Smile, you're on the Web!

by Edd Dumbill

While business-oriented XML applications have been grabbing the tech media
spotlight, exciting work has been in progress in the world of Web
multimedia.



Presenting on the user interface work of the W3C at the 10th International
World Wide Web Conference in Hong Kong, Thierry Michel gave the audience the
latest news on SMIL (pronounced "smile"). The Synchronized Multimedia
Integration Language allows the co-ordination of multimedia elements in a
presentation, and is an XML language. href="http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-smil">SMIL 1.0 has been around for a while
now, and is implemented in programs like RealPlayer.



SMIL allows items to be layed out not just over the page, but also over
time. It also allows alternative presentation depending on language or
available bandwidth, and accessibility features such as captioning and ALT
tags are supported. There are currently around ten SMIL browsers
available.



Michel explained what the next generation of SMIL, SMIL 2.0, had in store.
The most significant change is the splitting of SMIL into modules. This allows
various components of the language to be re-used in other contexts. As well as
the modules, there are now three profiles defined, including a
"basic" flavor for lightweight devices, and an XHTML-SMIL flavour for use in
browsers.



The splitting up of SMIL allows implementations, such as in Internet
Explorer 5.5, where the timing and animation from SMIL can be applied within,
and to, XHTML documents. Michel
demonstrated some impressive functionality running in IE5.5. In addition to
modules and profiles, SMIL 2.0 will bring new visual transition and animation
effects, and increase support for internationalization and accessibility.



The SMIL Working Group expect SMIL 2.0 to reach the final stage of its
development, W3C Recommendation, during Summer 2001. The final recommendation
will ship with a set of test cases for implementors.



Following Thierry Michel, Chris Lilley presented on the progress of the
W3C's Scalable Vector Graphics format, href="http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/">SVG. SVG represents images in their
component, vector, form as opposed to as raster graphics, such as JPEG or PNG.
As a result, graphic items can be both smaller in file size and vastly
superior in rendering quality.



SVG has been a long time in its development, and during that time has
acquired several good implementations, the most popular being Adobe's browser
plugin. SVG 1.0 will soon reach Recommendation stage, and there is already
much interest in the next version of the specification. Features likely to be
in that new version include more support for small devices, not just PDAs but
also smaller devices like cell phones, and the integration of SVG with other
XML user interface languages such as href="http://www.w3.org/Math/">MathML and href="http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/Forms/">XForms.