XML takes on graphics

Standards groups and vendors continue to push the scope of XML with new specifications and products that take advantage of the technology.Last week, the spotlight turned to how Extensible Markup Language can transform traditionally bulky, pixel-based graphics into lightweight and richer vector-based graphics, as the World Wide Web Consortium moved forward with the Scalable Vector Graphics specification.

Standards groups and vendors continue to push the scope of XML with new specifications and products that take advantage of the technology.

Last week, the spotlight turned to how Extensible Markup Language can transform traditionally bulky, pixel-based graphics into lightweight and richer vector-based graphics, as the World Wide Web Consortium moved forward with the Scalable Vector Graphics specification.

The W3C issued SVG as a candidate recommendation, which is two steps before a final recommendation in its standards process, and extended a test suite on its site, www.w3.org.

Consortium officials say the vector-based graphics technology can work cross-platform and provide richer graphics on multiple devices ranging from PCs to personal digital assistants. The spec also enables higher-resolution printing.

"The state of graphics on the Web today is awful," said Chris Lilley, graphics activity lead for the W3C, in Sophia-Antipolis, France, and chairman of the SVG working group. "When this takes off, it's going to change the way we look at things."

Lilley said SVG can also eliminate the time-consuming need to download multiple versions of a logo or other graphic that repeats throughout a Web site.

Already there are 15 implementations of SVG, many more than HTML when it was at the same stage in the process, Lilley said. The implementations available on the W3C's site include offerings from IBM, Adobe Systems Inc. and Corel Corp.

But not everyone believes SVG will have the same transforming effect on Web graphics, especially since integration into Web applications will take some time.

Phillip Torrone, director of technology for Braincraft Technologies, in New York, said he believes Macromedia Inc.'s Flash has already changed the face of graphics. Torrone uses Macromedia's vector graphics tool in building e-commerce and other Web sites.

SVG "is a great way to exchange vector data between systems, but I don't think it's going to be used for Web display," said Torrone, who added that the current SVG plug-in is too cumbersome. "It's just not ready for prime time yet."

Torrone also said he thinks it will be years before there are complete implementations across all browsers. Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technology for IBM, in Research Triangle Park, N.C., agreed that native support for SVG in browsers is needed.

However, according to Smith, there is a role for SVG to play in the market. "We've always looked at the whole area of graphics and user interfaces [as] needing to evolve," Smith said. "There was a big hole for really rich graphics, and a vector graphics standard around XML was needed."

The outgoing chairman of the W3C is high on XML's ability to add functionality to Web applications in a way HTML cannot. "The breadth [of XML] has grown very much over the last two years," said Jean-François Abramatic, who works from the W3C's Paris office. "Now there are lots of issues on the drawing board that need to be addressed.

"XML has become the foundation on top of which most of the technology and developments of the W3C are based."

Abramatic announced last week that he is joining software component vendor Ilog S.A. as senior vice president of research and development, and that he will phase out his W3C responsibilities. He will remain chairman until a replacement is named.