Microsoft core fontsTo get out a word you need Word. That is how things usually work at most desktops around the globe. To be exact: Microsoft’s Word, not God’s. So, even if you happily work on LibreOffice, or another open-source office suite, you will come across Microsoft’s core fonts on a very regular basis.

Of course all these fonts are proprietary and can only be legally used in a paid for Windows environment. How to deal with these fonts outwith Windows? Just in case you want to be nice to poor Windows users. There are several options.

Times New Roman, Arial and Courier New are still ubiquitous. Even the vilified Comic Sans font can be found in many places. These are the older ones, some going back to the very dawn of Windows. But in 2007 a whole new set of ClearType fonts became the default. Consequently, Cambria, Calibri and Candara, or Consolas, Corbel and Constantia are increasingly populating our displays and documents. Some are also Dutch design, by the way. How to use these without running Windows?

1.  Install the legacy MS core fonts…

On Ubuntu-based computers installation is easy. Open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install ttf-mscorefonts-installer

A script will download and install the original fonts, after you have agreed to Microsoft’s EULA. Not surprisingly, but then it’s legal.

If you prefer open-source alternatives for these MS fonts, Google Fonts comes to your partial rescue. They provide near perfect matches for Arial, Courier New, Times New Roman and Symbol (marked * in the table below). Start your software manager and look for a package with ‘croscore’ in its name.

On RedHat-based computers too there is an easy way. First make sure you have the required tools installed:

yum install curl cabextract xorg-x11-font-utils fontconfig

(Eg. cabextract may be lacking.) Then download and install the fonts:

rpm -i

You even get a bonus: along with the legacy MS fonts the new ClearType set will be installed. More details can be found here.

2.  …and the ClearType MS core fonts…

Again Google Fonts can help by providing near perfect matches for Calibri and Cambria (marked * in the table below). Start your software manager and look for a package with ‘crosextra’ in its name.

If you belong to the RedHat camp, you already have most MS core fonts now. If you stick to Ubuntu distros, you could directly download the *.rpm package, convert it to a *.deb:

alien -d [/path/to/rpm-package]

…and then install it the usual way. This will provide you with a nice set of common MS fonts, old and new: Andale Mono, Arial, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia, Corbel, Comic Sans, Courier New, Impact, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, Verdana and Webdings.

Alternatively, you could download and install the free PowerPoint Viewer 2007 on some Windows system, eg. one running in VirtualBox, then copy the ClearType MS fonts to your own system and install them there.

Both methods seem to be legal, since, technically, you do not ‘redistribute’ the fonts, but merely download and unpack these to the same computer. So far Microsoft has not made any fuss about it.

But of course you can still buy the Microsoft ClearType Font Collection online to make your use absolutely legal, but then you should be prepared for a € 300 donation…

3.  …or use open-source alternatives

There are open-source, or at least free, alternatives to the standard MS fonts, which are – supposed to be – ‘metrically compatible’. Already mentioned are the Google fonts, marked * in the table below. Other alternatives can be found in your Linux distro’s repositories. If fonts are not in there, try Font Squirrel, MyFonts (search for free fonts), Google Fonts (to embed fonts on your website), or just ‘startpage’ the *.ttf or *.otf you are looking for.

Below is a short list of alternative fonts. Be critical and compare them before use. Arimo, Cousine, Tinos, Symbol Neu, Carlito and Caladea, and also FreeSans and FreeMono, make pretty good matches, but other fonts will show slight differences in size or feel.

The Comic Neu font is not an attempt to mimic Comic Sans, but instead it intends to offer a decent alternative to overcome the original’s shortcomings (and bad press).

Read the story in short in this document.

One last TIP: once you have installed the fonts, copy them from your font folder to a backup location, so you can find them back if something changes with the online download locations. We live in uncertain times…

MS fonts alternatives

MS fonts (legacy)
MS fonts (current)
Liberation Sans
Courier NewCousine*
Times New RomanTinos*
Liberation Serif
SymbolSymbol Neu*CorbelQuattrocento Sans
VerdanaDejaVu Sans
Bitstream Vera Sans
ConstantiaQuattrocento Roman
Comic SansComic Neu
Microsoft fonts outwith Windows
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