SMIL When You Play That – A Checklist Aside

With Jim Heid#section1

Within the absence of finalized wealthy media requirements for the online, plug-ins have been developed that enabled web sites to supply streaming video, animated vector graphics, annoying music tracks, and the like. Over the previous couple of years, W3C suggestions have emerged to counsel standardized methods of doing what proprietary plug-ins already accomplish that properly.

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One in every of these is SMIL™, the W3C suggestion for multimedia; the opposite is SVG, supposed to ship vector graphics reminiscent of these already utilized in Flash (however with some important variations from Flash).

When confronted with SMIL, many net designers shrug; when proven what SVG can do at this time, most Flash designers snigger. What’s actually up with these two requirements, and why do they matter?

SMIL (by way of your worry and sorrow)#section3

SMIL stands for “Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language,” and is pronounced “Smile.” Isn’t that cute? Oh, shut up.

SMIL is an easy-to-learn, HTML-like language for creating “TV-like multimedia displays reminiscent of coaching programs on the net,” in response to the W3C. The present SMIL suggestion is 1.0, and you’ll learn all about it on the W3C deal with cited instantly above, and at one other one we’ll point out later. That is our approach of avoiding including fifty pages to this text.

Apart from the truth that Web heavies like Actual, Apple, Adobe, and Macromedia are throwing their weight behind SMIL, why must you care about any of this? Let’s see.

Harnessing media, serving to customers#section4

SMIL packs accessibility options together with various textual content content material that may be made out there to Braille readers. Such content material will even allow search engines like google to index multimedia net content material authored in SMIL.

In English: Slap a Quicktime video in your website, and search engines like google like Google or Altavista couldn’t care much less. However add a fastidiously authored SMIL presentation to your website, and speeches made by the characters in your video might present up in Google and Altavista’s search outcomes.

The tutorial implications are monumental. A scholar researching Hamlet’s soliloquy might discover a SMIL-authored video of Sir Laurence Olivier performing it. The net’s potential because the world’s library might out of the blue grow to be a lot richer.

The business implications ain’t dangerous, both. A purchaser looking for widgets might discover your consumer’s digitized promotional video on the topic. Current multimedia codecs clearly don’t supply these benefits.

Lest you assume SMIL is a very wacky new know-how, it’s, actually, merely a markup language that works with current applied sciences like Quicktime and Actual digital video and audio. What SMIL does is deliver the normal advantages of the Net (looking, discovering, bookmarking) to non-text content material. That’s profound.

Extra causes to SMIL#section5

Different cool issues you are able to do with SMIL embody:

  1. With a single hyperlink, you possibly can ship audio to dial-up customers and video to broadband customers. None of that “click on right here for audio, click on right here for video” junk.
  2. Ship completely different language variations of clips relying on a person’s system-language setting.
  3. Use backend applied sciences to ship multimedia content material on the fly. No want for costly, proprietary applications with steep studying curves. (SVG delivers comparable advantages.)

… all with just a few easy tags.

Creator! Creator!#section6

Among the many presently out there Net instruments and plug-ins that help SMIL are Apple Quicktime 4.1 and the unfortunately-named RealSlideshow authoring device by the makers of the Realplayer. Adobe is presently growing a SMIL extension for its GoLive™ WYSIWYG device, which ought to simplify the creation of SMIL content material, and should assist speed up the customary’s adoption.

RealSystem’s help for SMIL has been strong since 1998. Given the variety of RealPlayers on the market, SMIL can already attain nearly as many net customers as Flash does. Not that SMIL and Flash are enemies. SMIL is commonly used to combine Flash content material into the QuickTime and Actual gamers, and Flash 5 exports SMIL to be used in RealSystem.

SMILsoftware’s Flution 1.5 for Home windows can streamline the SMIL-creation course of. Tom Wlodkowksy’s free Media Entry Generator (MAGpie) for Home windows provides accessibility options like closed-captioning to SMIL.

SMILing on#section7

For a extra detailed description of the objectives of the SMIL language, see the W3C Exercise Assertion on Synchronized Multimedia. For sensible recommendation on placing SMIL to work, see Jim Heid’s old-but-good tutorial at Macworld, SMIL: Markup for Multimedia.

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is a W3C customary in progress. As of this writing, the W3C describes its preliminary SVG actions as qu presently nearing completion.” Although SVG produces vector graphics, it’s a markup language. In truth, it’s a subset of XML, the super-markup-language that may quickly make the Net way more highly effective, and is already utilized in many backend functions.

Like Flash vector graphics, SVG vector graphics can fill a whole display with paintings whereas utilizing little or no bandwidth. Additionally like Flash, SVG could be animated by way of scripting. You’ll discover examples of this at Adobe’s SVG website, which we’ll focus on in a second.

