SVG doesn’t need to compete and neither do I

The worst mistake I made in the recent discussions about open compared to proprietary technologies was to allow myself to be pulled in by sweeping statements such as, “the W3C has failed”. Not only be pulled in, but to get into some form of competition over which is the best: SVG/Ajax, Silverlight, or Flash.

The W3C has failed because Rich Internet Applications are the way of the future, or so goes the prescient among the pundits. Standards are dead, said others. Silverlight is the future. No, no, make that Flash. Silverlight! Flash! And on it goes, with poor SVG dragged along like the cousin who showed up at the dance without a date.

At the same time I waded into the battle of the—well, we really can’t call it vector graphics, as there is so much more involved— I also wrote about IE6 and the difficulty of ending the life of this seven-year-old browser. A seven-year-old browser that still dominates so much of the web. Person after person told me about this place or that with umpteen thousands of employees all using IE6. Someday, I’m told, we’ll signal the EOL of IE6, but not today. Not today.

These are two different views of the world, neither of which is compatible with the other. Either the world is ready to leave the W3C and other web standards organizations in the dust as we leap into the bright future where all the web is a box embedded in a single page with a big friggen cloud behind it, or we’re living on the edge just using transparent PNGs.

The Hard Rock Cafe website is fun, but it doesn’t work on my pre-Intel Mac, nor with Opera, and crashed my Safari on Windows XP and caused my not low-end laptop to spike at 80%…when idle. But it is pretty and is cool, and makes use of new JPEG compression techniques that are very cool, and we need pretty and cool, just to keep excited about all this stuff.

However, the world will still turn, every day and every night, to Google Maps, created with technologies in use today— standard and proprietary technologies, both—and now so much a part of our lives that we’ve forgotten when we considered it cool.

Years ago, one group of companies proposed one way of doing 2D vector graphics, and another proposed a different way and from the clash came SVG. However, Microsoft did its own thing, and implemented VML, and created what is probably the last battleground in the war of the browsers. I don’t know why Microsoft went with VML. I imagine one reason is that Microsoft was not willing, then and now, to commit to the necessity of XHTML. Either that or the company was being purblind, pig-headed stubborn. Either way, Microsoft went one way, everyone else went another, and now we’re left with no meeting ground between two positions. To say the situation is disappointing is to say that the Midwest got a touch wet this spring.

Maybe HTML5 will be the bridge that brings the sides together. I hope so, but that’s in the future and we have to think of the now. The now that celebrates the latest whizzy from Microsoft and Adobe, while having to continue to support IE6. The now that needs the standards, even when most of the people don’t realize how much they need them. And OK, the now that needs Silverlight, and Flash, and whatever else new comes along, because that’s what the web is, has been, and probably will always be.

I’ve always said we need more women in technology because I believe we women bring balance to technology. I like to think that we foster cooperation, rather than competition, but perhaps that’s my own bias, or even my own stereotype, shame on me. However, I didn’t bring any cooperation to this discussion. I was right in there with the boys: snorting, stomping, and digging my feet into the dirt, as I rolled up metaphorical sleeves and prepared to wade in with code. Of course, it was little bitty code, and all I managed to really do was look a little silly. Worse though, is I looked silly at the same time I was saying stuff that was anything but. I guess that makes me a real tech because I can be just as purblind, pig-headed stubborn as every other tech I’ve ever met. Stubborn and with code—that’s a dangerous combination.

I like SVG. I like SVG for itself. I like that you can add 2d graphics directly into a web page; that you can use JavaScript to manipulate the SVG after the page loads—not to mention the really fun declarative animations. I like that it is interactive. I like that it’s free, and that it’s open; that it belongs to all of us. Most importantly, I value that it’s built into the browser, not added via a plug-in, and I can depend on it being there. Well, mostly there. I have many more fun things I want to try with SVG (and the Canvas object and JavaScript and CSS)—even if it means I’ll be putting the results of my efforts on a four-legged stool with one leg missing.

I like SVG, but SVG is not Flash. SVG is not Silverlight. However, that doesn’t make SVG better or worse than Flash or Silverlight—it just makes SVG different. And that’s where my time should go: celebrating the difference, not trying to trip the other guy up, so I can kick dirt in his face when he’s on the ground.

Enough rambling, back to the book.