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Extensis Universal Type Server 2 review

14 Aug 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
988
Universal Type Server Lite (£859 ex VAT) including a 10-client license; Universal Type Server Pro £1288 (£1120 ex VAT) plus £109 (£95 ex VAT) per concurrent client licence

Powerful font manager that makes the client user experience comparable with non-server products.

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Specifications

A year ago Extensis launched Universal Type Server, a network-based solution for workgroup font management.

Twelve months on and it launches Universal Type Server 2 with several new features. When we reviewed the first version, we said the client tool, the software that designers use to access the server-managed fonts, felt like a cut-down form of Suitcase, its solo-user font management tool. The product has continued in this vein, although the 'cutdown' feel is largely gone.

Universal Type Server operates by running on a machine on your network. It stores a master copy of your fonts and you're then allowed to enable them through sets in predefined workgroups with the Universal Type Client software. Adding fonts to the server font vault is done from the client application, as before, and this can't be done by running a client on the same Mac as the server. Also as before, the whole fonts-adding process is poorly documented and will be a real point of frustration for new customers. (Hint: set up a user, give them font management privileges for a workgroup, log in with the client software from a different machine and drop your fonts onto a workgroup set within that project.)

Fortunately, this is the only main hiccup. From here, you can use its Universal Type Client applications in very much the same way that Suitcase works, turning fonts on and off from the various set lists, checking out previews of fonts, browsing or searching by details such as foundry, classification, family and having fonts activate automatically in a range of different applications.

Font previews can be dragged off into windows that are transparent apart from the typeface characters and float above all other applications, and - well, this sounds pretty much like a clone of Suitcase, doesn't it? In fact, it's a little pared down, but largely because this has little to do with the more heavy-duty font management work.

Some of this new version's improvements relate directly to the server features, including a recognition that clients may prefer different kinds of integration. For example, if you want to use an external database engine for optimal performance, this is now supported, although we did think it was curious to support Microsoft SQL (MSSQL) only, with no mention of the popular and open source MySQL.

Fonts added to a workgroup's set by a user (with permission to add fonts, of course) can be used by anyone who has access to that project. All this user setup and fine-tuning of abilities is done with the user management server system.

There are a few annoyances to contend with in the server software, although nothing show-stopping. Logging into the server with a browser to port 8081 gets to the system management controls, whereas logging in on port 8080 gets to the user management console. Why not bundle these together so admins don't have two different places to go? And the timeout on being logged into either is just short enough to be a bit of a nuisance, if not so short as to provoke swearing.

On our network the client applications couldn't initially find the server using Bonjour, although using the IP address (and port) worked. This isn't an ongoing problem, as the client then logs in automatically and basically tries to behave as if there are no server shenanigans going on in the background, something that's important in a tool aimed at busy designers and production staff.

Extensis has worked hard to make the client user experience as close as possible to ordinary, non-server products, and it deserves kudos for this. The cost structure, however, is typical of server-based products, with cascading prices based on the number of concurrent client users, preferred level of technical support, and access to updates, with much of the split being between Lite and Professional versions of the product with no upgrade path between them. We commented on the complexity of this last time around and it remains a point of potential confusion.

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