New UI Font Coming to Vista, Office 12

With the release of a new user interface in Windows Vista and Office 12, Microsoft will also update the font that both products use for the first time in eight years. The company says the new font is designed to take advantage of ClearType, and is more modern than its predecessors.

Dubbed "Segoe UI," the font is more humanistic and less computer-like than it's predecessor, Tahoma. Microsoft also relied on a decade of research from its Typography unit on making fonts easier to read and scan on screen.

Segoe has taken two years to develop, according to Microsoft. Office 12 will primarily use the 8pt. version of the font, while Windows itself will use the 9pt. size.

"It's amazing to me how much work goes into making a great font --sometimes we send back feedback just about a certain glyph ('g' looks weird in this specific situation) and they tweak the hinting just a bit to improve it," Microsoft User Experience team member Jensen Harris wrote in his Web log last week.

Microsoft's history with designing fonts specifically to complement the user interface has been a rather short one. With Office and Windows 95, the company introduced the MS Sans Serif font. The font was one of the first to look good, although a bit bland, at smaller sizes.

With Office 97 and Windows 98, the font team took a step forward in readability with the introduction of the Tahoma font. The font was specifically engineered to be easily read at smaller sizes.

"Tahoma 8pt. is still used as the main font in Office 2003 today; it has also been used as the main UI font in Windows since Windows 98," Harris wrote.

Microsoft hopes that with Segoe UI, the company will again be able to take another step forward in both readability and comfort in viewing.

However, not everyone's singing Microsoft's praises. One commenter to Harris' Web log even accused the font team of plagiarizing another font, called Frutiger.

"Segoe UI looks exactly like Frutiger (with the addition of round dots, as in another Frutiger ripoff called Myriad). This is going to be just another repeat of the Arial and Book Antiqua incidents. Can't your designers try to come up with something original?" a user named Adam wrote.

But another commenter downplayed such claims. "Of course Segoe UI is going to look a lot like any other sans-serif, variable-width, Clear-Type font," a user by the name of Kawigi responded. "The patent on letters ran out a long time ago."

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