Smile, you're on the Web!

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Edd Dumbill

Edd Dumbill
May. 03, 2001 01:28 AM
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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. 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, 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 MathML and XForms.

Edd Dumbill is co-chair of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. He is also chair of the XTech web technology conference. Edd conceived and developed Expectnation, a hosted service for organizing and producing conferences. Edd has also been Managing Editor for XML.com, a Debian developer, and GNOME contributor. He writes a blog called Behind the Times.