XML and Vector Graphics

June 22, 1998

Lisa Rein

The work has begun to define a new vector-based graphic format for the Web at the W3C. We'll look at the advantages of a vector graphics format. Then we'll look into each submission and its relationship to XML. We'll also take a brief look at binary vector-formats. Finally, we'll compare the top two submissions: PGML and VML.

On March 31, the W3C acknowledged the CCLRC's (Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils) submission entitled Schematics on the World Wide Web, a specification describing a very simple mechanism for 2D vector-based technical charts and graphics. The CCLRC is one of the top computer science research organizations in the UK, with a long history in the field of graphics formats.

A week and a half later, the W3C acknowledged the PGML (Precision Graphics Markup Language) submission, a joint submission by Adobe, IBM, Netscape and Sun.

Like clockwork, immediately following the PGML announcement, Macromedia announced that it was making its Flash vector graphics format an open standard. Macromedia's endorsement was backed by Microsoft, RealNetworks and IBM, as well as a slew of content providers such as WebTV, Broderbund, @Home and Associated Press, all Microsoft affiliates.

Then, two weeks ago, Microsoft made its move with the Vector Graphics Format (VML) submission, along with Hewlett-Packard, Macromedia, Autodesk Inc. and Visio Corporation.

According to the W3C's own staff comments on each submission, no one vector-based graphics format will be chosen over another. Instead, it would be the goal of a new W3C Scalable Vector Graphics working group to place each of these formats on its agenda, and combine them into a single, all-encompassing XML-based vector graphics standard.

All companies involved have said that they expect it will be very easy to consolidate the shape features between PGML, VML and any other submissions into a cohesive standard for vector-based graphics. Microsoft and Adobe in particular have made numerous public statements about being committed to the W3C standards process and looking forward to consolidating the two proposals and supporting the resulting specification in their products.

It will be the job of the new working group -- in the process of being formed -- to do this in a practical and effective manner, and quickly, please.

Each submitting company has their own reasons for standing strongly behind their syntax. However, to suitably address all the needs of the Web, the best of VML, PGML and any other proposed format will have to be merged into a standard that can be supported by all vendors.

Now, to explore these efforts in more detail, follow the links below to the different parts of the vector graphics story.