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.