How to decrease Debian font bugs by decreasing Debian fonts

Speaker: Nathan Willis

Track: Packaging, policy, and Debian infrastructure

Type: Long talk (45 minutes)

Room: Miniauditório

Time: Jul 23 (Tue), 11:00

Duration: 0:45

Font packages preset a distinct mix of challenges for an OS project like Debian. In addition to their fundamental weirdness (providing bits that are simultaneously a content element and executable code), fonts can be installed in multiple locations — system-wide and per-user, free-software and proprietary, from upstream repositories and from downloaded .zip files — and user applications are expected to gracefully handle all of the permutations within a single “Font” menu item. Font packages are a recurring stumbling block for smaller language communities, where operating-system support may lag behind and upstream designers may be wholly unacquainted with free software.

Furthermore, the low-level privileges granted to font binaries poses practical and security challenges for newer application-packaging formats like Snap and Flatpak, as well as for transactional system-image operating system projects like OSTree and Ubuntu Core.

This talk will outline the concerns of such app-packaging and OS-image projects, then present a possible solution in the form of a simple thought experiment: what if Debian stopped providing font packages altogether?

In the hypothetical font-packageless world, individual users would install their own fonts on a per-user basis only. That change would trigger a number of ripple effects, from altering how system libraries like fontconfig match font names, to how GTK and Qt access fonts, to how end-user applications provide fonts. A user-only font stack would be simpler and have fewer security issues, and it could reduce the lag between an upstream font’s release and its availability to Debian users.

This talk will conclude with a look at the down sides of upending the font-packaging mindset, such as font management on the desktop, font versioning, global-language support, font synchronization, and font discovery. But it will, hopefully, ask attendees to reconsider how and why individual fonts are packaged for Debian and for other free-software distributions, and to explore possible alternatives in the years ahead.