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W3C sees graphics on cell phones

In good news for Adobe--and potentially threatening news for Macromedia--the Web standards consortium revises its vector graphics protocol for use with cell phones.

In a development that could help Adobe erode some of Macromedia's vector graphics lead, the Web's most influential standards group issued a draft designed to make its vector graphics standard work more easily on cell phones.

Facing an end-of-year publishing deadline, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) this week also released a flurry of proposals covering linking and querying Web pages and XML documents.

But the consortium reserved most of its enthusiasm for the vector graphics changes, which it hopes will help nudge the industry away from the accepted--and proprietary--standard, Macromedia's Flash technology.

"What we're seeing are some exciting developments on the SVG front," said W3C representative Janet Daly.

SVG, or (Scalable Vector Graphics), is the W3C's method for creating vector graphics, which are more flexible than the common bitmaps that form most of the graphics on the Web. In contrast to bitmaps, which are shipped fully rendered and defined pixel by pixel, vector graphics are composed of mathematical descriptions of curves and forms. This composition results in a more compact file, the ability to render the image to fit television or monitor screens with varying resolutions, and greater ease in animating the image.

In addition to a new version of SVG that lets developers separate the protocol into smaller modules that work on smaller devices, the consortium is heralding the release of third-party tools designed to help developers use SVG in their Web pages.

New versions of Adobe's Acrobat viewer support SVG. This month alone, SVG tools or support have cropped up from the likes of Corel, Mattercast, Safe Software and Toon Boom, a cartoon-authoring toolmaker.

The new SVG architecture follows a recent standardization trend, which is to divvy up a protocol into separable modules. These smaller subsets are tailored for specific uses, so that someone designing vector graphics for cell phone screens doesn't have to negotiate the full-featured SVG protocol meant for use with desktop computer systems.

But one analyst said that while the W3C's modularization schemes look good in theory, they had yet to prove themselves in the real world.

"XHTML has the , which should be good from an adoption point of view," said Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink, a research firm that focuses on XML and Web services. "But XHTML modules haven't been adopted that much."

Schmelzer said SVG fit right into Adobe's larger goal to provide content-rendering technologies that render similarly on various platforms.

"For Adobe, this is like the way that PDF allowed universal representation of documents," Schmelzer said. "With vector graphics, the images will always render consistently."

Macromedia in the past has dismissed SVG, pointing to Flash's near ubiquity on personal computers and the relative scarcity of SVG on the Web. But Schmelzer said Macromedia would do well to embrace the open standard rather than let Adobe get an early advantage in the SVG market.

Macromedia and Adobe were not immediately available for comment, but Macromedia released a prepared statement on the W3C release.

"We have not had significant demand from our user base for SVG-related features," read the statement. "None of the Web browser companies have announced support of SVG, and the large file size of the SVG plug-in (2.2MB) is still a deterrent to any significant desktop browser saturation. Macromedia Flash Player, on the other hand, is under 400K and is installed on 98 percent of all major browsers."

But Schmelzer, in response to Macromedia's dismissive attitude toward SVG, said "denial is always the first stage."

Through December 20th, the W3C is seeking comments on its SVG 1.1 proposed recommendation and two Mobile SVG profiles--SVG Tiny, designed for cell phones, and SVG Basic, for PDAs.

In other W3C news, the consortium pushed through upgrades for its technologies that help authors link to and from XML documents.

These include new drafts of the XPointer Framework, XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Data Model, XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Formal Semantics, XML Query, XML Path Language (XPath) 2.0, XQuery 1.0, and XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Functions and Operators.

XPointer dictates how to link or point to discrete parts of XML documents. XPath is a language for navigating within documents. XQuery is a query language tailored to XML documents.

Schmelzer said the query language had elicited keen interest from database companies that now have to jerry-rig query solutions using an unwieldy combination of XML and SQL. Sybase has already decided to use XQuery, according to Schmelzer, while IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are still evaluating it.