Everything You Know About CSS is Wrong!

Author: Rachel Andrew & Kevin Yank
Publisher: Sitepoint, 2008
Pages: 116
ISBN: 978-0980455229
Aimed at: Web designers
Rating: 2
Pros: Introduces CSS tables
Cons: Narrow focus and simple examples
Reviewed by: David Conrad

A book with a provocative title indeed – but it doesn’t really deliver on the promise. You might think that in reading this book all you already know about CSS was about to be corrected in a way that would make you see how it all makes sense and allow you to do it right in the future. This is far from true as the book is really about the new support for CSS tables in the latest generation of browsers – IE 8 in particular.

You might already be aware of the fact that using HTML tables as a way of creating a column based layout is generally frowned upon and the alternative CSS way of doing the job – using divs with absolute or float positioning - has some very serious problems that have very messy solutions. The good news is that CSS tables provide the missing abilities of HTML tables but in the right and proper place, i.e. in the CSS. With CSS tables you can do full column layouts properly and this is undoubted the way of the future – but the news hardly rubbishes all you already know about CSS.

The book does do a good job of explaining why the current approaches to column layout are a problem and if you have never realised or understood this then you will get something from a careful study of the first few pages. Then it moves on to explain the wonders of CSS tables which are, to be honest, so obvious in use that they hardly need explaining. The examples provided are also very simple and convey only the broad principles. There might well be “gotchas” hiding in the CSS tables when you move on to more complex layouts but if so this isn’t the place to find them. There is also a lot of hype in this very short book and the impression is made worse by the strange “guest” paragraphs from other CSS table enthusiasts extolling the virtues of getting ahead.

Whie I agree with the authors that CSS tables are the solution we have been looking for, I have to disagree that we all need to jump on the CSS table bandwagon. The reason is, of course, that until IE 8 achieves a substantial user base there are going to be lots of users who simply cannot see pages with CSS tables. What is the authors' solution to this problem? Well the simplest solution is to simply block non-compatible browsers! If you don’t share this slightly aggressive stance then you can always build in conditional comments to render the page in a crippled form. Put like this it hardly seems worth the effort just at the moment. My advice is to keep CSS tables in your toolkit until the rest of the world is ready.

If you want to know more about CSS tables and why they are important then, if you can filter the hype, this is a good introduction. Otherwise wait a while until more general books, and users, catch up with the new CSS.