I saw something in the last couple of days that has been notoriously tacking in the SVG community, especially compared to this time last year ... hope. Last year, in Vancouver, the smallish crowd that showed up in a rather cavernous hotel's convention center seemed interested in what was going on, but there was something ever so slightly forlorn to the gathering. Even Adobe's announcement of the ASV 6 Beta, while generating a lot of buzz, didn't do much for the feeling that things were not moving at all, that the SVG movement would be swallowed up by Macromedia Flash.
Oh what a difference a year makes.
Measured in sheer numbers, Tokyo didn't quite reach the standards of Vancouver -- perhaps 200 people all told showed up for the four day long event. However, this was not necessarily a reflection of the weakness of the SVG community as a simple measure of the cost of getting to and attending in the very expensive Tokyo. While there were somes signs of a too-late organization (from the comparative lack of advertising about the conference to late notification of speakers to the rather circuitous peambulations on the Japanese Rail system before getting to the cruise on Wednesday night) this had as much to do with the fairly major demands placed upon the organizers of the Japanese conference (especially Jun ???, who should be applauded for doing this conference while still going to work in the evenings). The registration staff were professional and extremely courteous, and took my excruciatingly bad wit in stride.
So what things to say about the conference? This has been a kind of glass half full type of year. On the down side, SVG expertise is still probably not by itself enough to insure a company's survival, though for the first time in a while there were several such companies that seemed interested in at least trying. I spent a great deal of time talking with people from companies such as Vectoreal, helmed by SVG stalwart Ronan Oger. While work in the field is "soft", the comments that I heard indicated that it did exist, nonetheless, and for the first time I heard several company reps indicating that their companies were doing pilot studies of SVG. Given that last year, many of these same people were still trying to just educate their bosses (and themselves) about the format of the language, I suspect that as these projects come to fruition the result will be a plethora of applications, web services, and products by SVG Open 2005.
I found it interesting that many of the people in the field are working for the governments of Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Norway, Japan, China, the Philipines, and Australia, among others. One particular programmer, working for the British Agricultural Service, is taking vectors to a new realm, using SVG to evaluate the vectors of livestock diseases. Not unexpectedly, the largest category of governmental work was in the area of maps and graphical information systems.
The Keynotes started off with Makoto Murata, co-creator of the RelaxNG schema language, discussing his work with developing validation resources for handling documents with multiple intertwined schemas, a problem that SVG in particular is susceptible too. The solution that he has devised (in conjunction with James Clark, the other co-creator of RelaxNG) was a new markup language called NVDL (Namespace Validation Description Language) which can be used in conjunction with an appropriate parser to extract and convert XML fragments and validate them independently. Given the rise of multiple-namespace documents in XHTML andf SVG, these standards have some great implications.
The second Tuesday keynote, by Naomi Inoue of KDDI Labs, served as a good indicator of two of the three primary themes the seemed to predominate this year - mobile SVG and mapping technology. KDDI is the developer of the goSVG browser, to be rolled out this year by Japanese Telephone giant NTT. While the applications involved - location trackers, dedicated localized services, and travel instructions - were fairly prosaic by SVG standards, at the same time, the fact that they existed at all was highly significant. NTT previously announced that they do plan on licensing Flash within their phone systems, something which caused dismay in more than a few circles, so the announcement this year that SVG is also being supported (to be rolled out in 2005) has given a boost to that technology.
Similarly, I talked for a while with Andrew Watanabe of Zoomon, a developer of embedded SVG technologies for a large number of cell phone manufacturers. He had interesting news about a new tool that Zoomon was releasing to be used with the SVG capability of Adobe Illustrator 10, cleaning up some of the namespace metadata that Adobe adds, letting developers add interactivity and animation to the otherwise largely static capabilities of Illustrator, and otherwise making SVG suitable for wireless output. I am planning on having an interview with Zoomon officers in a newsletter release later this year.
The second big story of the conference, though one not, unfortunately, accompanied by another Adobe ASV release, was the announcement of the sXBL specification. This effort brought together some of the XML Binding Language work done by the Mozilla team and the RCC specification proposed last year, an effort that pulled this particularly contentious part of SVG out of the 1.2 working draft,making it much easier to get the latter specification into Recommended status and consequently out into the development community. sXBL is fascinating, even in its present immature state, but is sufficiently complex as to warrant its own discussion.
