Review: FontAgent Pro 3.1
This review is adapted from InDesign Magazine, issue 6
Editor's Note: You may also want to read Andrew Shalat's review of the competing Extensis Suitcase Fusion.
In the past, Insider Software's FontAgent Pro was like a stereotypical 19th-century child: Out of sight most of the day, speaking only when spoken to, polite and well-mannered. With version 3.1, FontAgent Pro retains its childhood good manners while reaching full adulthood. It's excellent for organizing, repairing, and activating your typefaces, and it's very fast.
The Standard Edition of this Mac-only app sells for $99.95; the Workgroup Edition is $129.95.
FontAgent Pro's paned window interface is similar to that of iTunes' Playlist, Browse, and Songlist panes or Apple Mail's Mailbox, Message, and Preview panes. The interface is easy to understand partly because of that familiarity and partly because it's spelled out for you with clearly labeled buttons, icons, and check boxes.
In the FontAgent interface shown in Figure 1, the Font list pane is on the left. You can view WYSIWYG representations of each font, and sort the list by name, family, or foundry.
Figure 1. When you want to see FontAgent Pro in its full glory, you can. From this paned window, you can view your library, sort it, and enter sample text to preview what a typeface will look like. For a full-sized view, click on the image.
You can further sort or delimit your listing through a dropdown filter menu (Figure 2). Vertical buttons attached to this pane let you choose to see all your fonts in a list, different or singular libraries of fonts, or just your font sets. To the right is the Libraries/Sets/Sharing pane, also with a WYSIWYG option and sorting by family or foundry. Below that pane is the Font Player/Font Compare pane. The Font Player can show previews with custom text, cascading glyphs, or paragraph formats. The Font Compare function limits you to a customized text, which should suffice for any quick font comparisons.
Figure 2: You can filter fonts in many ways.
The most impressive thing about FontAgent Pro 3.1 is that you don't see it unless you want to. Earlier versions of FontAgent Pro -- in fact, all major font managers -- acted as either visible applications or system utilities. But FontAgent Pro 3.1 takes an evolutionary step forward by virtually disappearing from view. After all, you shouldn't need to keep a font manager open as an active application when all you want is to activate fonts when you need them, close them if you don't, and check and repair them when they don't work correctly. FontAgent Pro succeeds in all these aspects, and it does so without getting in the way. When you do need to find a particular typeface or just browse, you simply click the three-paned browser.
Free from Plug-ins
Auto-activation is easy: No plug-ins necessary, except for the QuarkXPress XTension Insider provides. After you install FontAgent Pro, almost all major design applications, such as InDesign and Illustrator, seamlessly tap into FontAgent Pro's auto-activation power without any extra file orphans deposited in their plug-ins folders. If a font present in one of your documents is not active at launch, FontAgent Pro activates it with alacrity. A small semi-transparent visual floater appears telling you which fonts are being activated. If for some reason the font manager can't find the correct font in your libraries, you simply open the FontAgent browser and activate it manually. But this was a rare occurrence in my testing.
Bonjour (once called Rendezvous) is Mac OSX 10.4's zero-configuration networking protocol. Bonjour lets you share printers, chat within your local network, and, using the Workgroup Edition of FontAgent, share your fonts as well. Using what Insider Software calls Fontezvous, FontAgent Pro Workgroup Edition lets you share any or all of your fonts across your network (as long as all your workstations have licenses). Fontezvous is FontAgent's own zero-configuration peer-to-peer sharing protocol based on and reliant on Bonjour. Sharing your fonts is a simple two-click process. First, click on the Enable Sharing tab. Then go to your font sets, libraries, or families, and click on the sharing icon. Any other computers on your network licensed with FontAgent Pro Workgroup Edition will be able to see, preview, copy, and use any of the shared fonts (Figure 3).
Figure 3. As long as every participant has a FontAgent Workgroup Edition license, you can share fonts across a network without buying the Server version of the software.
Form Follows Function
If simplicity is one of the highest aims of design, then why can't the tools we use to achieve that simplicity reflect it as well? FontAgent Pro realizes that high ideal. It makes font management disappear into the workflow and lets us get back to the business of design.
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