I was reading about Bill Gates' famous "640KB" quote, when I came upon http://www.faktoider.nu/640kb_eng.html, a nice article about the quote and its historical context. However, the article also contained this curious paragraph:

This wasn't, of course, the first or last time such limits were set; all systems that handles memory, or does some other kind of addressing, have built-in limits somewhere, and when they are designed the limits are set comfortably high. But that doesn't mean the designer is convinced that the limit will suffice forever. (A similar example in the Macintosh world is the inital limit of 128 fonts - not on a single machine, but on all Macs, worldwide. This fact is somewhat less well known than the 640 kB-quote.)

(emphasis mine). Now, that's a weird limit to have - worldwide, Macs could only have 128 distinct fonts? At what point was that ever true, and how could such a limit even work? Googling this suggested there was a limit of 128 font suitcases on classic Mac OS, but that applies to a single machine and not "worldwide". I couldn't find any other information about this font limit.

So what does this 128-font limit refer to?

  • 1
    I believe it is mistaken. The closest I can imagine is Apple gave out official 7-bit numbers for fonts, the way developers could register their application and file type signature to avoid duplicates, but even if this were true, it would not stop people from adding their own fonts. Indeed, back then everyone was designing a (very ugly) font, using tools as basic as ResEdit. [Edited to add nostalgia.] Nov 3 '15 at 19:10
  • I would be pretty surprised if Apple had a 7-bit font registry considering their love for fourcc codes throughout the rest of their OS. However, it's possible that this quote is discussing something that predates OS 7/8...
    – nneonneo
    Nov 3 '15 at 22:14
  • 2
    Having actually used old Pre System6 Macs I do believe that it is generally correct. Early versions of Apple System Software did have a hard limit on the number of Fonts and DAs (I believe) and it may have been 128. I imagine that limit went away with System 7. Nov 4 '15 at 14:50
  • @SteveChambers I think that's true, and there was third party software to overcome the limit. But that was per machine. The OP is suggesting a global limit—how would that even be enforced? Nov 5 '15 at 4:07
  • Yeah the limit was 128 fonts loaded on one system at one time not 128 possible fonts could ever exist in the world. If a designer needed more than 128 fonts, they had to disable some to enable new ones. The quote is mistaken. (As others said, it was due to 7 bit addressing)
    – Josh
    Feb 22 '18 at 23:00

As per http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Fonts_on_Macintosh, System versions 7 to 9 supported a maximum of 128 font suitcases and each suitcase could store multiple fonts.

However, according to http://laegernelipkesgade.dk/Fonts/kptype/Kontrapunkt%20Typefaces/README.txt Macintosh System 9.x allows you to open 512 suitcases at once. Macintosh System 8.x and earlier only allow you to open 128 font suitcases at one time. If you exceed these limits, not all the fonts you install will work.

If you search for "128" you should find the above statements.

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