Microsoft Joins W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics Effort

Microsoft is joining the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C's) Scalable Vector Graphics Working Group.

The company announced the move on Tuesday with the aim of improving future versions of the W3C's scalable vector graphics (SVG) recommendation, currently at version 1.1. The nonprofit W3C's SVG recommendation is a document that describes two-dimensional graphics processing using XML. The technology can be used for Web graphics, animation and user interfaces.

In the past, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has been singled out as the one Web browser not following the W3C's SVG recommendation. Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee suggested that Microsoft was "slow" in supporting that effort, according to an Associated Press story published in 2008. Currently, IE does not provide native SVG support but instead relies on browser add-ons for scalable vector graphics.

Browsers getting top marks for native SVG support today include Opera, Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome, according to a table produced by Jeff Schiller, co-chair of the W3C's SVG Interest Group.

So far, it's been a gradual process getting browsers up to speed, according to Doug Schepers, the W3C's team contact for the SVG and WebApps Working Groups.

"Because people relied on plug-ins at first, native SVG support in browsers took a few years to get started," Schepers explained by e-mail. "But support has been steadily improving, with new features, performance enhancements and HTML integration getting better with every release."

IE's support for the SVG recommendation would be "a watershed moment," according to Schepers.

"Organizations that weren't using it before because they don't want to rely on plug-ins will now have the option to take advantage of SVG's rich graphical features, and that will drive improvements to all browsers," Schepers stated. He added that Wikipedia and major newspaper Web sites have already started using SVG. The open source Inkscape graphical editor uses SVG natively, he added.

IE currently dominates the scene in terms of browser use, with about 63 percent of the market, according to Net Applications. Consequently, developers typically consider IE compatibility first when building their Web sites.

Lately, Microsoft has been leaning more toward standards compliance with its browser, especially with IE 8, which still lacks native SVG support. In particular, Microsoft contributed test cases to the W3C's working group on cascading style sheets as it developed IE 8. In a statement, Microsoft suggested it plans to do more such work with the W3C.

"Making the Web easier for developers continues to be important and we will continue to contribute to development of HTML5, along with other popular Web standards," a Microsoft spokesperson explained by e-mail. "And we bring a unique value -- the rigor of modern software engineering to the process. Just the other month, we were asked to bring the same expertise that we brought to the CSS 2.1 test suite to the HTML5 working group to lead the Testing Task Force, so that, for the first time for a major standard, everyone in the W3C will agree on a holistic test to measure implementation instead of these interesting but not particularly valuable subsets of tests."

At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in November, Microsoft demonstrated scalable graphics in an IE 9 prototype, explaining that the experimental browser was taking advantage of hardware to produce graphics that can scale with greater smoothness. Microsoft described this technology in a blog post as "Direct2D," which is based on the DirectX APIs used for Windows-based systems. It's not clear at this point how Direct2D may relate to Microsoft's efforts with the W3C's SVG effort, if at all.

Standards tend to be a moving target for browser makers. A spokesperson for Google said by phone that it's important for browser makers to put standards-based features into browsers as soon as possible. He added that the latest trend has been to support the canvas HTML5 element for graphics. Apple introduced canvas as part of its WebKit rendering engine, but canvas is separate from the W3C's SVG recommendation.

In addition to its SVG recommendation for browsers, the W3C offers guidance on mobile devices (called "SVG Tiny 1.2") as well as printing (called "SVG Print").

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.