Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Olympiad: IBM prototype fonts unearthed

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.


Sample image off the work-in-progress files

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.