Wednesday, July 12, 2006

You mean Cocoon does SVG too?

Surprisingly, not many people have heard of the Apache Cocoon server/framework/components. That is really too bad.

Things have really tilted at last during the past year or two into the the full bore use of XML in order to get user friendly products to market.

Run of the mill applications are easily created using run-of-the-mill techniques. That is what the 1990s were all about.

Recreating the 1970s style dumb terminal block mode user interfaces on a decades more advanced screen and keyboard setup added... images, styled fonts, and a mouse. That may sound like heresy, but it is true.

However, in the late 1990s - there was a slight course change. It was basically taking place at the W3. They noticed a lot of information was going into web pages, and sadly, a lot of it would never come out again.

The reasons were varied but one big problem is that web designers/developers/authors were using HTML more like a paint set than elements of a world wide information system.

Google noticed this, and cashed in big by providing a way to search these massively non-structured, come as you are, anything goes web pages. Yahoo got its start, even before Google came on the scene, as the first truly gigantic hand-maintained catalogs of web pages.

Fast forward to the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. We now have free tools on our desktop that do some pretty magical things, all thanks to XML, which is as easy for computers to understand - as web pages are for ordinary people to understand.

Last year, in late 2005, Firefox 1.5 was released. One of the things it introduced was built-in support for displaying SVG graphics. Until Firefox did it, no other major web browser had that SVG image displaying capability built right in.

However, Apache Cocoon, another free/opensource software program, has been providing very elegant SVG support on the web server side of the web for about half a decade.

Apache has a couple neat components in it that come directly into play when working with SVG.

There is an SVG-to-XML Serializer. It takes SVG information and publishes it in an XML format of SVG. Flexible from a software standpoint, but not too pretty to look at from a human standpoint.

There are some other SVG serializers that render into well known image file formats. People with legacy browsers that don't support SVG directly yet will be more interested in these, pro tem, than the SVG-to-XML serializer. Here are these other serializers:

Someone has already harnessed this XML-driven data management and display power that is built into Cocoon, courtesy of SVG, to produce an interactive data exploration tool. The tool lets the user graphically investigate various statistics about voting errors in the French 2002 election.

This same information would be very difficult to digest in dry tables, which is how we would all probably be looking at it if this was 1996 (or 1976 ).

However, it the 21st century now, so they used Coocoon to process the information and render it into interactive maps that presented the information as it related to the geography of France. A pretty clever idea, considering the relevancy of geography to voting in the first place.


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