Nothing can bring Quark Xpress to it’s knees quite like a corrupt font. In fact, the whole operating system can suffer. With the introduction of Mac OSX, and it’s ability to use multiple font formats the future looked bright. Missing fonts can still be a headache but at least now when a customer sends a PC TrueType font you can use it. A corrupt fonts can wreak havoc over your Macintosh, which entitles us to say that, “Font is a four-letter word.”
MacOS X seemingly has added another level of complexity to the management of fonts. Fonts can be stored in several locations and are activated in a particular order creating confusion for the average user. Certain fonts are required by the operation system, as well as Apple own applications, so removing them or deactivating them can lead to trouble.
Recently, I was called in to investigate a case where Mail would work intermittently. The user would open the application but the Message Viewer window would not open. Initially, it looked like corrupt Mail preferences. We moved the preferences to the desktop, launched the Mail application but the program still didn’t work.
If you’re having a problem with an application, one of the first things you can do is recreate the application’s preference file. Another trick is to create a second user account, then log in with that second account and test the applications. Nine times out of ten, the application is fine – the problem is the user’s preferences file(s).
You’ll find your application’s preferences in the Preferences folder under your own home folder. (Eg /Users/[yourlogin]/Library/Prefernces). Look for a file ending with “.plist”, with a similar name as your application. In the case of Mail – you would look for “com.apple.mail.plist”. Note: If you delete this file you would be prompted to recreate your mail account login. The other common problem with Apple’s own applications occurs if you move them from the Applications folder. Restore the program to its original location and it may behave.
Returning to the Mail problem, I discovered many other Apple programs were misbehaving. Safari, System Preferences, Mail and even Font Book wouldn’t open properly. In most cases we had to “force quit” the applications. This user was using Font Book to manage her fonts.
Apple has included Font Book as a method for dealing with fonts. It has been improved for the latest system, MacOS 10.4 as Font Book 2. While it enables users to create font sets and has a utility for resolving font conflicts, it is still not as flexible as Third Party applications such as Extensis Suitcase, Font Reserve (and FontAgent Pro) for managing fonts, because they don’t interfere with the operating system – when adding fonts. There are also shareware tools such as FontFinagler for fixing font issues. Most users may deal with a few fonts in their daily workflow, but if you’re a publishing professional, then you know you need a robust font management tool – that can deal with hundreds of fonts and font versions.
In MacOS X, there are several locations for fonts to be installed. The first location belongs to the System “/System/Library/Fonts”. These fonts are best left alone, they’re always active and some are absolutely required by the system.
The second location are the Library fonts “/Library/Fonts”. The third location is the User fonts, “/Users/[yourlogin]/Library/Fonts”. Each user has his own fonts under his home folder. The fourth location is the Classic fonts, “/System Folder/Fonts”. These fonts are available to MacOS X applications even if Classic is not running.
The last two locations are Network fonts and Application fonts. Network fonts are located on a MacOS X Server. Application fonts are stored the Library under Application Support.
If you have duplicate fonts installed, you should be aware of how you Mac deals with them. If the system finds duplicate fonts, then it follows a specific order to activate them. First, it will look in the Application’s own font folder. Second, it will look in the User’s font folder. Third, it will look in the local Library font folder, then Network, System, and Classic font folders.
To resolve the mystery of the applications that wouldn’t open we had to delete Font Book’s preferences. The two main culprits are “com.apple.FontBook.plist” and “com.apple.ATS.plist”. Deleting these to files and rebooting the Mac, restored the functionality to the Mail (and other) applications. Then we were left with the task of figuring out which font was corrupt.
Occasionally a font may appear garbled. If that’s the case then there may be a problem with your font caches. Here you’ll need to remove the following files from “/System/Library/Caches” com.apple.ATS.System.fcache, com.apple.ATSServer.FODB_System, and fontTablesAnnex. You’ll need to be an administrator to do this. Remove the “com.apple.ATS” from the “/Library/Caches” folder, and also remove the “com.apple.ATS.plist” from your own Preferences. Once you’ve done this, restart your Mac.