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                   Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - 9:42AM

CSS vs tables battle - getting ridiculous

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I was recently invited to bid on a web design contract for a state government agency. The money wasn't bad, but I passed on it mainly because projects of that size tend to be an endless nightmare of trying to satisfy the expectations of 100 different people. Been there, done that, don't want to go back. But the one thing that irritated me about the project spec sheet is that they required that the site be done in CSS (cascading style sheets) so that, in their words, the site would "look professional and use the latest in web technology". For those of you that aren't in the web industry, CSS is another web coding language used to lay out sites using a coordinate-based system. It is an alternative to laying out a page with the traditional table system (rows, columns). There is more to it than that, but that's the main difference - I won't bore you with the complex details. This site, by the way (as well as every other site I've done), is using the table system.

There is a raging debate in the web development world today on which method is best (CSS or tables). So what side am I on? Really, I'm neither. I will say however that after using table-based code for nearly 14 years, I find CSS to be rather cumbersome and very difficult to obtain cross-browser compatibility with. But if a coder wants to use CSS, great - I have no problem with that. The main beef that I have with the majority of the CSS crowd is their condescending attitude toward, and sweeping condemnation of, tables-based coding. The fact that the WV state contract requires CSS says to me that some anti-tables 'crusader' on the inside convinced a technologically-niave project manager that anyone not using CSS was going to produce an inferior product - which is simply a lie!

The truth is that CSS and tables can produce identical layouts. There is not one type of layout that one can do that the other cannot. I have worked on many web management projects where I converted a client site from CSS to tables so I could implement my own ready-made scripts - the site looked and worked just the same afterwards! The end user sees no difference. And as for the 'edit one file, change the whole site' argument for CSS, you can accomplish the same thing with PHP or SSI includes (which I use on all of my sites). The only time I've had to use a CSS element was to install a DHTML menu for a customer that wanted one. But even then, the whole site didn't have to be in CSS for that one menu to work.

I've heard some CSS extremists go as far as suggest that tables be phased out and browser support for it dropped - in essence forcing everyone to go CSS. That's absolutely insane! The only rationale I can see behind all of this idiocy is to eliminate business competition by smearing tables-based designers. They did it with the West Virginia state agency.

So to summarize, I have no problem with CSS and recognize its sufficiency in producing a working product. I have many friends and colleagues who are CSS gurus and they can hammer out a killer site with the best of them. I just wish the CSS crowd would stop bashing the tables camp and misleading potential clients with bogus claims of CSS superiority.

I'm glad to see somebody else sharing my beliefs of tables vs CSS. :-) I too have had my share of trying to do web projects inside corporations where you try to build something for 100 people. A nightmare indeed. Then throw in non-IT managers trying to dictate everything you do and it's enough to drive a person insane. Anyway, I've used the same arguments for cross-browser compatability. Another thing is trying to do anything fancy with layouts such as nested tables. That's when the CSS interpretation between browsers really gets to be a nightmate, not to metion maintainability. For me, it's simpler, faster, and more reliable to do tables.
- Posted by Steve Miller TX from Amarillo
I've heard horror stories in several professional instances where working as a consultant or under contract for a gov't entity is awful. I can understand why and your reasoning is at the top of the list - it would be a never-ending project due to the number of people who need to have their expectations met. It's really no wonder the gov't, no matter whether it's city, state or federal, is so slow to get anything at all done...
- Posted by Steve Miller OK from OKC
Yeah - seeing that spec sheet was probably a blessing in disguise, keeping me from even thinking seriously about trying for the contract. It was something of the size that I'd have to work on full time for several months at least. I know how even small committees can be (arguing for 45 minutes over the color scheme), I can't imagine how this one would be. Every little thing has to be approved by everyone.
- Posted by Dan R. from Charleston, WV

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