Will Microsoft ever abandon Arial for Helvetica?

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John Smith's picture
Joined: 27 Feb 2012 - 7:10pm
Will Microsoft ever abandon Arial for Helvetica?

This is something I've wondered for a while. Given that Microsoft originally shipped Windows with Book Antiqua, and then eventually started licensing a legit version of Palatino, it would seem like a possibility that they could do the same for Arial/Helvetica. Granted, Book Antiqua wasn't as ubiquitous as Arial is, and thus was easier to abandon. But it seems they're paying more attention towards design and following more of designers' advice in their recent software, so does anyone ever see this happening?

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am

They already abandoned it. In the sense that it isn’t the default font for anything. Meanwhile, both OS X and iOS come with Arial.

Frederik Alexander Gottwald's picture
Joined: 22 Jun 2012 - 8:41am

Should they?

Arial works better as a text face, and often renders better on screen.

The latter is getting less of an issue, but Microsoft generally favours practicality over design purity and occasionally goes out of its way to support legacy software.

Simon Daniels's picture
Joined: 11 Apr 2002 - 6:37pm

Book Antiqua never shipped with Windows. It most commonly comes with Microsoft Office.

And yes Arial stopped being a default around the same time as we licensed it to Apple.


David Berlow's picture
Joined: 19 Jul 2004 - 6:31pm

"Given that Microsoft originally shipped Windows with Book Antiqua,"

Windows didn't have TrueType fonts until V 3.2.

"Book Antiqua never shipped with Windows."

Width-compatible versions of Helvetica, Palatino, ITC Bookman, ITC Zapf Chancery, ITC Avant Garde, and the other 35 resident Postscript laserwriter fonts shipped to the same users at the same instant as millions and millions of copies of Windows. (A totally different thing;).

John Savard's picture
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm

Windows 3.1 introduced TrueType fonts, and largely as a result of that, it was a success where Windows 3.0 had been largely ignored (Microsoft even had a deal with Logitech were you could get a free copy of Windows 3.0 when you bought a Logitech mouse).

Arial, although width-compatible with Helvetica, is derived from the font outlines of a Monotype sans-serif typeface, and thus it's a legitimate typeface. Various approximations and imitations of Helvetica are available cheaply or for free to Windows users, so the fact that it doesn't come with Windows is not really a problem for anyone who has a document to print on a laser printer for which Helvetica would look right, and Monotype Grotesque would look wrong.

That being said, though, I can understand why an attitude of 'who cares' might be rejected. Not that Arial is a bad typeface, but Helvetica is historically significant, and it has aesthetic qualities which are well recognized. I think Helvetica Medium is quite beautiful on signage myself.

And, so, having that as an automatic default - as most computer users care little and know less about typography - would presumably contribute to an elevation of typographic taste or some such thing.

Of course, Helvetica, like Times Roman, is so highly popular that it has its detractors as well. I'm not one to reject a typeface merely because it's popular. I'm not even particularly hostile for Papyrus - I think it fills its particular niche quite well, a niche for which there is a lot of demand these days.

But I might be sympathetic enough to those critical of Helvetica to express the wish that if Microsoft were to include a copy of Helvetica with every copy of Windows, they might also spring for a copy of Univers as well. (I suppose people would have to get Microsoft Word to have Franklin Gothic and News Gothic as alternate choices.)

Helvetica, beautiful as it is, is more of a display sans-serif than a text sans-serif, while, although I find Univers bland and uninspiring by comparison, I have to admit that it better fills the role of a text face.

Of course, it would also be nice if people could choose Century Expanded or Baskerville in Windows, instead of just Georgia, as a serif alternative to Times Roman. Again, one has more choices if one springs for Microsoft Office.