Retro spotlight: Rebecca G. Bettencourt and bitmap fonts

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Published on 9 May 2024 by Andrew Owen (3 minutes)

Rebecca Bettencourt was drawn to computer programming from the age of 10, when she built her first website and started creating Macintosh bitmap fonts using only a resource editing tool. I first encountered her work when she added support for the FZX font format (that I created with Einar Saukus and Paul van der Laan) to Bits’N’Picas, her tool for creating and converting bitmap fonts.

She was ambitious from the start, developing an office suite in HyperCard and a windowing system in QuickBASIC. In middle school, she joined the Apple II community on Usenet. After she moved on from BASIC to 6502 assembly language, she created a file manager and program launcher. During the transition from Classic Mac OS to the original version of the current macOS, it became clear that the HyperCard community would be left behind. So she became one of two lead developers in a community effort to develop an open source HyperCard clone.

During the HyperCard project she learned C and C++. This stood her in good stead when she joined the iPodLinux project. There she wrote several applications including PodPaint, a replacement menu system called IconUI, and the entire text input system including all the built-in text input methods. This was all before she went to college. In 2005 she enrolled in the software engineering program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her first computer science course was in C, and she was so proficient at this point that she was immediately hired as a student assistant. But her other courses were mainly taught in Java, so it became the preferred language for her projects.

The curriculum comprised a series of courses where students worked in teams to build a web application and companion task management smartphone apps using the then current technology stack (JBoss, JSP, AJAX, JSON, MySQL, Hibernate and Maven). Her contributions to the project included UML diagrams, the initial database schema and back- and front-end code to manage lists of employees, tasks, and resources. For her senior project, she created an interpreter for a language influenced by HyperCard. She graduated with honors in 2009.

During her career, she spent over 12 years at Google, primarily as a front-end developer creating internal web applications for search. Outside work, she has continued working on personal projects including fonts, input methods, desktop applications, web applications and Arduino projects. Many of these are published under the banner of KreativeKorp with source available on GitHub. She’s also a lifetime individual member of the Unicode Consortium, where she wrote several successful proposals. Among her interests, she lists animation, constructed languages, drawing, mahjong, old computers, semiotics, vexillology, writing, and writing systems.

One of her more recent projects is U8/M or UTF-8 for Microcomputers (no doubt inspired by CP/M), which enabled her to combine her 6502 coding and typography skills. Currently, it supports only the Commander X16 and uses GEOS format fonts. But it’s open source, so I may look at porting it to the Z80 architecture using extended FZX fonts.