Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ted Gould: SVG, Inkscape and Web Standards

I was lucky enough to be able to have an in-depth discussion with Ted Gould regarding the future of Inkscape and SVG. We spoke a bit about Inkscape's history, its future, and the role SVG will play in the web in coming years.






JMZ: Ted, you've been involved with SVG for some time. How did you first get involved with the SVG standard?


TG: I first started to work with SVG by contributing to Sodipodi, I'd have to say that I didn't really understand what it was at that time, I was more interested in vector drawing in general. But now I've grown to be quite the SVG advocate.


JMZ: I've noticed! Aside from members of the SVG working group @ W3C such as Chris Lilley, you're one of the more prominent names associated with this technology. Your work with SodiPodi is what led way to the Inkscape project. Exactly how did this transition happen?


TG: There were several developers that were working on Sodipodi who weren't able to get our patches into the mainline. Among other things, we figured that this might be because Lauris didn't have time to look through all the patches. We tried to put together a branch of Sodipodi to include the changes to make it easier for Lauris, this branch was called "hydra." When Lauris still wasn't merging the patches we suggested that we could make a hydra release so that users could get some of the patches, and he then suggested that we fork the project. And we did.


JMZ: So it would appear that this transition was due to interpersonal dynamics rather than lack of shared vision as some reports suggest.


TG: I would agree with that. Though, there was a certain amount of technical disagreement, but I believe that could have been overcome with a stronger social environment.


JMZ: Lets talk a bit about Inkscape. So in your view, how far has Inkscape come?


TG: Wow, amazingly far. I joke that Bryce wanted to see 100 downloads a day, which is true, but that's how we saw our little project in the world. It's come so far. And by no means is that my fault, it really comes down to all the contributions that we've gotten from tons of really excellent developers. Nothing we could have imagined when we started.


JMZ: Is Inkscape a contender in the professional graphic design tools arena?


TG: As far as professional use in some ways the question is moot, there are people who do use it as part of their jobs today. I think today it comes down to choice and what features specifically you need. We don't support things like color-managed printing, so if you need that you'll be choosing a different product. But, there are also people who use Inkscape for the design, and then move it into a product like Illustrator to finish off the color for printing. We have features they don't have and they have ones we don't. The key for us is moving beyond "what people know" as they are teaching Adobe products in almost every educational art program out there. Hopefully budget cuts will help us in that regard.


JMZ: Who are the top 5 code contributors to Inkscape?


TG: You know, it may sound like something I should say after winning the Superbowl, but it really is a team effort. I tried to think of a list, but the reality is that different people contribute at different times over different features. You can't choose. There are also libraries that we've included that are critical for a lot of users, things like potrace, libcoroco and lib2geom that aren't technically "Inkscape contributors" but have done a lot of work on the project indirectly.


JMZ: Aside from perhaps low-budget educational environments, have you noticed any particular commercial niches in which Inkscape found a home?


TG: I think that probably the biggest commercial area is website development and prototyping. I think that a lot of people are using it for mockups and design even if they aren't putting SVG on their websites. Which is a shame, but most of them cite IE compatibility as the reason they're not putting up SVG. I hope that'll change, if nothing else, to allow so that browsers who do support SVG will get the better, smaller graphics.


JMZ: I think at this point, SVG has been established as a stable and reliable graphic design interchange format. I think the important questions are whether SVG will become a publishing standard for the web (or perhaps mobile). In years past, Adobe was perhaps the most instrumental in positioning SVG as a possible alternative to Flash or even HTML, but abandoned those efforts after the Macromedia acquision. There is a noticable level of activity with SVG, as seen on the W3C site. What do you forsee for SVG as a web standard?


TG: The magic 8-ball says "try again later" right now. I think it is very possible to see SVG start to emerge as a publishing standard, but it's not at all clear that it will. It's close though, a "major project" might kick it over the edge. If someone like Google Maps would provide an SVG interface (which would look good and be cheaper for them to render) then I think many others would follow. There simply isn't that major player taking the lead which many web designers who want to use SVG can take to their management and sell them on it. Google, call me ;)




JMZ: Well I think you're referring to the situation where SVG is used in place of GIF or JPEG, but again, some were pushing for an SVG that would replace HTML. The possibilities for interactive SVG via javascript suggest some interesting potentials in the 'rich media' realm. Perhaps SVG will follow the same adoption pattern as CSS (Mozilla -> IE).


