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Willison takes on jwz and Winer

May 20, 2003

One day soon I will make a post that is non CSS–related. It will happen, I swear it.

On to business. Simon Willison has taken on two of the most vocal critics of CSS in the past few weeks, Dave Winer and Jamie Zawinski. Both of the mentioned debates generated a flurry of controversy, and catalyzed argument on whether to use CSS or not.

Simon’s examples are coded well, documented well, and generally make a good point: using nested tables to achieve visual effect is a concept whose time is coming to an end.

The more I see examples like this where existing design techniques are converted to CSS layouts, the more I see two very tense camps forming. There are people who use CSS daily, who wouldn’t give it up for the world, and who realize that quirks and bugs aside, browser support is solid enough for use. There are also people who haven’t bought into it yet, who see the somewhat inconsistent support amongst browsers, and deem the whole thing a waste of their time.

A note to both camps: table–based layouts still work. They aren’t going anywhere. CSS–based layouts also work, as more and more people are proving. It boils down to this — consider who you’re designing your site for, and use the appropriate tool.

If you want heavier page loads and tough code to edit, but absolutely guaranteed consistency amongst browser back to 1997, chose tables.

If you want elegant code that’s a snap to edit later, but can cause headaches as you learn the quirks of today’s browsers, chose CSS.

People who turn this into a silly all–or–nothing debate are missing the bigger picture here: the user doesn’t give a damn about how you built the site. They want it to load fast, they want it to navigate well, they want it to look good, and they want it to work. The rest of this is, ironically, just semantics.

Reader Comments

Chester says:
May 21, 06h

You hit the nail on the head. As with any holy war that has been waged online (and this is rapidly becoming one) the users are being forgotten. I have been eagerly eating up every bit of CSS knowledge I can from your blog and many, many others. I am implementing things (my homepage is a close proximity to how Eric’s used to look). I even took one of my most popular sites and made it almost 100% CSS (for the homepage) - and I am about to process the logs and see if I have had any drop off in users. This is the real question to me - what impact will I have on my user base? Especially when there are other sites out there providing similar information. Forcing a captive audience to upgrade a browser is one thing, but an audience that has options, that is another thing entirely. I’d like my sites to still be around by the time users have the most recent, standards compliant browsers…

May 21, 07h

Those last three paragraphs are so true. Very well spoken, Dave.

May 21, 08h

I am not anti-CSS. All my new sites are CSS-based. The people who cast it that way were wrong. They must not have actually been following what I was doing. If you read the archive of Scripting News you’ll see. But people generally don’t read. That, imho, is a bigger issue than whether one uses CSS or not.

Dave S. says:
May 21, 09h

Dave, thanks for replying. I had been wondering about the extent of your comments, since such a minor post generated such a huge amount of traffic. For an outsider in the coding community like me, it’s been weird to see that kind of response. I assumed there must have been a precedent, since that post alone sure wasn’t enough to cause interest on that level.

May 21, 11h

Well put, Mr. Shea!

I must say, though, that I’m quite dissapointed that your site is not accessible to the deceased OR the unconscious AND is not viewable on Timex Indiglo! And you call yourself a web developer?!? Haven’t you heard of, like, Jakob Zeldman?


Dave S. says:
May 22, 09h

Kris, you have no idea how close to the mark that statement is. It seems there are people out there who have a very rigid definition of what makes a successful site, which may or may not be based on reality. Anything that doesn’t fall into that narrow band of ‘acceptable’ in their minds becomes a complete failure, and sometimes they even feel the need to tell me about it.

I’m a ‘big picture’ type person, and can see the good and bad in just about everything. I have a hard time relating to people who get so wrapped up in small details that they ignore the rest of it. Web design is about compromise and finding a happy medium; you can’t make ‘em all happy, every time.