Google to Microsoft: Support SVG

Internet Explorer is lone holdout in backing W3C specification for high-quality, interactive Web graphics using XML, Google official stresses at conference

The SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) specification may be experiencing a renaissance, but it would sure be helpful if Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser supported SVG, a Google official argued at a technical conference on Friday.

SVG is a World Wide Web Consortium specification for high-quality, interactive graphics on the Web using XML. Other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Opera support it, said Brad Neuberg, a developer advocate at Google and a member of the Open Web Advocacy group. "I think SVG has a really special history," he said at the SVG Open 2009 conference at Google offices in Mountain View, Calif. "I'm just blown away by the kind of level of passion and the level of commitment."

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"Folks want to be able to do drawing on the Web. They want SVG and Canvas. There's a clear market demand, so developers want this," said Neuberg.

A renaissance is happening with SVG similar to what happened with DHTML, Neuberg said. Hindering progress, however, is a lack of native support for the standard in IE. Developers, Neuberg said, have had to use a workaround: SVG Web, a JavaScript library enabling use of SVG in Internet Explorer and other browsers.

But SVG Web is limited, according to Neuberg: "SVG Web, it's not a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for IE. The library will always be slower than native support."

Microsoft had two representatives at the event Friday, a move lauded by Neuberg. "I really respect that they came to the conference this year" and are having a dialog, he said.

One of Microsoft's reps, IE software architect Ted Johnson, said the company would not be announcing anything at the event about future versions of the browser. "We're just here to listen and learn," he said.

SVG, Johnson said, grew out of proposals from Microsoft and Adobe. Microsoft has supported vector graphics via Vector Markup Language (VML), he said, but he gave a nod to SVG.

"SVG's coming of age," Johnson said.

Microsoft's lack of SVG support in IE is a problem, said conference attendee Greg Sterndale, senior software engineer at Plectix.

"But it sounds like the guys at Google have done a lot of work, and the community's done a lot of work to find a way around that for now. I think that in the future, IE is definitely going to be supporting it," Sterndale said.

Also backing SVG was a presenter from Wikimedia Foundation, maker of the Wikipedia Web site.

"We've been using SVG very heavily on Wikipedia because it gives us a standard format for graphics, which can be edited by multiple people," said Brion Vibber, CTO of the foundation. He added that browser support is up to snuff on pretty much every browser but IE, though SVG Web helps.

"Until we have native support in IE, we have something almost as good," Vibber said.

Neuberg said Canvas 2-D Web drawing capability is also sought for IE. Canvas is part of the HTML 5 specification, of which Google is a big supporter.

Neuberg cited multiple benefits of SVG.

"SVG is very searchable," Neuberg added, acknowledging that Google is a search company. Also, he noted, SVG is easy to import and export.

"You don't get trapped into any [specific] tool and it's also very server-friendly" when working with -- for example -- PHP scripts, Neuberg said. Google's Visualization API supports SVG as well. "This is a perfect use case for SVG," he said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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