TG: I think the first step is to start using it in graphics, that's the position that can be taken while keeping a site that has bitmaps and is "legacy compatible." After that I think people will start to use it in new and exciting ways allowing for rich user experiences. Many have them have already been done in test beds and different implementations, so those following SVG wouldn't see them as new, but for users they'd be a "whole new world."


JMZ: Do you think it possible that SVG maintains a presence as a web standard without any serious commerical sponsorship?


TG: I don't know that a single major corporate sponsor is required. I think that the "X factor" here is the different browser vendors. They've already pushed to make HTML 5 happen, I think they could go after SVG next. This would give them good in-browser implementations for things like animations that can only really be done with Adobe's Flash plugin today. I don't think that they like the idea of having the future of the web being implemented as a plugin.


JMZ: Finally, what relevance does SVG and SVG Tiny have for mobile device developers?


TG: Honestly, I'm not sure. I love the idea, but the pragmatist in me says that the only thing that matters is what everyone else is doing. I'm not sure if buzzwords like 'the whole Internet' win out and the device manufacturers are back competing (or including) products like Moblin or Opera. Most of these devices are marketing driven and I don't think people are buying based on spec compliance (they use IE).From a content builder's perspective they don't care specifically as they are stuck with standards like the 'Firefox 1.5' version of the spec. They love the standards as an ideal, but anyone who's developed for the web realizes that it's an ideal.


JMZ: Yes, I think that anyone who has followed the SVG saga knows that a spec and its implementation are like husband and wife, you can't possibly consider one without the other. Any final remarks, Ted?




TG: I am excited about the position that SVG is in, but I think that it really needs content producers to start to push it. It's beyond what tools and specifications can do. While the lack of IE support makes things difficult Microsoft does listen to their marketing department, and if websites are looking worse on IE than Firefox, they'll take notice. And then we can realize our dream of a ubiquitous SVG web.








Inkscape is a GPL project built in C, C++ and Python. On average, Inkscape is downloaded more than 5000 times every day. With an Adobe CS license cost exceeding $1500 per CPU, you may want to give Inkscape a closer look.







Inkscape Sourceforge Page: http://sourceforge.net/projects/inkscape/


A Gallery of Artwork made with Inkscape: http://inkscape.deviantart.com/favourites/


More on Ted's transition from Sodipodi to Inkscape: http://gould.cx/ted/blog/2005/Sep/28


Ted Gould's Homepage: http://gould.cx/


The W3C Scalable Vector Graphics page: http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/


Adobe's SVG Zone: http://www.adobe.com/svg/


SVG.org: http://www.svg.org/

30 comments:

Jeff Schiller said...

Thanks for the interview, Josh and Ted. I agree that SVG still must overcome the chicken & egg syndrome. The biggest impediment is really Microsoft support - but if that doesn't happen then "rich" sites for modern browsers and "fallback" sites for IE will have to be the norm. I've started to do that at my site here with subtle uses of SVG.

By the way, it would be really great if Inkscape could define a "mode" of SVG (perhaps "SVG for the Web") where the defs are automatically vacuumed, styles were commonized, properties removed for attributes and the level of precision was lopped down to something like 3 or 4 digits. I still feel that Inkscape output is too bloated for simple use and it requires hand-editing to get to something more concise (see the SVGs on my site as an example of these).

wizkid said...

Jeff, although I do agree that IE support is a major impediment, it would appear though that many SVG developers feel that the mobile device world offers the most promising bridge to broader adoption.

Ted said...

Jeff, yes there are definitely some issues there. The problem is that the Inkscape core isn't really designed to do those optimizations, it's really more focused on being a fast editor.

I'm currently working with a senior project team on a "SVG Crush" utility that will do all of them and hopefully create some more reasonable SVG sizes as a post filter. It will, of course, work as an output extension in Inkscape.

stelt said...

I'll get working on that major project to kick it over the edge.
In the mean time i like to hear about other big projects, to keep the SVG link resource up-to-date.

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toronto-lofts said...

SVG is an awesome readable code that has the potential to take web pages to a whole new level. Adobe, Inkscape and others are doing a great job in making it fit for the new Web interfaces. Kudos to them and all others involved.

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ayo312 said...

Ive started using the SVG code and really think it is much more reliable that most of the other codes ive been acustomed to, thanks for the insight aswell
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diabetes said...

Josh let me say that InkScape is a very underestimated tool... a lot of people assume that once open source and free it's gotta be so so... yes it still needs a lot of work nevertheless it is a great tool for medium to even sometimes complex projects. we always use it for basic graphics editing we even designed cool logos with that software...

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