What's Behind Microsoft's SVG Standards Move?

Microsoft plans to join the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) Working Group to help push the SVG specification forward, a move welcomed by many in the community and questioned by others.

Microsoft has announced its plans to join the World Wide Web Consortium's Scalable Vector Graphics Working Group to help push the SVG specification forward, a move welcomed by many in the community.

Patrick Dengler, senior program manager of the Microsoft Internet Explorer team, in a Jan. 5 blog post, said, "We're excited to take part in ensuring future versions of the SVG spec will meet the needs of developers and end users."

SVG is a language for describing two-dimensional graphics and graphical applications in X M L, according to the W3C Web page on the technology. "The SVG Working Group is currently working in parallel on a set of modules, for extending prior specifications, and a new specification, SVG 2.0, which will combine those modules with the rest of the SVG framework to work across the full range of devices and platforms," the W3C said.

Microsoft has been slow to support SVG. However, industry giants such as IBM, Google, Adobe and others have promoted SVG for years. Google hosted and IBM and Microsoft were gold sponsors of the 2009 SVG Open, with Opera, Mozilla, Samsung and others also providing sponsorship.

Adobe's Web page on SVG says:

""Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is a text-based graphics language that describes images with vector shapes, text, and embedded raster graphics.""

The Adobe page goes on to say:

""Adobe has taken a leadership role in the development of the SVG specification and continues to ensure that its authoring tools are SVG compatible.""

Of Microsoft's joining the W3C SVG working group, Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technology in IBM Software Group, said, "I'm happy they're joining and hope we see SVG supported in IE soon."

Dave McAllister, director of standards and open source at Adobe, told eWEEK: "It's good to see Microsoft join the W3C SVG working group, which we too are a part of. Adobe was one of the original members of the SVG committee and a number of Adobe applications offer rich support for SVG."

Immediately following the news of Microsoft's intent to join the SVG group, observers began speculating whether Microsoft would support SVG in the next version of its browser, IE 9.

One comment in response to Dengler's post by someone identified as Magne Andersson, said:

""It's about time. Hopefully we'll see some SVG in IE9 then, since, you got to admit it yourself, you've been behind in overall web standards support since IE6. The same with speed and customizability."Your browser is still far away from your competitors, but at least you are putting in some serious effort here for IE9."Unfortunately, when IE9 is finally released, the other browsers will probably be far from you again.""

Dengler kept his post straightforward, saying:

""As stated on its Web site, 'the mission of the SVG Working Group is to continue the evolution of Scalable Vector Graphics as a format and a platform, and enhance the adoption and usability of SVG in combination with other technologies.' We recognize that vector graphics are an important component of the next generation Web platform. As evidenced by our ongoing involvement in W3C working groups, we are committed to participating in the standards process to help ensure a healthy future for the Web. Our involvement with the SVG working group builds on that commitment.""

However, many observers commented that they are fearful of Microsoft's involvement in the SVG working group, as the software giant may be inclined to try to stall progress or to deliver SVG technology with proprietary extensions.

Said one commenter identified as Rob:

""Let's see how long it takes Microsoft to gum up that working group and bring it to a screeching halt. Plan on showing up for any meetings? Or are you only planning on fighting all the work that went on before you like you did on JavaScript and HTML5?""

And Dion Almaer, co-founder of Ajaxian.com, said in a blog post:

""My gut feeling whenever I hear a 'we are joining a group' type post from anyone is 'thanks for telling us, ping me when you have an implementation'."However, when someone as big as Microsoft blogs about joining the W3C SVG Working Group they are trying to send a signal. Hopefully they will help the process and SVG will proceed nicely and we will see it on more user agents."But, as a friend just said, I will hold my breath to celebrate until I see it and Canvas in a browser :)""

However, despite speculation about Microsoft's plans for SVG, its move to openly support the technology is a positive step.

Not giving any indication of specific plans, Microsoft's Dengler said: "To date, I have had several interactions with the SVG working group, and their clear dedication to creating a great technology for end users and developers alike stands out. I personally look forward to future and more direct involvement with this great set of folks."

So the most industry observers can do is wait and see what this latest Microsoft move means. A host of questions remain unanswered. Will SVG ship with IE9 or will it ship later? Which flavor of SVG will Microsoft support-SVG Tiny (the mobile subset) or SVG Full (the complete version that is supported by the other browsers)? How complete and thorough is its implementation-if key features are missing or broken in its implementation, then that's not going to help developers very much. If so, then this will be a great boon to Web developers, especially since Google and partners have delivered a reasonable patch for IE6-IE8 via their SVGWeb project.

As one industry expert who asked for anonymity said:

""The big question is whether Microsoft will do a complete job and whether they will implement all of the 'extras' in SVG that makes it truly useful to Web developers. Will it be fast (e.g., leverage graphics accelerators)? Will they allow inline SVG inside of (non-X M L) HTML? Will they support SVG as a background image in CSS and via the <img> tag in HTML? Will they support <audio> and <video> within SVG content-which is coming in Mozilla and WebKit, and already ships in Opera? The more of these things within IE, then the greater the number of scenarios that developers can use SVG." "