The sXBL specification has now effectively started an arms race in framework binding languages, with the other major player being Microsoft's XAML specification. With their announcement, however, that Avalon (and consequently XAML) will be pushed to 2007 to be released with a new version of Windows XP, the XAML field has become a rather odd one of late. Phillip Mansfield, president of Schema Soft and organizer of the Vancouver connection last year, presented a compare and contrast session on XAML and SVG, highlighting work that they have done with Microsoft, while at the same time there was definitely the sentiment, expressed by more than one person, that XAML might prove to be alluring to the developers who like SVG but are stymied by the poor state of viewers or editors for it and like the multiple uses of the alternative language. Ironically, I think that Microsoft will likely end up coming into a crowded field with XAML when they do release it, as it seems to be taking a life of its own independent of the efforts of Redmond.
Curiously, however, the big worry about Flash (and Macromedia) is at a minimum, in abeyance. SVG developers in general have made the realization that Flash and SVG really ARE apples and oranges, with SVG increasingly taking up the slack in areas such as mapping, charts, information graphics, and publishing that are pretty much being ignored by Macromedia. Meanwhile, Flash doesn't seem to be making the inroads into the XML space that Macromedia's senior management had apparently hoped. This is in keeping with my own observation that indicates that the XML nature of SVG is beginning to manifest the curious viral nature of XML in general, where it takes over because of its abstract nature.
The papers that were presented this year were considerably drier and more academic than in previous years, I suspect in part because of the opportunity that this conference afforded Japanese developers (who tend to be clustered in academia, at least those working on XML technologies) a venue at home to be able to show off their theses. Most were variations on a theme - use of SVG for maps, mapping with SVG symbols, GPS applications and their integration with GIS/Cartography, that sort of thing. Yes, SVG is a godsend to the GIS crowd, but frankly I'm getting a little bit bored with the plethora of mapping applications.
As with most conferences, much of the important stuff goes on outside of the presentations and papers, some of it fun, some of it quite serious. On the fun side, at least for me, came with a trip by the instructors of the Tuesday sessions after the last classes were given. I was, to be blunt, punch-drunk from exhaustion and jet-lag. I learned some important lessons about communication that night, however. Place ten people (all "Westerners") in a Japanese restaurant where none of the people speak a word of Japanese, and where none of the wait stuff could speak a word of English. Add in exotic foods (at least from the standpoint of those ten) and let the fun begin. In the end we enjoyed a five course meal with fish eggs, boiled prawns, raw fish, tofu, breaded chicken strips, and a few other entrees that I've yet to identify myself. I proceeded to fall asleep about the time for desert, and have the blackmail pictures to prove it (alas). The discussion touched on many things, not least of which being where SVG is hot and where its not. Legacy diagram (and blueprint) conversions seemed to be a real growth area for SVG, as is legacy graphic file interchange. Yes, SVG is more than a graphics format, but its worth remembering sometimes that it IS a graphics format, and as such is actually nicely set up to at least handle the conversion from other standard graphics programs.
The next night was what seems to have become the obligatory dinner cruise. The ship in question was quite nice, as was the dinner, but not surprisingly the conversation tended to turn pretty quickly to programming and standards issues, with a healthy dose of politicking thrown in for good measure. The night was further leavened by a race through the Japan Railway system, including periodic stops to get tickets. I have to admit to being very impressed with the Japanese rail system (especially the graphical kiosks which show the position of the trains, next destinations and so forth), but I would have preferred to not have to walk several miles to get to the cruise. I begin to understand why the Japanese are so fit.
There is still one day yet of the conference, including the annual "pester that W3C SVG Working Group" session which I plan to attend. if at all possible. While there's not a lot of hope on this, I'd like to see an arc element added to the mix, something along the lines of
<arc r="radiusValue" startAngle="startAngle" endAngle="endAngle"/>
It's more than past time to see this, especialy as circular arcs within SVG are incredibly difficult to do well.
Okay. More to come soon -- Kurt