Code Page 437

Interesting faces, ep3

So I was installing a new OS on my desktop machine, and for some technical reasons I need to install the OS manually. That means typing in a console. I couldn’t help but wonder: what the font is it showing?

Screenshot of the console
I was typing in this

Turns out the typeface isn’t even a typeface. It is a encoding that extends ASCII. It maps 8-bit patterns to characters. For example, 10000110 corresponds to “å”. According to Wikipedia, It is the“standard character set of the original IBM PC”, and it “remains the primary set in the core of any EGA and VGA-compatible graphic cards”. Basically this is the most basic font on a personal computer, stored directly in hardware.

This character set is supposed to contain many characters including fancy ones like “⌠”, “☺”, “§”, etc. But my graphic card is missing most of the non-basic characters. (How disappointing!)

A screenshot specimen
Many characters are missing

I don’t think this font is pretty or anything. What makes it so interesting to me is that it is such ubiquitous yet most people never notice it. Next time when your PC starts up or crashes1, see if you can spot any message printed in this font.

You can even download the font file for this font: Code Page 437.

PS. this makes me wonder if Mac has something similar, and sure enough, there is. Someone asked about it on StackExchange. I bet even less people know about this one. I for one have never seen it despite using a MacBook for years (That’s probably a good thing, as one only see it when something goes hopelessly wrong.)

PPS. On Linux, you can drop yourself into a console by typing Ctrl+Alt+F1/F2/etc. Usually that screen is printed in Terminus.

You still use a PC, do you?