Microsoft supports SVG

IE 9 on track to display powerful graphical format

Since the last time I wrote here about SVG, Microsoft not only announced its intent to support SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), but has even released an early version of Internet Explorer 9 which supports it. How does this affect us as developers?

It depends. While I have a poor record predicting Microsoft actions, I can at least provide the context to understand them. SVG is a standard that other browsers began to support around 2002; by a couple of years ago, essentially everyone except Microsoft supported SVG (although, as so often, in not-entirely-compatible ways). "Retail"-level Web development couldn't directly exploit all SVG's wonderfulness, of course, because so many users rely on IE.

That hasn't changed. A year from now, will IE9 exceed a paltry 10% of all browsers? Plenty of deployments will continue to cater to IE7 and IE8, and even IE6, for years to come. If conventional "universal coverage" is a requirement, this winter's announcements can only truly impact decisions several years from now.

Put hardware to good use

On the other hand, it's clear now that everyone that matters agrees SVG is important, and it's coming sooner or later. Libraries of compatibility shims to make SVG work in older IE will continue to improve. Close observation of this year's events show that Microsoft is not merely adopting SVG, but leading in its use. A point the company rightly trumpets is that "IE9 is also the first browser to provide hardware-accelerated SVG support." This will be a potent theme over the next couple of years: while SVG is intrinsically capable of great things (I'm starting to collect my favorite public demos here), the effects with high-speed, targeted hardware will really pop your eyes out. There's enormous potential for browser authors to exploit modern GPUs, and I'm thrilled to see IE "pushing the envelope". We're close to switching from FAQs such as, "can I afford to use SVG where I rely on Flash now?", to those more in the range of, "will Flash be able to keep up with HTML5?"

The "preview" announcement is worth reading in detail. It properly emphasizes that SVG plays several different roles (SVG has enormously wide-ranging capabilities; to start, this IE9 "... supports inclusion of SVG via inline XHTML, the <object> tag, and as a standalone .svg document"), lucidly and succinctly emphasizing teamwork between HTML, CSS, and SVG. Look especially for the "we saw giant otters" example; the blogger rightly hints at the power SVG has to enhance existing Web displays or applications, and properly credits an illustrative use of SVG by Microsoft's corporate rival Google.

SVG would have continued to excite me even if Microsoft ignored it for years to come; I have a backlog of applications which don't depend on support by Internet Explorer. With the announcements of the last few months, though, I now want to know Microsoft's plans and perspectives on SVG.

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