took some programming classes and loved them. I ended up getting a degree in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and started my career as a programmer at Motorola. I realized pretty early on that I was not happy being a “cog in a wheel”. I wanted to work on smaller, more creative projects that had a direct benefit to someone. After a couple of startup company “false starts”, I ended up at Island Graphics.
I think at the end of the day I find software development to be a wonderful mix of creativity and problem solving. That is what I love most about it.
Where do you see the field of font management going?
Font management has a number of unique challenges in that a font is part system resource and part “user” resource. A font is used within documents, but usually only referenced by the document – therefore it is up to the user to ensure that the font is available on the system and made available to the document. Add to this the fact that most users have only a general knowledge about fonts – naming conventions, file makeup, interaction with the various parts of the system – and you have a recipe for problems. I would like to see font management get to the point where it is essentially completely transparent to the user unless the user is choosing a font to use. When I open a document of any kind, any fonts required by that document – and the specific versions of those fonts – should simply be available to the document without any interaction by the user. We have the beginnings of this goal with our auto-activation and Font Sense technologies.
Couple this with server technologies, and enhanced font license management to ensure that we are all being fully compliant with our font license usage, and we will be very close to the ultimate goal.
That’s an interesting accent you have, where did you get that?
My wife usually gives the person asking this question 3 guesses after which they owe her an ice cream 🙂 And more often than not, she ends up with an ice cream.
I was actually born and raised in Johannesburg in South Africa. My family immigrated to the United States in the late seventies because we did not agree with the political system of apartheid. So I have actually been in the United States for almost 30 years now. So I would have to say that while my accent is originally from South Africa, it is really a unique home grown accent at this point.
Do you foresee a convergence of asset management and font management in the future?
Well, there is no doubt that there is a lot of overlap between asset management and font management. Fonts are, after all, digital files. They typically have usage rights associated with them, they are often versioned, one font “asset” is often used in multiple documents, etc etc. But at the same time they each serve some very specific needs, so I would not expect them to completely converge. I do think the relationship between asset management and font management will continue to deepen. For example, many documents stored in asset management systems today reference fonts which are not stored in the asset management system. This means that at some point in the future you may access a document that has been safely stored in your asset management system, but still not be able to reproduce it since you no longer have the correct fonts. If the asset management system was able to talk to the font management system when storing and retrieving documents, this problem could be easily solved.
Which product do you like better, Suitcase or Font Reserve?
Ah – trick question eh? I assume we are discussing server-based products here. I think Font Reserve is the better product for larger environments where strong control over font compliance and usage is an essential requirement, and Suitcase is the better product for smaller more flexible environments. Both products have their strengths, and honestly, both products have their weaknesses, but at the end of the day what is most important is that in environments of 10 or more users, a server-based solution provides tremendous benefits over trying to manage fonts on each and every desktop individually, and both Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server are great products.