ESPN recently announced that it has redesigned its Web site with a heavy emphasis on open standards, most notably cascading style sheets (CSS). This could be a boon for the standards community. The main focus of the site redesign was the replacement of HTML tables with CSS. Tables have been the mainstay of Web development since the inception of the Internet, but maybe the momentum is finally shifting toward CSS-based development.

Are you ready for CSS?

Learn more about CSS with these articles:

The evolution of CSS
There have been two CSS iterations so far. CSS version 1 (CSS1) allowed developers to specify styles like size, color, and font for elements within a Web page. Version 2 (CSS2) added positioning support to simplify the task of controlling presentation layout as well as formatting. CSS2 enabled ESPN to move forward by abandoning tables. A third version, currently in development, seeks to divide CSS into modules. That version is still far from a final release.

If you’re an experienced Web developer, you know the headaches inherent in dealing with HTML tables. This difficulty increases with nested tables, where the complexity of making changes and updates becomes especially cumbersome. Presenting tabular data remains a valid justification for inserting a table, but ensuring that a header is properly positioned no longer begs for one. In addition, the push toward uniform Web markup is reinforcing the push toward CSS2.

Gaining momentum
Designing sites that conform to accessibility guidelines calls for the separation of the data and presentation, and this explicitly suggests CSS rather than conventional tables. Segregating content and presentation is part and parcel of working with XHTML as well, which in turn suggests the use of CSS. Currently, the Internet is loaded with Web sites that rely solely on HTML tables for page layout, and there is no simple method to clean up bulk amounts of existing code—so designing without tables is highly recommended for all future work.

What will you do?
For developers employing still-in-use technology, standards often conflict with realistic expectations. But browser software has caught up to the standards with regard to CSS. With that in mind, do you plan to forgo using tables in the future? Are you already thoroughly meshed in CSS, having abandoned tables long ago? Join the discussion below and share your thoughts with the community.