Zooming with SVG

I wanted to highlight a comment Bruce Rindahl made to an earlier post (with his permission):

http://www.lrcwe-data.com/DeepZoom.svg is a modification of a project I have been working on. I hacked together some code to mimic the animation effect of the Hard Rock site. First some credits.

The original work was funded by the State of Colorado and Division of Water Resources. Earlier work by the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.Everything was based on work done by (and GPL’d) at www.carto.net.

The animation was done using SMIL attributes in the SVG standard. It requires the Adobe SVG plugin. It will run on say a Windows 2000 machine in IE6 using a 5-year old plugin […]. The imagery is over 60 GB (almost 2 orders of magnitude more than Hard Rock) served up via an Open standard WMS server (Mapserver) via a Python based cache program (TileCache). Vector data is displayed via SVG using an open source database (PostgreSQL/PostGIS). Without the animation it works in Opera, Safari, Firefox3, and IE with the plugin. The animation works in Opera but has a bug in it which makes it jump – I am tracking that down. Safari should handle it soon. The animation can be jumpy at times but part of that is the coordinate system I am using. The Adobe SVG plugin struggles with numbers that high. Everything is controlled via JavaScript.

Bottom line for me – meh. The animation is cute for a while but it is not worth the extra overhead. Keeping all the downloaded photos just so the user always sees an image is not worth the memory required. The default display is just like Google maps which most users are familiar with. I agree with Mr. Ellis that the development tools are not there to match what is available for Flash but then who would build them when Microsoft won’t support it?

Unlike my earlier silly little example, Bruce’s work is impressive, especially when you consider that most of the technology and specifications used in the effect have been out for years, and it works with Adobe’s now old SVG plug-in in IE6. His work isn’t based on one packaged framework, either, and pulls together previous GPL’d work, as well as several open source technologies into one, cohesive whole.

Bruce also makes an important point: why do the effect? It takes up bandwidth, requires extra work, and what does the functionality provide, other than a few useful implementations like Google Maps? If you want to know why something like JPEG 2000 hasn’t been implemented in most browsers, and only brokenly with Safari (because of a broken implementation in the Mac OS X), it’s because few people are asking for this functionality. In addition, as Bruce notes, why would people expend effort when we know the work won’t work with IE?

I see work like Bruce’s and others as a worthwhile effort, regardless of Microsoft’s unwillingness to meet its earlier commitment to standards. Adobe’s SVG plug-in is not the only SVG plug-in, as Examotion is actively working on an SVG plug-in, which should handle what Adobe does, and more.

More importantly, the more we use these technologies, the more tools created, leading to more sophisticated works, leading to better tools, and so on. We have to prime the pump before we can draw water.

As for whether the effect is useful is really in the eye of the beholder. For instance, I don’t see that the previously linked Hard Rock Cafe’s application to be useful, especially given how limited the access is to the application. However, I’d like to have the pieces that go into the effect, of which Bruce has demonstrated an open source equivalent. (About the only thing missing is JPEG 2000 for advanced image compression. )

By having the pieces in place, we’ll be ready when we do get ideas of how these effects can be combined into something useful, or innovative.

Bruce also supplied a link to a variation of the application that works with Firefox, Opera, and Safari.

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