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Inconsolata draws from many inspirations and sources. I was particularly struck by the beauty of Luc(as) de Groot's Consolas, which is his monospaced design for Microsoft's upcoming Vista release. This font, similar to his earlier TheSansMono, demonstrated clearly to me that monospaced fonts do not have to suck.
First and foremost, Inconsolata is a humanist sans design. I strove for the clarity and clean lines of Adrian Frutiger's Avenir (the lowercase "a", in particular, pays homage to this wonderful design), but also looked to Morris Fuller Benton's Franklin Gothic family for guidance on some of my favorite glyphs, such as lowercase "g" and "S", and, most especially, the numerals.
Designing a monospace font poses unique challenges. I have carefully studied many other monospaced fonts to see how they solve these problems. Many of the available monospace fonts are adaptations of existing proportionally-spaced fonts, but some, such as Letter Gothic, draw strength from being their own designs. I hope Inconsolata upholds that tradition.
Some details will be most apparent in print, such as the subtle curves in lowercase "t", "v", "w", and "y". Inconsolata also borrows "micro-serifs" from some Japanese Gothic fonts, which enhance the appearance of crispness and legibility.