One of the nice things about Gentoo Linux is that they tend to leave the upstream defaults alone. This applies to file system locations, build configurations, but also things like preferences across the GNOME Desktop. This is good, in that Gentoo users see the raw upstream, but not entirely optimal in cases where those defaults aren’t as good as they could be or are too generic.
I was pairing with a colleague the other day and they were impressed with how I had things set up — and more to the point my rationales for having done so — and they encouraged me to write about it.
I don’t particularly think I have anything original or novel to say, but in so far as some of us have built up configurations over the years that (for ourselves, at least) improve usability and which define our productivity, I think it’ll be a nice contribution to show others what we’re using and how we got things that way. If you think you know what you’re doing, then I encourage you to write about your customizations — and why you made them. People using commercial distros like Ubuntu and Fedora will justly be able to say “it already looks good” and so if you’re happy you can ignore this, but even in such environments we still often tighten things up to individual taste and so I’m sure you have something to offer.
Anyway, thus begins an occasional series about things I’ve done to beautify my GNOME Desktop on our Gentoo Linux systems.
A few years back I was enjoying a drink with Carl Worth and Keith Packard (free desktop graphics hackers extraordinaire, for those who haven’t met them). Later in the evening Keith leaned over, saw my laptop’s screen, and starting swearing at me: “You need to fix your fonts!” (I was using Luxi or something). So, ok, what do you want me to do? They told me to switch to the Bitstream Vera family as being well sculpted, highly professional, and optimized for screen display. Needless to say I take what these gentlemen say extremely seriously, so did what I was told
Like any font or appearances change, for the first day or so it felt a bit odd, but then something shifted and it felt very comfortable. The real give-away that I was on the right track was a few days later when I tried switching back to the old font for the hell of it and recoiled in horror “Gawd that’s ugly!”
Bitstream Vera had done me well for quite some time, but recently I started running into some subtle bugs. One showed up with the weather applet; for whatever reason a few versions ago they changed the string from ‘°’ + ‘C’ to unicode character
0x2103, the symbol for degrees Celsius. I was getting a weird fall back to some horrible looking old bit-mapped font. Yikes (if °C and ℃ don’t look about the same then you’ll see what I mean). No big deal, but it was annoying me.
So I was checking around again to see if there was a different font family I should be using, when I came across the DejaVu. It starts from Bitstream Vera (so the base ASCII characters are all the same and mostly untouched) but adds a ton of hinting corrections, bug fixes, and extensions up in the higher unicode sequences needed by European languages and scientific work. There are also a number of additional faces available. And regular releases (always a good sign). And a different name, per the Bitstream licence terms. When I asked about DejaVu in
#gnome-hackers, the answer was “hell yes you should be using it.” Huh. So I switched!
The DejaVu fonts are available on Gentoo in the
The “right” way to change the font globally would be to change the “Sans” and “Serif” and “Monospace” aliases in the fontconfig setup in
/etc/fonts. But I generally try to leave those files alone, so instead ran
gnome-appearance-properties and from the Font tab changed the system fonts to be what I wanted.
Immediately it fixed my glitch with the weather applet (yeay), but I started to notice anything using the higher order mathematical symbols was likewise drastically improved. Hurrah!
Making screenshots of what they look like on my screen is a bit silly because they won’t necessarily look the same on your screen. But hey. We do our best.
Open Source is about choice, and so I cannot talk about fonts without also mentioning the Liberation font family. These were obtained by Red Hat and intended as a drop-in replacement for the Microsoft core fonts (Courier New, Arial, etc) which are widely used but not libre. For whatever reason the Liberation fonts don’t look quite right on my screen (there are red and green hinting glitches around the glyphs; something is obviously misconfigured somewhere) but it’s a different free font that has been generously made available to the community. They’re available on Gentoo in the
- So it turns out that DejaVu is set to be the default on Gentoo, but they’ve got a bug whereby they’ve got their ordering wrong: if you also have Bitstream Vera installed it gets picked up for Sans in preference. The folks in
#gentoo-desktopsay they’re going to fix that. (This is only relevant if you have the
x11-base/xorg-x11meta package installed; it pulls in
media-fonts/ttf-bitstream-vera. If you only have the lower level
x11-base/xorg-serverpackage installed you can manually install
media-fonts/dejavu[only] and then the default aliases will be to DejaVu). Anyway, the real point of this article was about being aware that you can have control of your fonts, so all good.