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The future is Vectorized

Posted by joshy on March 30, 2004 at 11:26 AM PST

I know it's been a while since I've posted. But I've been busy.
With, um, you know, stuff! Writing stuff. Coding stuff. Drawing
stuff.

I'm especially interested in drawing stuff. In particular I've noticed a
growing interest in SVG and vector displays. I'm personally a fan of vector
formats since it makes a great base for interesting drawings in Photoshop,
but I've started to discover other uses too. href="http://www.osnews.com/story.php?news_id=6460&page=1">This article covers the
history of SVG on desktop Linux.

What I find most interesting about SVG is that it was created as a
webcentric technology but it's finding great traction on the desktop in
places like icons and window decorations. So why the new buzz about SVG in a
technology world still in the doldrums? I attribute this to two things.
First, processor speeds have continued their inexorable rise, making
realtime vector drawing feasable for lots of non-standard (wasteful) uses. Second,
Flash, SVG, and other tools have raised a generation of people who think of
vector art outside the confines of Illustrator and it's print mindset.

Of course, if we rendering everything as vectors the curves and angled
lines won't be as sharp as they could be with bitmaps. Even with modern
anti-aliasing nothing will be as clean as an image from photoshop. Assuming
you have a normal resolution screen.

We are reaching the limit of usefulness for normal desktop screen size,
but what happens as pixel densities increase instead of screen inches? My
ibook had a 109 dpi screen and I found it to be much more readable than the
larger 92dpi laptops I tried. Years ago when I interned at Xerox PARC I saw
a prototype of a 270dpi flatpanel. It was black and white, not even
greyscale, but at that resolution you can start doing halftoning. The
clarity was amazing. Many people also noticed the announcement of Sony's href="http://www.eink.com/news/releases/pr70.html">epaper initiative.
This is the kind of product that requires real vector art.

So now that the tools, devices, and the platforms are coming along, what
can we actually do with SVG and other vector formats. We've still go the
usual suspects: clipart in Word, animation for games, and technical
diagrams. But somehow I think more is coming. So where could we use vector
rendering creatively?

  • Scale the desktop icons. This happens to some extent in OSX and now in
    Gnome and KDE. That's how we get those nifty dock effects.
  • Theme your app's UI with CSS. Change the selection color. Make every font
    bold and every line thicker. If it's all drawn with SVG then CSS for style
    will be a snap.
  • Scale the screen widgets. Menus, icons, buttons and checkboxes, everything.
    Rumors are that this will happen in OS X 10.5: Jungle Cat's Revenge. Adjust
    the screen to match your eyesight, distance from the monitor, and lighting.
  • More special effects: how about a ripple through your screen when you receive an IM?
  • Vectors on gadgets: My Palm Zire71 is fast enough to do quite a bit of
    vector drawing. We need more screen readers and vector games. Not to mention
    a really good drawing application.
  • How about Alice in Wonderland with the original illustrations? Or maybe
    mathematical texts with the real symbols. Vectorizing chunks of Project
    Gutenberg could go a long way towards making the etexts more accessable.

The possibilities of commonplace vector rendering are limitless. The only
limiting factor I see is that we don't have a good archive of opensource vector
art
to start with.

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