April 22nd 2005 Helvetica == Arial?

Some of you may have noticed that I have been redoing the Monkey Robot stylesheet as of late. Primarily I was attempting to fix two glaring issues with the site:

  1. Link colors did not always contrast well with text and were therefore hard to notice.
  2. The old basic text font, 11px Verdana, was a bit too small for my tastes.

To fix these issues, I bumped the font up to 13px (which is roughly 12pt on Windows machines) and decided to change it from Verdana to a different typeface. My primary choice for the Mac side was Helvetica, which is a very beautiful sans-serif font. For the Windows side, I faced a tough choice between Tahoma and Arial. Both are very nice. I tend to like Tahoma more, but Arial is simpler and looks more like Helvetica. This is largely due to the fact that, back in the day, Helvetica, a product of the Linotype corporation, was very expensive to license; thus, Monotype, another typesetting company, licensed Arial as a cheaper substitute for Helvetica that was designed specifically for computing.

It was in changing the stylesheet that I came across this idiosyncracy of Internet Explorer. (No, I have not tested it in Mozilla or Firefox, so I don’t know if the same issue occurs in the Windows versions of those browsers.) You see, originally my stylesheet had this definition for basic typefaces:

    background-color: #FFFFFF;
    font-family: Helvetica, Tahoma, sans-serif;
    font-size: 13px;
    line-height: 140%;
    color: #111111;
    text-align: justify;

However, I quickly noticed that IE was displaying the page using Arial, not Tahoma. Most Windows systems do not have a Helvetica font, so technically, IE should pass over that option and go right to Tahoma. However, it was displaying Arial—essentially the Windows version of Helvetica! Web designers, take note: Arial is the same as Helvetica on Windows machines—at least according to IE.

I suppose most readers won’t care about this finding, but I found it kind of interesting (not to mention quirky), and maybe it will serve as a nice heads-up to any other web designers who happen across this site.