My Ultimate Oldschool PC Font Pack got some pretty cool responses, and one of them contained something quite unexpected: a set of files transferred from twenty-five 5.25" floppies, containing internal snapshots of font development done at IBM around 1984.
These prototype fonts were designed specifically for a project codenamed Olympiad. Familiar? Probably not, but it came to light a couple years later as the IBM 6150 AKA the RT PC, a RISC workstation and grandaddy of the PowerPC architecture. The type design work was evidently carried out in IBM's Austin, TX campus; the date stamps on the files range from Dec '83 to mid '85 - according to the contributor, this set of fonts took the team a year to deliver.
Inside the disks is a big bunch of bitmap character data, plus sample images and tools for internal use (some compiled, some written in IBM PC BASIC). The person who sent this to me had already extracted some of the bitmap data: it's mostly straight 1bpp framebuffer dumps, except for a few '.IDS' files that proved slightly tricky (with characters in sequence like a typical font ROM, except that the scanlines aren't byte-aligned, appallingly enough). Once I had everything converted, I promptly set about creating .FON and .TTF versions, as you do.
Clearly a lot of work went into these typefaces, and the result is stylized yet very legible. This kind of high-quality bitmap typography is not something that most people associate with mid-'80s IBM, as opposed to the early Macs for instance. Apparently, the team's research found that serifs make for better readability; whether true or not, these fonts are some of the better ones from the heyday of bitmap typefaces.
In all, there are six complete fonts with a selection of 571 characters each (mapped to unicode in the .TTF versions). Since every character from the good old DOS Codepage 437 makes an appearance, I've included DOS-mapped versions as well, because why not.
- Olympiad Austin (9x20 px), "intended as the primary font on release one" (it says here)
- Olympiad Austin Bold (9x20 px)
- Olympiad Austin Italic (9x20 px)
- Olympiad EGA (8x14 px)
- Olympiad Micro (4x8 px)
- Olympiad Title (18x40 px)
The fonts that ended up in the RT PC's AIX operating system are a good match for these - although that list contains a couple more fonts ('Ergonomic' and 12x30) not included here. The selection of characters is also largely the same, except for those last five math/technical symbols probably added later; the versions on these disks didn't have those, but we'll live without them.
Besides the MDA and EGA display options, the 615x family supported several RT-specific adapters for higher-resolution monochrome and color output. These did not have 'text modes' as such: "because the display adapters that drive the monitors are all-points-addressable, character boxes of any size may be used" - hence the fancy non-standard sizes. Despite this, the fonts are still monospaced (although the disks contain a few images that experimented with variable pitch). The 8x14 font is the only one that could conceivably work on EGA, and since it's designated 'E' on the disks, that was probably its purpose.
The disk archives themselves are intriguing to skim through - there's that neat time-capsule / behind-the-scenes factor, and you can follow the development process by browsing through the images in chronological order.
A few curious things that caught my eye:
- The presence of "HBASIC.EXE" tells us that the development process involved Hercules graphics cards - meaning that this group was internally using hardware that competed with IBM's own.
- There are other fonts besides the above six, but the character sets are partial, so they were probably abandoned along the way.
- Some of the familiar PC charsets make an appearance, like the MDA and BIOS ones (probably for comparison's sake, or for working off of).
- One of those other charsets is a 8x8 one that looks very similar (if
not identical) to IBM's PC Convertible (5140)
The Convertible hit the shelves not too long after the RT, and its
built-in font was much like the Austin one with its serifs and
stylized strokes, although the resolution was obviously lower.
Since there's more than one revision of this 8x8 font here, it seems
likely that the same team produced the Convertible font as an
offshoot of the Olympiad typeface work.
In addition to the fonts, I have the contributor's permission to share the disk archives as well, so I'm posting them as received - complete with the .BMPs and conversion programs added on in the late '90s. Most files have date stamps though, so it's easy to tell what's what. For completeness sake, I've also included my own .PNG conversions of every image in the disk set.