I’ve been using DejaVu Sans as my main sans & UI font (under Ubuntu) for quite a while. (Although, because of Ubuntu’s packaging, I wasn’t quite aware it was DejaVu Sans what was displayed as just “sans” in the font chooser.)
I have used it all this time simply because I like it, and I have yet to find another that can stand for long. (Although the particular font rasterizer and who knows what other pieces of software might be partly responsible.)
Anyway, there’s one major thing that keeps annoying me: the “l” and “I” are difficult to distinguish. Actually, this is a common problem, at least for me, with most sans-serif fonts. I got so annoyed that at one point I started modifying the fonts installed on my computer to add little serifs on those two characters.
I did Arial first, because it’s used on so many web pages. A bit later I tried the same with DejaVu Sans. I was pleasantly surprised to notice it actually contained variant glyphs for those two characters. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any of the applications I use (other than the FontForge) offering any support for using those variants, let alone making them the default for every application. So I had to resort to modifying the font file. It was easier since the variants were already drawn (I think the hinting was conserved, too). But it still wasn’t trivial; I had to re-touch all characters where “I” or “l” were referenced, to adjust spacing or diacritic placement.
The result is quite useful for screen use, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as pretty as it should be. I didn’t manage to get the kerning right, and the positioning, of “l” in particular, is quite visibly different.
I was wondering if it were possible to release a separate version of DejaVu Sans that uses the alternate characters by default. I’m sure the developers would do a much better job than I did, and much faster. (Actually, I was hoping it would be almost automatic given the font source, but I don’t know much about making fonts.)
sorry, but we're not going to release such fonts, because it would be street with no end if we'd start to cater everyone's own preferences with their own font :-) And as you say, it's not an easy job either with all the references. It may be possible to write a script for this to ease the process, but then you'd still have to run it yourself.
Yes those variants are there but pretty much unusable in practice as almost no application can enable them, at least on *nix, besides Xetex.
Hopefully something will be done at some point to be able to define more font properties in the software stack.
In the mean time, we cannot change what glyphs people are used to, especially those two.