Suitcase Fusion 2 review

With the Mac’s WYSIWYG interface making it a natural choice for desktop publishing applications, the history of the Mac OS is almost inextricably linked to that of font management. To be sure, some of those early font utilities, such as Adobe Type Manager (ATM, later called ATM Light), were focused mainly on smoothing the appearance of PostScript Type 1 fonts on screen as well as allowing them to print successfully to non-PostScript printers. Later, however, with the growing complexity of DTP and the sheer number of jobs tackled by many design studios, the need for a better way of keeping track of assets such as fonts was recognised with the release of products such as ATM Deluxe and the original versions of Suitcase.

Indeed, such was the need for font-management tools that, after the demise of ATM (many of whose technologies had been built into Mac OS X), the release of the Mac OS X version of Suitcase 10 in 2001 provided the rationale for many print and publishing houses to make the change to Apple’s, then radical, new operating system.

A few years on from that major new version of Suitcase, Extensis acquired a rival product, Font Reserve, from DiamondSoft – much as they had originally acquired Suitcase. The result, in January 2006, was a product that combined elements of both products: Suitcase Fusion.

Completely rebuilt

Suitcase Fusion 2, then, might have been expected to consist of a minor tinkering with that original product: not a bit of it. With this new version, Extensis is at pains to point out that it has rebuilt Suitcase Fusion from the ground up, with entirely new code incorporated from its server product, Universal Type Server, released earlier this year. For that reason this new product works only with Mac OS 10.5 upwards (Extensis says it will be working on compatibility with Mac OS 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’ when the time comes).

Installation of Suitcase Fusion 2 couldn’t be more straightforward: as well as the application itself, a System Preference pane is also installed. This takes care of enabling the SQLite-based Suitcase Fusion 2 core.

Incidentally, Extensis assured us that the latter wouldn’t have adverse effects on those of us who regularly use our Macs as test servers for SQL-based web development: on the evidence so far, we’d say their confidence was entirely justified.

On launching Suitcase Fusion 2, we were struck by its resemblance to the Mac OS X applications we’re used to, most notably iTunes: and this was Extensis’ intention. Activation and deactivation of fonts in Suitcase Fusion 2 is a straightforward affair, with three large toolbar buttons (Temporary, Permanent, and Deactivate) accomplishing the task.

The resemblance to iTunes goes even further, with the Font Library (or Libraries) containing one or more user-created sets, into which fonts can be dragged. It’s even possible to create Smart Sets, based on a font’s metadata, such as Postscript name, family name and Font Sense ID. The latter, by the way, is a font matching technology, developed by Extensis and used in Suitcase Fusion and Universal Type Server, that takes into account the font type, foundry, and version, and assigns to each font a unique identifier. Doing this prevents you using mismatched fonts that share a name, and avoids badly matched font substitutions in documents created on other Macs.

Once you have finished assembling a document, Suitcase Fusion 2 also makes it easy to collect fonts for output. This can be done by choosing File➝Collect Fonts for Output… or by dragging and dropping the fonts onto a new location. Extensis also includes a number of plug-ins for Illustrator CS4, InDesign CS4 and QuarkXPress 8. Worryingly, however, our copy of Illustrator CS3 (for which a plug-in is also provided) crashed on launching immediately after we installed Suitcase Fusion 2, so we were unable to see this feature in action.

OUR VERDICT

The Illustrator crash aside (and, to be fair, we’re still working with Extensis and Adobe to find out the reason for it), we’d say that Suitcase Fusion 2 is evidently a well-thought-out product that takes a potentially complex task and simplifies it, much as its exemplar, Mac OS X does. More than an incremental tweak, then, it should be on the wish list of anyone who works extensively with fonts.

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