Web Design: Vector graphics in the clear

THERE IS a saying that seems to be used all too often when referring to the Web and its various technological offshoots: "The future is now." This has to be one of the dumbest phrases ever coined and shows how amazingly short-sighted some people can be. The fact is that, despite how advanced the technology we have right now seems, it is nothing compared with what is around the corner. In the case of Web graphics, if all the future offers designers is bit-map (http://www. independent.co.uk/net/980629ne/story4.html), the Web is in big trouble.

One person with his finger on the pulse of Web graphics is David Brailsford, the Dunford Professor of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. He has been studying the problems of "Electronic Documents" for 18 of his 30 years as a computer scientist and has recently become involved with the question of vector graphics on the Web. At the September 1998 Seybold conference (one of the most influential conferences in the computer world), he set out the framework for the panel discussing Web graphics. Who better with whom to discuss what the future holds for them?

Jason Cranford Teague: In your view what is wrong with the standard bit-map Web graphic formats (GIF, JPEG and PNG)?

David Brailsford: These are acceptable for true photographs but are a poor choice for vector graphics because they are bulky and inherently unscalable.

JCT: What's on the horizon that will improve on this?

DB: The recent proposals involving Flash, the Vector Markup Language (VML) and Precision Graphic Markup Language (PGML) point the way forward. Flash is a very creditable start, but it is likely that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will want Extensible Markup Language (XML) notation rather than binary code. VML is OK for business graphics but does not have (neither does Flash, for that matter) any facilities for clipping to paths. For example, it can not clip portions of a bit-map photo to the interior areas of an outline font. Adobe's PGML does have this graphic sophistication.

JCT: Who is proposing these standards?

DB: Adobe (supported by Sun, Corel, Netscape and IBM) proposed PGML in April of this year to the Web consortium. Shortly thereafter, Macromedia put the Flash spec. into the public domain (what a coincidence!) In May, Microsoft (supported by Macromedia, HP and others) proposed VML. VML and PGML aren't all that different. Both are more or less PostScript friendly, for example. But basically, VML's sophistication stops at a stage just about adequate for business graphics. However, VML, like PGML, uses XML syntax.

JCT: PGML and VML use XML notation, but how will this work for graphic artists who are not programmers? How is XML notation an advantage for creating graphics?

DB: Packages such as Adobe Illustrator will generate PGML (or VML) code rather than requiring designers to hack it in by hand. However, PGML and VML code is directly editable for tweaking and tuning purposes, whereas Flash isn't.

JCT: So these three formats are competing with each other to be the Web's vector format. Which one do you see becoming the standard?

DB: I fervently hope that the W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) working group will become the universally adopted standard. Companies now involved in the SVG working group proposals are Adobe, Netscape, Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Corel, HP, Autodesk, Visio and Xerox

JCT: So what will the SVG working group be doing?

DB: At Seybold San Francisco, in the Web Graphics session, I "set the scene" for presentations by Adobe, Macromedia and Microsoft. In the two days after that session, all parties came together under the chairmanship of Chris Lilley (from W3C) to amalgamate the best aspects of PGML and VML and to come up with an agreed single standard by a deadline of August 1999. This new merged standard will be called Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG).

JCT: How will SVG be an improvement over the graphic formats we are already using?

DB: As well as scalability, emerging Web standards in other areas offer better font handling, better colour management and more. Both VML and PGML offer XML-compliant ways of specifying graphics that are good candidates for text-compression technology (LZW, Zip etc) and this may make a binary format unnecessary (but the W3C hasn't ruled out the idea of a binary version).

JCT: So instead of reducing the quality of the image to compress a graphic, you would compress the code used to make the graphic, as with a zipped text file?

DB: Yes, that's right. The W3C isn't ruling out that SVG may have a "binary" option if file size gets to be a huge problem. But the feeling is that PGML/VML/SVG offer good opportunities for text compression because of repeated strings such as etc. So binary may not be necessary. One of my researchers here at Nottingham is currently looking at Flash-PGML conversion followed by ZIP compression on the PGML to see how much bigger/smaller that end result is compared with the Flash original.

JCT: Are there any drawbacks to these formats?

DB: The big headaches coming up will occur if traditional print designers really do see SVG as the way to bridge the gap between the printed page and the Web. Welcome though it may be to have a wide variety of type faces available, this raises the prospects of (a) how will font downloading be accomplished? (b) will users demand genuinely integrated page and document behaviour from the Web, which until now has relied on links to create amorphous but dynamic documents with pieces pulled in from here there and everywhere?

JCT: Do you think that vector graphics will eventually become as ubiquitous as bit-map graphics are now or will they be mostly relegated to special uses?

DB: Once Web designers have the tools to create SVG, I think there will be major take-up and a lot of interest.

E-mail queries or comments to indy_webdesign@ mindspring.com

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones