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Moving Windows fonts to Linux

By Jem Matzan

Fonts are often overlooked when switching or reinstalling operating systems, and when they're gone, it's a real hassle to try to get the right ones back again. You can spend hours or days trying to figure out where your favorite anti-aliased serif font came from and how to get it back onto your system, and for some people, not having Windows fonts in GNU/Linux is a dealbreaker. So here's how to back up your fonts and install them into GNU/Linux.

Why move fonts?

You might not think that fonts are a big deal, that they aren't worth worrying about. Fonts are funny that way; as important as they are, you don't care about them until your text looks jagged and horrible, or you can't seem to make your presentation or letter look decent. Once they're gone, you might not notice that your font selection has diminished until it's too late.

All desktop GNU/Linux distributions come with a variety of standard fonts, but if you want Times New Roman -- my favorite font for writing articles and books -- or one of the many other proprietary fonts provided by Microsoft, Adobe, or Corel, you will have to transplant them into your new operating system. Fortunately, fonts are stored in standard formats, so you don't have to do any file conversions.

Backing up your Windows fonts

Backing up your Windows fonts is easy -- just open up the C:\Windows\Fonts directory and copy everything in it. To do that, double-click on the My Computer icon on your desktop, then on Local Disk (C:), then the Windows folder, then the Fonts folder. If Explorer gives you any warnings about viewing or modifying files, just click through them.

The easiest way to transport or backup the font files is to put them onto a CD or DVD. Although there can be thousands of fonts, they should all fit comfortably on a single CD. Use your favorite CD writing program to perform the backup.

Installing fonts in GNU/Linux

Both the GNOME and KDE desktop environments have special ways of adding fonts. The "old" way is to make a font directory in /usr/lib/X11/fonts/, add your font files to it, then modify the ~/.fonts file and the /etc/X11/xorg.conf config file. Since most desktop GNU/Linux users are only using one, simple environment, it makes more sense to explain how to add fonts through GNOME and KDE. If you insist on doing it by hand, the Gentoo Wiki has this guide, and here's a similar one for OpenBSD. Between the two of those, you should be able to figure out what to do.

Do you know what desktop environment you're using? If so, skip down to the appropriate section. If not, let's figure it out. Users of Linspire, Mandriva, SUSE, MEPIS, and Xandros have KDE by default. Ubuntu, Fedora Core, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux use GNOME by default. If you don't use any of these distros, you can usually identify GNOME by its usage of two menus -- one at the top, and a taskbar at the bottom. KDE only has the bottom menubar, which somewhat resembles Microsoft Windows.


First, insert your font backup CD. Click on the K menu (the menu button in the lower left corner), then click on Control Center. If you don't see a Control Center icon, you may have to look around in the menu until you find it.

When the Control Center window comes up, click on the System Administration option in the list in the left pane. On most systems, System Administration is the last option. This will bring up a submenu; select Font Installer. The right pane will change to the font installation utility. Click the Administrator Mode button, then type in your root password when prompted. If you do not have an Administrator Mode button or do not have your root password, then don't worry about it and continue on with these instructions.

Click on the Add Fonts button. A file dialogue will appear; in it, navigate to your CD drive. Once you're in the directory with all of your font files, press ctrl-a to select all of them, then click the Open button. It may take a few minutes for all of the files to load. Once the process is finished, close the Control Center, then log out of KDE. You must re-log in order to use the new fonts in your programs.


When you insert your font backup CD, it is usually automounted and a CD icon appears on your desktop. If it does not appear, you will have to mount the dirve manually -- see your distribution documentation for details on how to do this. When the CD icon appears, double-click on it. A Nautilus file manager window will come up. Open the File menu in that window and select the Open Location option. This will bring up a small dialogue with an address window in it. Erase the address that is currently occupying the field, then type this in:


That's the word Fonts followed by a colon and three slashes. When you've entered that address, press the Enter key. The GNOME font directory will open in a separate window. You should now have two windows open: your font backup CD, and your GNOME font folder. Select all of the files on your backup CD by choosing Select All from the Edit menu, then drag and drop them into the GNOME font folder. The transfer may take a moment to complete if you have a lot of fonts.

When that's done, you can close both windows and eject your font backup CD. Log out of GNOME for the font changes to take place. The next time you log in, you'll have all of your Windows fonts available to you in your GNU/Linux programs.