SVG is Dead! Story at 11!

Several readers have written to me over the past while, askingfor an update to an article that I wrote for the July, 2003issue of MSDNMagazine. In that article, I expressed a lot of optimism forthe future of ScalableVector Graphics (SVG). However, based upon how the market hasevolved since then, and the amazing clarity of hindsight, Ihave come to believe that SVG is effectively dead as a mainstream,desktop technology. To many this will be a painfullyobvious fact, but I thought it had to be addressed (and it allowsme to respond to queries with a courteous link). 

SVG, as a quick primer, is a vector graphics technology thatallows for gorgeous layered designs using basic primitives. SVGalso offers a wonderful DOM programming facility to allow foranimations and programmatic alterations – I won’t go into SVG intechnical detail (not only are there plenty of resources out therethat do, but I also don’t pretend to be an expert in SVG), but Iwill say that in a nutshell SVG is a standardized,owned-by-no-one alternative to Flash: With a simple XMLlayout and clear, logical specifications, SVG was compelling in itsapproachability and low barrier to entry – No special authoringkits, or understanding of convoluted binary formats, was requiredto begin creating dynamic, vector-graphic solutions.

Nonetheless, based upon some observations and occurrences since,I will confidently state that SVG is dead on the desktop:

  • Adobe has been the primary sponsor of SVG since the outset, andmany believed this was largely to undermine Macromedia’sFlash
  • Adobe, whose plug-in viewer isby far the #1 method of client-side SVG rendering, hasn’tmeaningfully updated their viewer since 2001
  • Corel also created an SVG viewer, but it too has completelystagnated, and that element of their graphics strategy hasfaded
  • Even the ApacheBatik project has largely stalled
  • Macromedia released the Flash File FormatSpecification, undermining one of the primary selling points ofSVG
  • Flash is ubiquitous
  • Adobe acquired Macromedia for $3.4 billion in a deal that wasapproved on August 24th. Flash is an absolutely critical ingredientof Macromedia’s business model. Adobe didn’t put $3.4 billiontowards something they plan on killing
  • The remaining push for SVG seems to be for the mobile market, but even thereFlash is makingheadway
  • I was sure then that the open standards SVGwould be heartily adopted and evangelized by the open sourcecommunity, and I felt certain that mainstream, native support for SVGwould thrive in Mozilla cum Firefox, giving it a killer-feature totake on Internet Explorer. What SVG support exists today, over twoyears later, is still just a fork that is described as a”technology preview
  • Microsoft is going to capture hearts and minds with XAML, andwith tools like Microsoft Expression (which doesn’t, to my knowledge, supportSVG).

These, along with other factors, have led me to believe that SVGon the desktop is a non-starter, barring some jarring schism in themarketplace. I think it’s too little, too late for Firefox to offera wide deployment of SVG, and I doubt Adobe is going to do muchmore than let SVG fade away (of course they’ll claim otherwise, butlet’s be honest).

I do, however, continue to believe that SVG on the server, as acomponent of the image processing pipeline, is still entirelyviable.

[UPDATE: A followup can be found here]