The Fall and Rise of SVG The Fall and Rise of SVG

What made SVG so cool? It could almost be considered “PostScript for the Web,” so it certainly made sense for Adobe to sponsor and support it in its infancy: with SVG (as with PostScript), art was primarily described via vectors, a method far more efficient (and more naturally “scalable”) than using raster images.

Yet there was an added dimension to the coolness: unlike PostScript, SVG was expressed as declarative markup in a standard markup meta-language, XML. Mere mortals could code something like:

<circle cx=”60″ cy=”60″ r=”50″/>

…in a text file, save that file, then load it into a browser and see the result. They could also write script against the SVG Document Object Model (DOM) in order to animate or modify the basic properties of the XML. Unlike the alternative then available (Macromedia Flash), this was all very transparent to the user. Additionally, because the format was text-based, the content was easily searchable. While initially a plugin was required to view it, the goal of the standard was native browser support.

As ’99 rolled into 2000, I thought that SVG’s global dominance would manifest itself shortly. Certainly by 2001, 2002 tops; it made so much sense, and web standards as of the 1990s had generally tended to be implemented within a roughly two-year horizon. But SVG’s “overnight success” was to take a few thousand more nights than I had expected. 2002 came and went without any of the ubiquity that Macromedia Flash was starting to enjoy at that time.

As of 2003, Adobe had an SVG Viewer that rendered SVG in browsers, while Illustrator offered SVG support as an authoring tool and Mozilla had embarked on an effort to support native SVG in the browser. Even Microsoft Visio had SVG support. There were many powerful demonstrations of what SVG could do, from cartography to data visualization, even to flash-like sites.

Yet it was starting to look like like the future might never arrive: the Adobe SVG Viewer (at the time, the only way to access SVG in a browser) was not widely distributed, and Microsoft failed completely to acknowledge SVG in their then leading browser, Internet Explorer 6. Without support from the most popular web browser, SVG remained stuck, effectively useless as a format for general web publishing. It was great for applications in very controlled environments, and it had an aesthetic appeal for geeks, but it remained obscure and outside the flow of mainstream usage. For the time being, the only widespread purveyor of vector graphics on the web was Macromedia Flash.


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