Why CSS Bugs Me 07.12.06


Total posts : 55

By John C. Dvorak

As we move into the age of Vista, multimedia's domination on the desktop, and Web sites controlled by cascading style sheets running under improved browsers, when will someone wake up and figure out that none of this stuff works at all?! The current PC platform is so close to being permanently broken that I'm stunned that people aren't already up in arms. Every­one should be sued for false advertising.

As most readers know, I'm a blogger. I'm in the process of redesigning the Dvorak Uncensored ­weblog, which means playing with its cascading style sheets, or CSS. The first time I heard of the cascading style sheet was in December of 1996, when the World Wide Web Consortium announced CSS1, telling the world that Microsoft, Adobe, Netscape and others were "among" the consortium members that would be adding support.

The idea behind CSS is a good one

The idea behind CSS is a good one. With HTML, Web pages can become monstrosities of content and formatting information. To change the look of a site, you have to sift through the content to redo a lot of detailed information. It's painful. CSS was designed to separate the content from the formatting, so that when you want to change your site's look and feel, you simply change the formatting information.

CSS's real benefit was that the layout not only could be changed easily but also could become dynamic: The content is stored in a database and presented as necessary, with instant updates. With dynamic content, it's possible for 100 people to go to the same Web site and get 100 different versions.

Here is where a great idea begins to fall apart. And it does so progressively, worsening over time as "improvements" are made.

The first problem is the idea of cascading. It means what it says: falling?as in falling apart. You set a parameter for a style element, and that setting falls to the next element unless you provide it with a different element definition. This sounds like a great idea until you try to deconstruct the sheet. You need a road map. One element cascades from here, another from there. One wrong change and all hell breaks loose. If your Internet connection happens to lose a bit of CSS data, you get a mess on your screen.

That's not the worst thing

That's not the worst thing. You can live with the basic cascading mess; it's a matter of debugging. The real problem is that no two browsers?let alone no two versions of any one browser?interpret CSS the same way! The Microsoft browser interprets a style sheet one way, Firefox interprets it another way, and Opera a third way. Can someone explain to me exactly what kind of "standard" CSS is, anyway?

There actually are Web sites that mock this mess by showing the simplest CSS code and the differing results from the three main browsers and the Safari and Linux browsers. The differences are not trivial. And because of the architecture of this dog, the bugs cascade when they are part of a larger style sheet, amplifying problems. Worse yet, nobody except the most techie insiders wants to talk about this mess.

Everyone loses here, from users who can't under­stand why things look screwy, to developers who can't get CSS to do the job right, to baffled content providers. And what's being done about it? Nothing! Another fine mess from the standards bodies.

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More John C. Dvorak:

  1. Why CSS Bugs Me
  2. The Conroe Effect
  3. Net Neutrality Has a Spokesperson
  4. Understanding Digg and Its Utopian Idealism
  5. The Golden Age of the Internet
  6. more
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Way Too Many Cooks! (Dvorak special) | Original Why CSS Bugs Me by John C. Dvorak article at PCag.com. Cheekily reproduced for education (of Mr. Dvorak) purposes only, all copyrights respected.