Font handling in Unix has long been a disgrace. Every program that needs to deal with fonts has had to do its own thing, and there has never been any system-level support, not even to the point of having a standard place to install fonts in the system. (While there was/is a place to put X11 fonts, X is only one of the many programs doing their own thing.)
Font management should be a system service. There cannot be one type of font file -- it is far too late for that -- but there should be one standardized place for fonts, one unified naming scheme for fonts and styles, and one standard way to look up and open/retrieve/use fonts. (Note: "one standardized place" means relative to an installation prefix, e.g. share/fonts.)
Nowadays fontconfig is capable of providing much of this.
The project is:
- Figure out for certain if fontconfig is the right solution. Note that even if the code isn't, the model may be. If fontconfig is not the right solution, figure out what the right solution is. Also ascertain whether existing applications that use the fontconfig API can be supported easily/directly or if some kind of possibly messy wrapper layer is needed and doing things right requires changing applications. Convince the developer community that your conclusions are correct so that you can go on to step 2.
1a. Part of this is identifying exactly what is involved in "managing" and "handling" fonts and what applications require.
Implement the infrastructure. If fontconfig is the right solution, this entails moving it from the X sources to the base sources. Also, some of the functionality/configurability of fontconfig is probably not needed in a canonicalized environment. All of this should be disabled if possible. If fontconfig is not the right solution, implement something else in base.
Integrate the new solution in base. Things in base that use fonts should use fontconfig or the replacement for fontconfig. This includes console font handling, groff, mandoc, and X11. Also, the existing fonts that are currently available only to subsets of things in base should be made available to all software through fontconfig or its replacement.
3a. It would also be useful to kill off the old xfontsel and replace it with something that interoperates fully with the new system and also has a halfway decent user interface.
Deploy support in pkgsrc. If the new system does not itself provide the fontconfig API, provide support for that via a wrapper package. Teach applications in pkgsrc that use fontconfig to recognize and use the new system. (This should be fairly straightforward and not require patching anything.) Make pkgsrc font installation interoperate with the new system. (This should be fairly straightforward too.) Take an inventory of applications that use fonts but don't use fontconfig. Patch one or two of these to use the new system to show that it can be done easily. If the new system is not fontconfig and has its own better API, take an inventory of applications that would benefit from being patched to use the new API. Patch one or two of these to demonstrate that it can be done easily. (If the answers from step 1 are correct, it should be fairly easy for most ordinary applications.)
Persuade the rest of the world that we've done this right and try to get them to adopt the solution. This is particularly important if the solution is not fontconfig. Also, if the solution is not fontconfig, provide a (possibly limited) version of the implementation as a pkgsrc package that can be used on other platforms by packages and applications that support it.
Note that step 1 is the hard part. This project requires a good bit of experience and familiarity with Unix and operating system design to allow coming up with a good plan. If you think it's obvious that fontconfig is the right answer and/or you can't see why there might be any reason to change anything about fontconfig, then this may not be the right project for you.
Because of this, this project is really not suitable for GSoC.