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Internet Explorer 9, Helvetica Type 1, and You

Back when Microsoft officially released the RTM of Internet Explorer 9, I decided to give it a try. After all, as a web designer, I have to stay on top of these things. But I also hated how slow IE8 was, and although there are very few things I still use IE for, I had heard IE9 was a pretty substantial upgrade.

Of course, I immediately regretted installing IE9. Because as soon as I did, I was no longer able to visit a whole slew of websites — they’d just render as a blank white page, render only partially, or lock up the browser altogether. One of those sites was Twitter.com, one of the very few things I still use IE for (because I have two accounts, one of which is for work, and I use IE to post on that one). Another site that wouldn’t render was this blog! Completely embarrassing.

My usual troubleshooting steps failed to help. I uninstalled and reinstalled IE9 several times. I tried installing the Windows Update package and the full distro for IT groups. I tried turning off GPU-accelerated rendering. I tried disabling every IE add-on. Nothing helped. The only valuable piece of evidence I was able to collect was that if I executed IE9 as administrator, the problems would (usually) stop. But that was not a solution I would accept.

So I tried other computers. My laptop and my workstation at the office both exhibited the exact same problem, but the Boot Camp install of Windows 7 on my wife’s Macbook behaved just fine. (Ironic, that IE9 would work better on a Mac than on a PC.) This led me to believe that there was some kind of conflict with some piece of software that I had installed on all three of my machines, but that was as much data as I had the time (and patience) to collect.

As a last-ditch effort, I scoured the Internet, but found nothing. Then I gave up.

Until last week, when I decided to repeat that search in the hopes that a solution had been found in the intervening time. I don’t even recall what made me do it. This time, I found the answer. And it’s incredibly, impossibly arcane.

I was right, in a way, that something I had installed on all of my machines was causing the problem with IE9 and certain websites. But it wasn’t an application or a driver, as I had assumed. It was a font.

A freaking Type 1 font.

For years, being somewhat of a text design wonk, I’ve been carrying around this huge collection of fonts that I use in my daily work. Among them was a copy of Helvetica, that old mainstay, in Type 1 format. And apparently, Internet Explorer 9 hates Helvetica Type 1. If you have this font installed, and try to use IE9 to browse to a site whose CSS style sheet specifies “Helvetica” as the first family name in a font directive, rendering of the site will fail.

Yep — my theme here at Oddball Update calls for Helvetica first and foremost.

I deleted Helvetica from my Font folder — a procedure which, inexplicably, required me to boot Windows 7 in Safe Mode. Once that was done, my IE9 rendering problems were gone.

Furthermore, I installed a replacement copy of Helvetica in the OpenType (.otf) format, and IE9 is still humming along. So the problem is not Helvetica itself, but the Type 1 font format.

I didn’t test this, but it’s possible that any Type 1 font which IE9 tries to use may cause the same renderer failure. It’s just that most other fonts used on the web are not the kinds of fonts that you’d have a Type 1 copy of installed on your Windows machine. I mean, Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Tahoma, Courier New, blah blah…I believe they’re all preinstalled with Windows and are thus usually TrueType or OpenType formatted.

So anyway, I post this here today in the hopes that it will help somebody else out. I found a whole lot of very pissed-off people complaining in various web forums about this problem, and none of them had even the first clue that it was font-related either, until somebody along the line finally posted the solution. God knows how they figured it out. It must have been someone with more time than I.

9 thoughts on “Internet Explorer 9, Helvetica Type 1, and You

  1. Thank you so much for figuring this out! I got hit by this absurd bug as well and couldn’t believe what was happening. Once I knew what to search for, I found a thread on the same subject on the MSDN Forums:

    http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/iewebdevelopment/thread/6c12cdb5-dfad-49a0-a29e-8cb2e8b8c1c1

    Apparently Times and Courier are also affected. Microsoft knows about this bug but the report is hidden on a non-public Connect group and they don’t intend to fix it.

    1. Thanks for doing some further digging, Chris. Pretty surprising that Microsoft has no plans whatsoever to fix this bug, given that affects a great many websites including some pretty high-profile ones! I imagine they figure there aren’t many Type 1 font users these days, but designers are probably amongst the most likely to have these fonts installed.

      I can only assume that this bug is a serious hassle for MSFT to fix. The alternative would seem to indicate that MSFT is not terribly interested in providing a universally compelling browsing alternative to the strong competition they get from Mozilla and Google (not to mention the other browser makers out there).

  2. Thanks for this post – I had this problem.

    What I don’t understand is that the site rendered totally fne on lots of pcs/macs using IE9 – just threw a wobble on two.

    Once we either took helvetica out of the css or uninstalled it, everything was totally fine again.

    1. Is it possible that the computers which rendered the sites normally had a different version of Helvetica installed, specifically one that was not a Type 1 font? Seems this bug only occurs on Type 1 fonts and, in fact, isn’t limited to Helvetica — it’s just that Helvetica is one of the fonts most commonly used on the web.

  3. I searched helvetica font IE issue and i was brought here. Thanks for the info but my problem was solved already. Thanks to Font Squirell Font Generator. 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for this post. I had this problem and could not for my life figure ut what caused it. I also use Type 1 fonts for illustrations and such. By removing Helvetica from the css the site renders fine on IE9 for me as well.

  5. Hi,

    I had been searching for “twitter won’t display on ie9” and variations and came up with nothing useful, so I continued my own troubleshooting. Finally, I opened the developer tools in IE and found that if I turned off CSS, the site would render. Looking at the CSS, I saw the font list and recalled that Twitter stopped working shortly after I added fonts to a new system.

    Aha!

    After deleting Helvetica, the broken websites worked. So, I’m off to get an updated version of Helvetica and I’m grateful that I found this page for confirmation.

  6. Thank you so very much for not only writing this blog article, but leaving it up!!! I’ve been pulling out my hair for hours trying to figure out why in the world a site I just created works perfectly in every other browser EXCEPT Internet Explorer 9. I used to design sites all the time, but got out of it for a few years when my son was younger. Now, I’m back, and I had no idea why this was happening or how to fix it. I googled & researched & read, but no luck. Then, tonight, I googled again using slightly different words, AND I found your blog. I cannot thank you enough. SERIOUSLY! I stripped my CSS of “Helvetica” and VOILA! my pages now appear perfectly in IE9.

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!

    Laura 🙂

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