Skip to page content or Skip to Accesskey List.


Main Page Content

Revisiting Table Layouts Revisited

Rated 2.95 (Ratings: 23)

Want more?


Bill Mason

Member info

User since: 10 Oct 2000

Articles written: 5

I read Zeldman's recent Table Layouts, Revisited with some bemusement. I'll try and tell you why by the end. The article makes three main points:

  • Layouts using a table for basic layout and CSS for the bulk of the presentation work give acceptable results in version 4 browsers, if that's what you need.
  • Some organizations and clients will want good layout support for version 4 browsers.
  • Browser bugs can appear in even your customer's latest version 6/7 browsers and you need to consider that.

To me, the thirteen paragraphs that make these points could all boil down to "know your client and their audience."

Tables can work

...we find ourselves creating transitional layouts that incorporate simplified table structures; use sophisticated CSS to add the kind of details that used to require nested tables, spacer gifs, and other presentational hacks; and serve a basic style sheet to 4.0 browsers that approximates the display in modern ones.

Hasn't everyone been doing that before and now? The world didn't go from table and font to pure CSS, did it? At my last full-time job, with Oxygen Media, my projects -- requiring good version 4 browser layout support -- certainly did a mix of basic layout tables and CSS. And I know I wasn't a visionary, for heaven's sake.... It was routine since we were required to give good presentation to version 4 browsers.

The Internet did not run to pure CSS layout the moment the specification was released...or the browsers caught up to the specification...or when the Web Standards Project launched their browser upgrade initiative. In short, this technique isn't news. Everyone should already have a few years of experience with it.

Version 4 stuff hasn't gone away

While reports will tell you that Netscape is down to 3.4 percent of the market, the same reports will note that this percentage varies from country to country (and is higher in several countries, including the United States). Whole organizations are on Netscape 4.x, and aren't moving from it for whatever reason: lack of a perceived need, unwilling to spend the money involved, etc. Raw data cannot tell the whole story.

More important than the raw numbers is knowing about your site's (or your client's site's) audience. You should know before writing one line of code if you need to give version 4 browsers good layout support.

New browsers are buggy too

Every browser has bugs. But Internet Explorer 6 final has been out for around a year. If A List Apart really gets 50 letters a day from a bug in it that blocks access to content, it should not take that long to start considering adjusting the code. Flagging the bug with the browser maker is fine, but what about your visitors? You have to respond to your audience, because the site they're visiting is yours. Not the browser makers'.


To summarize, I read Zeldman and learned:

  • Know how to do "legacy" layout coding for version 4 browsers.
  • Know if you need to give good layout to a version 4 browser audience.
  • Fix bugs that affect your visitors' experience at your site.

Or, as I felt after finishing reading Zeldman:

  • Well, duh. No kidding.

Front-end web development (mostly) and an interest/focus in web accessibility. I also recently co-authored my first book, The Web Professional's Handbook, published by the late great glasshaus.

I've been out of work since October 2001. Be kind and glance over my portfolio....

The access keys for this page are: ALT (Control on a Mac) plus: is an all-volunteer resource for web developers made up of a discussion list, a browser archive, and member-submitted articles. This article is the property of its author, please do not redistribute or use elsewhere without checking with the author.