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FontExplorer X Pro 2 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £67.85
(£59 ex VAT)

It's a shame that there's no decent free font manager any more, but FontExplorer X Pro still fills a niche.

Linotype’s FontExplorer X has provided professional-level font management for Mac OS X users for the past three years, gaining many fans along the way.

FontExplorer X Pro 2 has just been released, offering a number of useful new abilities, but sporting a price tag for the first time. This shift has caused a fair amount of comment online, but before looking at price we’ll examine how it looks and performs.

FontExplorer X Pro can be set to copy (or move) fonts to its own managed folder or manage them from wherever they are on your disk, and it can read existing FontExplorer settings. Existing users will see that it looks far slicker than before, eliminating divider bars and following Apple’s iTunes-based interface theme closely. Like previous versions, there’s one-click access to the Linotype Store for browsing and buying new fonts.

The feature set remains slim, although it does offer everything most users will need. Folders and smart sets can be created to organise and track fonts in different ways, and fonts can be grouped by family or style. Finder-like colour labels can be applied to fonts in the sortable list pane, and customisable font previews are shown below this section. The anti-aliasing of FontExplorer’s Wysiwyg font name display looks imperfect, although not to a significant level.

As is standard in font management tools, the software handles auto-activation font requests, both in conjunction with the Mac OS and with helper plug-ins for key design applications, namely QuarkXPress versions 6.5, 7 and 8, and InDesign, Illustrator CS through to CS4 plus Photoshop CS3 and CS4. Usefully, font activation requests are listed for easy checking.

Following in the footsteps of other font tools, there’s a server version of FontExplorer X Pro to help with network management of typefaces and font licenses, which is useful for larger workgroups, but not an issue for small agencies and freelance designers.

With the standard FontExplorer X utility available for nothing, what makes FontExplorer X Pro worth £68? There’s a simple answer to this: FontExplorer X Pro is the future of this tool, so to stay current, be prepared to pay. The free version is still available, but it isn’t being developed further and it’s no longer supported. It works now, but it won’t do auto-activation in CS4. Although Linotype’s core business revolves around creating and selling fonts, it isn’t surprising that this font management utility would stop being free.

The real issue is, should you pay for this tool or buy one of the other big-name font managers instead? This is a question many are now asking, and there are some concerns voiced over the long-term future of FontExplorer. However, the new version is impressive and seems to be solidly designed; it seems set to be here for the foreseeable future. Now that it costs money, it faces stiff competition from the likes of Suitcase and FontAgent Pro, but there’s a lot to like here.

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