Regardless of its graphic look, SVG stays textual content. To grasp the implications of that reality, let’s distinction SVG with our current manufacturing strategies. We’ll use an instance that’s shut to each designer’s coronary heart: the consumer’s emblem.

Romancing the emblem#section9

For the needs of this little train, we’ll assume that the consumer’s emblem entails letterforms slightly than non-verbal swooshes or swirls. We’ll additional assume that you simply’re growing the emblem in Adobe Illustrator, and that you haven’t but transformed your textual content to outlines. As soon as it turns into outlines, it ceases to be textual content, thus shedding the SVG profit we’re about to discover.

First, the normal strategies:#section10

In the event you export your consumer’s emblem from Illustrator to Photoshop, and embed it on an internet web page as a GIF picture, search engines like google is not going to index it as a result of it isn’t textual content. You possibly can work round that limitation by including ALT textual content to your picture tag, however not all search engines like google index all ALT textual content.

In the event you create that very same emblem in Flash, it might probably spin and whirl and glow, but it surely is not going to be listed by search engines like google as a result of it isn’t textual content. Flash 5 has added some accessibility options, permitting you, as an illustration, to incorporate ALT textual content for a Flash file, however that is international textual content, not image-specific textual content, and we already know concerning the limitations of ALT attributes as a guarantor of search engine placement.

Now, the SVG methodology:#section11

Take that very same Illustrator emblem and export it as SVG, utilizing Illustrator’s built-in help for that net customary. The ensuing emblem appears to be like nice, smells recent, and it stays textual content. Meaning search engines like google can index it.

Your consumer’s emblem not blushes like a maiden when the search engine comes courting. From each web page of the positioning, the text-based emblem calls out to the search engine, and the search engine rewards it with the Net’s biggest mark of affection: a excessive rating.

To the attention, the emblem is a emblem; to the search engine, it’s a phrase. If the phrase “Widgets” seems on the high of each web page of the positioning, that website will rank excessive when customers seek for widgets. When the consumer cries, “Make the emblem larger,” you possibly can reply: “We’ve made it primary.” Against this, beneath the previous strategies, when a GIF picture of the phrase “Widgets” seems on the high of each web page of the positioning, it’s unlikely to seduce the various search engines.

As a result of the SVG-formatted Widgets emblem is a phrase that appears like a emblem, customers may copy and paste it right into a textual content doc. It can lose its SVG formatting when customers do that, however your consumer’s identify will stay intact. Your consumer will like that.

And who is aware of? A yr from now, it might not lose its formatting when pasted into a well-liked phrase processor, print structure program, or electronic mail message.

In truth that is among the guarantees of SVG for graphic designers: that we will use the identical SVG picture file in our print work and our net work. From Illustrator to Quark to the web site, as simple as drag and drop. (Sure, it’s also possible to create SVG illustrations by hand-coding them—in any case, SVG is absolutely XML—however we doubt many designers will wish to try this. We positive gained’t.)

Will SVG change Flash? Not going. Actually not any time quickly. Will SVG evolve into a great tool for creating scriptable vector graphics? We expect it’s going to.

Sounds dandy, however will it work?#section12

SVG help is coming on-line slowly. An Adobe plug-in helps SVG in all net browsers, although not equally properly. The primary model of the Adobe plug-in relied on Netscape-proprietary plug-in detection that was not supported in Web Explorer for Macintosh. Customers of IE5/Mac couldn’t see SVG graphics in any respect with that plug-in model.

As of this writing, a more recent Adobe SVG plug-in has vastly improved its help for non-Netscape browsers, although Web Explorer help for Macs is proscribed to non-scripted SVG solely. In different phrases, IE/Mac customers can see SVG graphics on the Net, however can not see dynamic (animated) SVG graphics.

Nonetheless, issues are trying up for SVG. You might discover it odd that it takes a proprietary plug-in to help an open customary, however such is the state of the Net. As soon as the SVG customary is finalized, we suspect that browser makers will start investigating methods to help it natively.

Guarantees, guarantees#section13

Whereas SMIL is well-supported by way of plug-ins, SVG remains to be a piece in progress. A promising work in progress. An thrilling work in progress. However a piece in progress. It will likely be broadly adopted when it’s additional alongside in growth and could be natively supported in browsers.

Do these instruments, SMIL and SVG, pose a direct risk to Macromedia Flash? Actually not. In truth, we don’t see them as anti-Flash applied sciences in any respect (although some could view them that approach).

Whereas SMIL is increasing and SVG remains to be taking form, now can be a great time to obtain Adobe’s SVG plug-in, and discover SMIL displays and tutorials. Over the approaching months, you’ll want to stay open-minded about these rising requirements, and preserve your eye on their evolution. Earlier than we all know it, they are going to doubtless be a part of each net designer’s device equipment.

Creator, columnist, and multimedia producer Jim Heid contributed to an up to date model of this text. We suggest spending time with Jim’s tips about streaming media.

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