IE’s shortcomings won’t hold back the Internet for much longer, however, because Mozilla plans to drag IE into the next generation of open web technologies without Microsoft’s help. One of the first steps towards achieving this goal is a new experimental plugin that adapts Mozilla’s implementation of the HTML5 Canvas element so that it can be used in Internet Explorer.
The Canvas element allows web developers to programmatically render interactive bitmap images in HTML content. It was invented by Apple to bring richer graphical capabilities to the company’s WebKit renderer. The Canvas functionality eventually became part of the HTML5 standard and has been implemented in both Gecko and Presto. Canvas is used extensively in several popular web applications, including Google Maps, but it hasn’t gained widespread acceptance because it isn’t available in Internet Explorer.
In order to make Google Maps work in IE, Google had to develop ExCanvas—a complex library that implements many of the Canvas element’s features with VML, Microsoft’s proprietary alternative to SVG. Unfortunately, scripted manipulation of VML is too slow to be used for highly interactive web applications. Mozilla’s solution is to bake its own native Canvas implementation into an ActiveX plugin that can be integrated directly into Internet Explorer.