Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X

The Library Fonts folder

The Library Fonts folder ( /Library/Fonts ) is where Tiger puts nonessential fonts; so, by their very definition, all the fonts can be removed. But that doesn’t mean you should get rid of them all.

Keep common Web fonts: These fonts are ubiquitous on the Web because they’re cross-platform and, with the exception of Times New Roman, easy to read on the screen:

  • Comic Sans
  • Georgia
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Times New Roman
  • Verdana
  • You need either the Tiger-supplied or the Microsoft-supplied version someplace to keep your surfing smooth. Even if you’re a font professional who’s fanatic about getting rid of non-essentials to avoid conflicts, there shouldn’t be any problem with these: you’re not likely to be working with an OpenType or Type 1 version of any of these fonts for some professional job. (In addition, Office applications require Verdana for the definitions in its Reference Tools.) Note that for viewing Arabic-language Web sites in Safari, you need the Tiger version of Times New Roman (and Arial).

    Keep common cross-platform fonts: Arial and Arial Black may be overused, but you’ll probably need them if you exchange documents with PC users.

    Watch for application-installed fonts: Applications sometimes install fonts into this folder; they’re still typically expendable but you should check the application’s documentation.

    Mind your manners: If you’re on a multi-user Mac, keep in mind that this is the folder all users share; be polite and politic about removing these fonts.

    The User Fonts folder

    The OS doesn’t put any files in ~/Library/Fonts; the bulk of User fonts comes from Microsoft Office. While you can remove all of them because they’re not essential to Office operations, that’s not necessarily the wisest approach; the Microsoft versions of Tiger-supplied fonts are better in most cases.

    The other fonts in this folder are, presumably, the ones you put there, so they can be removed, too, assuming that you have copies someplace, should you ever wish to put them back.

    The Classic Fonts folder

    If you have Classic installed on your Mac, these fonts must stay in /System Folder/Fonts:

  • Charcoal
  • Chicago
  • Geneva
  • Monaco
  • Without these fonts, Classic applications, and the Classic environment itself, won’t run properly. Font Book doesn’t consider them system fonts, however, so you won’t get any warning when you try to remove them.

    Some argue that you need only Charcoal, despite Apple’s admonitions about retaining these fonts; and that, furthermore, if you also remove Charcoal, the Classic environment will access a version that’s buried in the OS 9 system file. I say: What’s the big deal? Are you planning an award-winning graphic design piece, or even a letter to your mother, using any of these four fonts? Leave them alone. You can disable the entire Classic Mac OS group in Font Book, anyway, because it won’t affect how the fonts behave in Classic applications.

    The Adobe Fonts folders

    How you handle the wealth of fonts supplied with Adobe applications depends on your general font usage. You may want to add to or delete from the Adobe Fonts folder, or even share the fonts with your other applications. However, the issue at hand is which fonts you can dump. If you have Creative Suite, you have two main Adobe “private” folders, one of which has an important subfolder, while installing only Adobe Acrobat creates a single Fonts folder:

  • /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts holds most of the fonts that come with Creative Suite; you can remove any or all of them. But don’t remove the folder because it has to hold the all-important subfolder described next.
  • /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts/Rqrd/Base/ is a subfolder in the Adobe folder I just described. “Rqrd” means required and the fonts inside really are: some of the CS applications won’t even run if these fonts are unavailable. The crossover in fonts between this and the main Adobe fonts folder—Courier, Minion, and Myriad—is surface only, because one set is PostScript Type 1 and the other OpenType. Leave them alone.
  • /Library/Application Support/Adobe/PDFL/7.0/Fonts (or 5.0 or 6.0) comes along with Acrobat Professional (which is also part of the Creative Suite). There’s lots of crossover between this folder and the Rqrd folder, but since different, specific applications access them, there’s no problem with duplication. Leave them all alone if you value your Acrobat PDFs.
  • Outdated Adobe folders: If you have a /Library/Application Support/Adobe/PDFL/7.0/Fonts in use, you might also have an outdated 6.0 and perhaps even a 5.0 version that can be trashed.

    The Microsoft Fonts folder

    The Microsoft folder /Applications/Microsoft Office 2004/Office/Fonts is somewhat of a red herring, because although it looks like an application Fonts folder, it’s not: all its fonts are merely copied into a User Fonts folder the first time an Office application runs.

    While you don’t need this folder or its fonts, you should leave it in place, in case you set up a new user account as a troubleshooting procedure or need to reinstall the fonts for any other reason—for instance, if you deleted some of them in favor of the Tiger versions and realize the error of your ways.

    Outdated Microsoft Office fonts: When you install a new version of Microsoft Office, it makes a special folder to store the fonts that came with the previous version. Look for ~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Old Fonts and get rid of the whole folder; even if you keep and run the previous Office version occasionally, it won’t need those fonts.

    [ Sharon Zardetto Aker has been writing about the Macintosh professionally since 1984, including nearly a thousand articles in Macintosh magazines and over 20 books; her latest is Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X ( TidBits Electronic Publishing, 2006). ]

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