How do you choose a font that will be both aesthetic and browser/OS friendly? I love Helvetica, but a lot of websites say that 90% of Windows users don't have it installed.
What are the safe web fonts and is there anyway around this hurdle?
You can literality use any font you choose regardless whether or not they have the font installed on their OS. This is done by using CSS @font-face which informs the users browser to download the font to their device. However the font needs to be served as multiple compatible web font formats because different operating systems use different formats. This can be easily done by using any decent online webfont generator.
Web Font Formats:
The main issue with serving fonts isn't the technology but more so because the licensing of the font does not allow for free web use even if you have received the font free with your operating system or application. You can however purchase a web use license for most fonts.
How do people overcome the licensing issue?
Nowadays most websites use online fonts provided by Google Fonts because it is free for both personal and commercial use. You can find many other open font providers using Google search or you could opt to use a paid service from Adobe called TypeKit.
There are many Helvetica alternative fonts that are similar such as Google's Open San. Using CSS you could actually serve the font Arial to Windows machines and Helvetica to MacOS machines by putting Helvetica first in the font-family.
List of System Fonts on Mac / Windows
You should note that mobile devices often use different operating systems from desktop and laptop computers, for example Android, BlackBerry and so on, this makes services like TypeKit or Google Fonts more appealing because it solves this issue. You can find a list below of the system fonts installed on both Windows and MacOS.
- Arial - Win: 99.84% | Mac: 98.74%
- Arial Black - Win: 98.08% | Mac: 96.22%
- Arial Narrow - Win: 88.39% | Mac: 94.77%
- Arial Rounded MT Bold - Win: 59.53% | Mac: 95.14%
- Avant Garde - Win: 0% | Mac: 1.08%
- Calibri - Win: 83.41% | Mac: 38.74%
- Candara - Win: 83.08% | Mac: 34.41%
- Century Gothic - Win: 87.62% | Mac: 53.15%
- Franklin Gothic Medium - Win: 99.18% | Mac: 2.1%
- Futura - Win: 1.26% | Mac: 94.41%
- Geneva - Win: 2.08% | Mac: 99.64%
- Gill Sans - Win: 58.54% | Mac: 95.5%
- Helvetica - Win: 7.34% | Mac: 100%
- Impact - Win: 0% | Mac: 95.14%
- Lucida Grande - Win: 0% | Mac: 100%
- Optima - Win: 2.52% | Mac: 93.69%
- Segoe UI - Win: 75.36% | Mac: 0%
- Tahoma - Win: 99.95% | Mac: 91.71%
- Trebuchet MS - Win: 99.67% | Mac: 97.12%
- Verdana - Win: 99.84% | Mac: 99.1%
- Serif - Big Caslon - Win: 0% | Mac: 92.61%
- Bodoni MT - Win: 55.81% | Mac: 0%
- Book Antiqua - Win: 86.09% | Mac: 49.01%
- Calisto MT - Win: 58.43% | Mac: 46.31%
- Cambria - Win: 83.35% | Mac: 35.32%
- Didot - Win: 0% | Mac: 93.51%
- Garamond - Win: 86.47% | Mac: 49.91%
- Georgia - Win: 99.4% | Mac: 97.48%
- Goudy Old Style - Win: 58.11% | Mac: 47.57%
- Hoefler Text - Win: 0.99% | Mac: 92.61%
- Lucida Bright - Win: 76.12% | Mac: 99.64%
- Palatino - Win: 99.29% | Mac: 86.13%
- Perpetua - Win: 66.54% | Mac: 0%
- Rockwell - Win: 65.94% | Mac: 0%
- Rockwell Extra Bold - Win: 66.1% | Mac: 0%
- Baskerville - Win: 60.35% | Mac: 93.33%
- Times New Roman - Win: 99.67% | Mac: 97.48%
- Monospaced Consolas - Win: 82.97% | Mac: 34.77%
- Courier New - Win: 99.73% | Mac: 95.68%
- Lucida Console - Win: 99.18% | Mac: 0%
- Lucida Sans Typewriter - Win: 74.81% | Mac: 99.64%
- Monaco - Win: 2.74% | Mac: 99.82%
- Andale Mono - Win: 4.16% | Mac: 94.59%
- Fantasy Copperplate - Win: 66.87% | Mac: 92.61%
- Papyrus - Win: 70.37% | Mac: 92.43%
- Brush Script MT - Win: 59.64% | Mac: 90.99%