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Update: With Internet Explorer 9, SVG capabilities are now included with IE. For more details, please see Bright Hub's IE9 beta review.
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The Importance of SVG
Scalable Vector Graphics, or SVG, is a language used to create and define two-dimensional vector-based graphics. In general, vector-based graphics are usually deemed to be superior to their raster-based counterparts (such as JPEGs and GIFs) since they can be resized with no loss of quality. An SVG graphic that originally starts out small enough to fit on a postage stamp can be enlarged to cover a billboard without the resulting image being blurred or losing any of its fine detail.
Although there are other file formats used for vector-based graphics, SVG is the standard recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Because of their versatility, use of SVG files in web design is becoming more widespread every day, and this trend is likely to continue. So, what’s the problem? This should be a good thing, right?
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Viewing SVG Files in Browsers
In order for an SVG file to be viewable, the format has to be supported by the web browser being used, either natively or through an extension of some sort. For web developers, this really means that all major browsers need to support the file type before they can feel totally comfortable including it in their design. Here’s where the problem begins.
Although most major browsers, such as Firefox, Opera, and Chrome, have some form of native SVG support, Internet Explorer 8 has made no progress on this count. Despite the fact that SVG became a W3C recommendation back in 2001 and Microsoft itself admits that SVG support is a “high-priority demand”, users of Internet Explorer must install a third-party plug-in in order to view SVG objects.
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SVG Plug-Ins for Internet Explorer
In an effort to counter the lack of support from Microsoft, an SVG plug-in for Internet Explorer was developed and supported by Adobe. However, although the Adobe SVG Viewer is still available for download, Adobe has announced that as of January 1, 2009, it will no longer support this product. So, even this duct tape solution to the problem may not be viable for much longer. In fact, it’s already a far cry from a real solution since most Vista users have problems using the Adobe plug-in now.
Even though there has been a call out to the developmental community requesting a replacement for the Adobe SVG plug-in, the real hope is that Microsoft will build the functionality into its popular browser. As Internet Explorer continues to lose market share to Firefox and other web browsers on the market, one would hope that Microsoft would see the inclusion of native SVG support as a possible way to get some of those users back, or at least try to keep the ones they still have.
As of right now, the only real solution for viewing web sites using SVG is to use a different browser. That may not be a major thing to ask home users to do, since the download and installation of Firefox or Opera is just a click away, but it could be a pretty big deal to large companies that depend on a pre-installed Internet Explorer.