Linked by Christian F.K. Schaller on Tue 23rd Mar 2004 19:25 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces Computer graphics have long been dominated by bitmapped images. However, the free software community has taken an innovative lead by adopting scalable graphic formats on its desktops. Inthis article I cover the history and rise of scalable graphics on the desktop from my angle - as a proponent of its use in the GNOME platform. This article mostly focuses on SVG's progress from a GNOME point of view, both because GNOME has progressed the furthest and because I am most knowledgable with GNOME's efforts. I will however mention major landmarks in other projects where appropriate.
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As a web designer (who works primarily in Illustrator) I concur ... there will always be a place for bitmaps which allow basically limitless freedom of creativity ... but at the same time I have been eagerly watching SVG ever since the Adobe released its browser plugin in 2001.

Unfortunately, it's still the only thing close to a full implementation of SVG. And Illustrator is still the only thing close to a full-featured authoring tool (I know the article is primarily about Gnome, but it might have been mentioned). ;)

SVG could replace HTML *tomorrow* if web browsers only supported it ... and I would step over my own mother to see this happen. No more cutting up pages into images, no more reimplementing design elements as block-level elements, background colors or (ugh) table cells. Web sites in 1/10 the time, easy.

Or as a screen display engine, like Apple's Quartz or Microsoft's Longhorn ... it would mean the end of different monitor sizes or different monitor resolutions. You could set screen text to be a quarter of an inch high and forget it.

Kudos to the Gnome developers for all their hard work, but by focusing on icon sets and 2D office toy games, I think they've completely missed the point. They're putting vector-based shapes where they make the least sense and ignoring the proverbial "killer apps."

I mean, icon sets? I'm sure there's a place for some vector elements here ... but icons are by their definition relatively small ... that's why Apple uses big TIFFs for its icons (big enough so they only get scaled down, not up) even though its overall rendering engine (Quartz) is vector-based. Just like artists embed bitmap pieces into vector-based compositions all the time. But Gnome is doing the opposite, which is completely bass-ackwards ... you completely rob vector shapes of their scability if you embed them in a fixed, bitmapped framework. You're just condemning vector-originated images to a bitmapped Xwindows prison ... at that point you could flatten your precious vectors to 400x400 pixel bitmaps and no one would be able to tell the difference. And in the meantime, you've limited your creativity to what can be created using vector shapes and gradient fills.

And for games? I'm sorry, but think of SVG's inherent artistic limitations ... it's not like people were creating games in PostScript before SVG came on the scene. Pretty much every commercial game out there (i.e. any first-person shooter) has been 3D vector-based for 5 or 10 years, and the game developers of the world aren't exactly clamoring to give up DirectX and move to 2D vectors. OK, maybe just for Mahjongg.

"I'm all for vector art - but wouldn't embedding a bitmap kinda defeat the "S" in SVG?"

No -- any normal illustrator mixes the two all the time ... open up any magazine and look at one of the ads. Or the page layouts for that matter. How does it happen? Photos and hand illustrations are digitized and mixed with type, vector shapes, gradients etc. Or another common technique is to take a bunch of vector-based art and hand-shade it in Photoshop to get realistic shades and tones.

The value of SVG comes from its ability to create the visual framework (a magazine layout, a web page, an application UI) not from drawing the standalone pieces (illustrations, icons) that might be embedded in it.