It’s somewhat amazing to think that despite the technological
advancement seen on the web over the past decade, web designers are
still pretty much relegated to using a relatively small group of web
safe fonts when designing websites.

While it’s easy to forget about the role fonts play in creating a
compelling aesthetic, any decent print designer, for instance, knows
just how important they can be.

Because the number of fantastic fonts in existence far exceeds the number of fonts that are web safe, web designers are forced to settle for web safe fonts, use graphic text instead of HTML text, or implement JavaScript-based solutions like cufón or the Google Font API.

But thanks to the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) technology that is being worked on by the W3C, font angst may one day be a thing of the past.

WOFF relies on a CSS element, @font-face, which directs a web browser to a location at which the font specified by a designer can be downloaded. WOFF also incorporates compression technology to speed download time of fonts.

As noted by’s Stephen Shankland, technology isn’t WOFF’s biggest stumbling block; business interests are. On the browser front, Microsoft, Mozilla, Google and Apple are all looking at including WOFF in future versions of the browsers they distribute.

Even more important is the support WOFF is receiving from major font foundries, including Adobe, ITC Fonts,  and Linotype. While font foundries have good reason to be concerned about piracy, WOFF, if it flies, also provides them with a significant opportunity, as web designers and publishers would constitute a large new market of potential licensees.

Obviously, despite the gains WOFF is making on the technical and business fronts, we won’t see snazzier web fonts overnight. There’s still a lot of work to do, and until WOFF is supported by browsers with majority market share, it’s unlikely that designers will flock to use it.

But nonetheless, WOFF looks to be the best hope that the web might one day be a bit more diverse than Arial and Times New Roman.