Today at MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Extensis, makers of Suitcase and Font Reserve, as well as Suitcase Server X1 and Font Reserve Server, will unveil an all new server-based font management system. Universal Type Server (UTS) runs on Windows and Macintosh servers, connects to Windows and Mac (PPC and Intel) clients, includes all the best features of both Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server, and is faster than you ever imagined a font manager could be.

Let me establish something right off the bat: I dig the latest versions of Extensis Suitcase—Fusion (version 12) on Mac OSX and Suitcase for Windows (version 11). They aren’t perfect, and I have my gripes. For instance choosing between activating fonts permanently or only until the system is rebooted requires remembering a keyboard shortcut or changing a preference every single time a font is activated. (Do you know how many keyboard shortcuts the average designer has to remember?! Well, yeah, I suppose you do.) Although not perfect, the current versions of Suitcase fit my font management needs better than any other font manager on either platform. For many of the publishing and production workflows I’ve optimized or consulted upon, Suitcase Server is also the best available solution.

Sure, Suitcase takes a moment or two to startup on standalone desktops and even longer to make connections with a Suitcase Server. Of course there’s an ever so slight delay between changing a preview type or size and seeing the change reflected in the preview pane. Adding more than a couple of new fonts takes time, too, naturally—sometimes quite a lot of time—but then, Suitcase is not only indexing the fonts but analyzing them as well, storing them in the Vault for protection (if the user has enabled that feature). Fonts pushed to clients from the server will get there sometime in the next few minutes. Heck, for all the little pauses and delays, Suitcase does it’s job pretty quickly. I had come to terms with that fact, with using the delays as an opportunity to rest my eyes, stretch my legs, or sip my coffee. I was comfortable with all that. I was gratefulthat Suitcase and Suitcase Server work as fast as they do.

Then, I saw Universal Type Server.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet Glyph

Do you remember when you upgraded from a 56k modem to broadband Internet access? Whether you logged on for that first marvelous moment at the office or home, surely you remember the awestruck grin that slowly split your face from ear to ear as the Web was suddenly just there. No waiting. No picture placeholders to eventually be replaced by pictures. One second or or Quark VS wasn’t there, the next it was. If you’re like me, in that moment you felt like thrusting your fist into air and yawping in triumph, shouting to Mount Olympus: “I… have… the power!”

Oh, yeah, seeing Extensis’ Universal Type Server the first time is like that.

Built from the ground up as a whole new server/client font management system, UTS is a blazingly fast Java-based server fronting an ultra stable, light-overhead SQL database. It’s completely cross-platform, with the Universal Type Server running on Windows- or Mac-powered servers and connecting to either or both Windows- and Mac-hosted Universal Type Clients. For Macs, both UTS and UTC are Universal Binaries, running under either PowerPC or Intel processors. It’s the use of modern, open architecture technologies that enables the speed.

The client starts up instantly. No delay. It’s just there. Fonts are activated or deactivated in a blink. And font previews? Truly real time live previews. Change the preview text or point size and the preview window updates without even a fraction of a second delay. And, that’s not just fonts on the local computer. That’s with fonts from the server. Instantaneous previews across the network, without the fonts installed or locally cached. New fonts are analyzed, indexed, and added before I can find a distant object to rest my eyes upon.

I was shown a stable beta version and cautioned that it might not be as fast as the shipping release. That notion makes me laugh out loud. How much faster can you get than instantaneous?

Suitcase is a 56k dialup modem. It’s screaming fast, but only until someone builds a broadband font manager. Universal Type Server is a broadband connection. When UTS is released this spring it will break the speed limit you didn’t even know was slowing you down.

A Classically Sleek Chassis Meets Superior Handling

At first glance the Universal Type Client looks very much like the current versions of Suitcase. All my favorite parts are there. Multiple panes provide concurrent access to user- or administrator-built font sets, font details with configurable data columns, and the preview pane. New is the Attributes pane, which lets the user classify fonts by classification, keyword, foundry, file type, and/or style directly in the main application rather than through clumsy pop-up dialog boxes. Just select one or more fonts (contiguous or not), and check the box beside the keyword, style, or other desired attribute in the Attributes pane. Assuming that your UTS administrator has given you permission to affect font attributes, the new data is added to the SQL database and instantly reflected on the server and all clients connected to it. The font list can even be filtered and sorted by any of the attributes. Spotlight-like live search enables rapid searching of a large list of fonts for a particular name, class, foundry, or family.

Gone are the New Set, Add, Remove, Activate, Deactivate, and Attributes buttons from Suitcase’s toolbar. In their place are the three most important buttons—Activate (permanently), Temp Activate (until system restart or until disconnecting from the server), and Deactivate. Finally! Permanent and temporary activation options have been restored to one-click simplicity. The Attributes pane takes care of managing font attributes while the other functions have been moved to the menu bar. Fonts can also be added via drag and drop if enabled for the user.

Connecting to the server is simple and can be done on the local network or across the Internet, which will help remote and traveling employees keep fonts in synch with the office. Server administrators can even allow fonts to be copied to client systems so workers can use them without maintaining a live connection. (So much for relaxing on that long flight.)

UTC includes the Font Sense auto-activation plug-ins for Adobe InDesign CS2/CS3 and Illustrator CS2/CS3 and QuarkXPress 6.5/7 that have become standard with Suitcase, but there’s a new feature by popular request—auto-activation even if the UTC isn’t running. According to Extensis, many customers complain that they must keep Suitcase running in memory to maintain access to fonts. UTC no longer requires the application to be running. If non-active fonts are required upon opening a document in one of the supported applications, the auto-activation plug-in or xtension will call to the Universal Type Client, activate the needed font, and then close the client, freeing any system resources it would otherwise consume. Support for auto-activation from within Adobe InCopy is planned for a future release.

Common Server Sense

The Universal Type Client is excellent, a clean, uncluttered interface with agile steering and plenty of horsepower (I did mention it’s fast, right?). But the real difference between the UTS/UTC system and Extensis’ current font management offerings is on the server.

Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server are applications nearly identical to their clients. They run on a server consuming system resources they shouldn’t. Does the average design or production workflow need advanced font management for use on the server itself? Of course not; no one designs on the server. Instead, a font management server should be light, easy to configure, and focused on the tasks of administering users and their access to fonts. That’s Universal Type Server.

UTS is a complete break from past server font managers. It’s entirely Web-based, making it accessible on the server itself as well as remotely from any authorized workstation or mobile device. An art director working on a project can create font sets and assign them to users from her own desk while the IT department keeps the server itself safely under lock and key. In fact, an administrator can access the server from anywhere in the world via the Internet. Need the intern authorized on the Acme account fonts at 11 PM? Call the production manager at home. (Managers and directors remember to turn off your cells on vacation!)