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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@Christian, @zerblat
by JH on Wed 24th Mar 2004 06:17 UTC

Um, I am not sure you understand what we are trying to do. The point is that we are not putting SVG's into a fixed bitmapped framework. The idea is that as we progress you will be able to scale all your gui's. I even mention this in the article. So that the toolbars, stock icons, fonts etc. all scale. Which I think is very usefull on things like high resolution displays where sometimes your windows and toolbars can get to small.

I understand this is where you are going and definitely support it! My point was that all this fiddling over icon sets is distracting from this goal. I think OS X got it right by not worrying about vectorizing all the icons and focusing on the core things like screen drawing, window compositing etc. I mean, how big is an icon going to get? Say huge, 4 inches wide, then say you want it to look crisp on a 1200 dpi printer at that size -- that's about a 300 lpi dot screen, so you need 4 times 300 = a 1200x1200 pixel icon. Of course today's reality is a 1x1 inch icon at 96dpi screen res is fine, so that 1200x1200 pixel icon has a long life ahead of it before it'll ever need to be scaled up! My other point is that pushing artists to use only SVG vector shapes cuts out all sorts of creative techniques (hand illustration, photography) that could be used to create interesting icons. A 1200x1200 pixel PNG is a blank canvas ... the SVG spec is like limiting you to a set of really good cookie cutters.

Plus there's this fallacy about infinite scalability ... just because something is vector-based doesn't mean it can, should or ever will be used at *any* size. Say you wanted a picture of an airplane half a centimeter high ... you could just type one using a dingbat font. But if you wanted one for a poster, obviously the dingbat wouldn't look good at all, it would have no detail, dimension or modeling whatsoever -- it would just look like a blown-up dingbat. Or if you took a detailed picture of an airplane (like a photo) and shrunk it to half a centimeter, it would just look like a tiny blob. Graphic designers make things the right size with the right amount of detail for the job.

An icon is an icon, not a mural ... a 1200x1200 pixel icon is just as sharp and "scalable" in the 1-2 inch range at 96dpi screen res as a vector-drawn icon.

Good job with the article, got me thinking.

Zerblat, I agree coding a web page in SVG by hand would suck! Kind of reminds me of writing POV-Ray code like 10 years ago, before there were any GUI tools. But the whole beauty of SVG is that it's XML-based, so it isn't separate from the XML -- you can take an SVG export for Illustrator or Sodipodi or whatever and immediately use it as a layout template, i.e. XSLT or with a scripting language like PHP ... there are sites and especially intranet apps doing this already with Flash -- of course with all the obvious downsides like extra (proprietary) server software you need to generate the Flash dynamically, binary file format that doesn't degrade to text/isn't repurposeable, closed spec vs. open standard etc.