Browsers Get Ready for Graphics Boost

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2005-04-12 Print this article Print

Upcoming SVG support from the Opera and Mozilla Firefox browsers could signal the start of a Web graphics makeover.

Since first becoming a Web standard nearly four years ago, SVG has lagged in adoption as developers waited for broader support for next-generation Web graphics.

But upcoming plans from two Web browser makers to natively support the XML-based graphics language could give Scalable Vector Graphics the boost it needs to begin remaking the look and feel of the Web.

Opera Software ASA is the furthest along in building SVG support into its namesake browser. Opera last month became the first major browser with built-in SVG support when it released its latest beta of the next Opera browser version,which is due for a full launch within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the open-source Mozilla Firefox browser is incorporating SVG support in Version 1.1, which is expected to be released in June. Nightly builds of the browser are slated to include SVG support within the next few weeks, Mozilla developers said.

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By making SVG core to their rendering engines, the Web browsers will remove a major hurdle to the graphic standards adoption, said Chris Lilley, chair of the World Wide Consortiums SVG Working Group.

"Its been a classic chicken-and-egg problem," Lilley said. "If theres not much content, then people dont see implementations of SVG. And if there are no implementations, then there is no content."

A lack of browser support has required Web users to download plug-ins, such as Adobe Systems Inc.s SVG Viewer,to view SVG. Mainstream users have been unlikely to install a plug-in without compelling content, and Web developers have been less willing to create Web pages with SVG if users could not access them, Lilley said.

A combination of trends could break the cycle. Web browser support is coming at a time when mobile phones and devices increasingly have built-in SVG support. For example, the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project),a GSM network technical standards body, has begun mandating SVG support for next-generation mobile devices, Lilley said.

For Opera, the mobile arena is of particular interest because it makes a mobile browser, which currently uses an SVG plug-in. By first building SVG into its desktop browser and underlying rendering engine, Opera also is laying the groundwork for expanding its mobile SVG support, said Christen Krogh, Operas vice president of engineering.

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Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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