W3C issues scalable vector graphics spec

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released Thursday its recommendation of a graphics language that allows Web designers to create two-dimensional vector graphics and exchange them between platforms.

Scalable Vector Graphics 1.0 (SVG) is based on the XML (Extensible Markup Language) standard for describing data in Web pages and business-to-business documents. By recommending SVG, W3C certifies that it is stable, contributes to Web interoperability, and has been reviewed by the W3C members, who favor its widespread adoption, the consortium said in a statement.

"Constructing graphical information is now no harder than it is to construct text information," said Chris Lilley, who chairs the W3C's SVG Working Group. "You already have this infrastructure that lets you manipulate business data and text. Now we're adding graphics to it."

Unlike the bitmap graphics currently used in most Web applications, vector graphics store images in the form of points, lines, and shapes, and hence are scalable: they can be resized without the loss of image quality.

The standard will help Web-based graphics move from simple decoration to reusable content, W3C said, allowing it to be searched, indexed, and displayed in multiple languages. The hope is that SVG will do for graphics what XML is already doing for documents and data on the Web.

Browser developer Hakon Lie, chief technology officer of Opera Software A/S, welcomed the news.

"I think the intentions behind SVG are very good. You want to have a vendor-netural format for vector graphics on the Web, and that's needed. We see (Macromedia Inc.'s) Flash being popular, but it's controlled by one vendor."

But Lie, himself a former W3C staffer, criticized the consortium for issuing "too many specifications and too few good implementations." His own company's browser will not support SVG, though users can view SVG graphics by adding an Adobe Systems Inc. plug-in, he added.

"SVG is not a trivial specification; it's quite complex ... which perhaps is needed to beat Flash, but it makes it difficult to support."

But Lilley stressed that Working Group members and outside developers have produced a number of applications using draft versions of SVG over the past two years.

He cited, as an example, how SVG helps users of CML (chemical markup language) -- an XML application for the manipulation of chemical data -- turn their data into a useful graphical form.

"Now you can actually transform it into SVG and display it, so you actually see the molecule, have drop-down help, do things like turn off all the hydrogen molecules, and so on, so it's interactive. It's not just a static picture, like putting a brochure on the Web."

In another application, he continued, maps can be displayed in interactive form rather than as static JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) images -- so that users can zoom in and out, for example, or relief mode can be turned on and off, showing mountain ranges.

"Essentially what's happened is that the implementations and the specification have grown in parallel. It's been very helpful; anyone can write a specification, but writing a specification that you know is good requires it to be implemented by multiple people and see what works and what doesn't," said Lilley.

W3C, with over 520 member organizations, develops common protocols that promote Web interoperability. The SVG Working Group has tested the SVG language in a wide range of open-source and commercially available platforms, W3C said.

Members of the Working Group include Adobe Systems Inc., America Online Inc. subsidiary Netscape Communications Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Nokia Corp., Quark Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., and Xerox Corp.

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