W3C Updates CSS Open Web Standards as Reality and Specs Converge
Cascading style sheets (CSS) has been in use now for over a decade for controlling web page appearance. However, the “standard” has long been a mess of implementations, specifications and varying levels of browser support that can, quite frankly, drive web designers mad, or at least to annoyance. The latest release of the CSS standard by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (news, site), CSS 2.1, should make styling sites a little less painful.

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I admit it -- I abhor user interface development. It's completely subjective. Even worse, a CSS layout that looks awesome in one browser is a jumbled mess in another; yes, we are looking at you, Internet Explorer. However, recent news by the W3C of an update to the cascading style sheet standard (CSS) just might lure me back for one more try to make a pretty site.

The W3C’s CSS Working Group, implementers and contributors to the over 9,000 test CSS Test Suite have worked long and hard to create a more interoperable version of the CSS standard. The group effort should make it easier for designers to create style sheets that function properly across browsers, browser versions and devices. CSS 2.1 is an update to CSS2, which became a recommendation in 1998.

Version 2.1 has taken a long time to evolve, even for a community-driven open standard, but the enhancements are significant. The most recent version of CSS offers:

  • Media-specific style sheets that allow presentation targeting to different display devices from handhelds to Braille devices
  • Content position
  • Table-based layouts
  • Internationalization

In addition, CSS 2.1 removes CSS2 features from the specification that have not been widely implemented by browsers -- in essence, a rejection by vendors and the CSS community. The team attempted to include only CSS features that were widely adopted for HTML and XML instead of for a specific XML dialect or only HTML. This strategy reduces the risk that features will only be available when using a specific language or device.

CSS 2.1 is intended to replace CSS2. Existing CSS2 style sheets may not be compatible with the new CSS 2.1 standard. While this may not be desirable, the CSS team believes that the advantages in 2.1 outweigh the negative impacts of breaking compatibility.

The W3C Working has long been questioned about why incrementing the version number by .1 was taking so long. CSS Working Group Co-Chair said,

CSS 2.1 is a really large collection of formatting features, and we had to not only carefully review and specify all the potential interactions between them, but also learn from existing implementations and of course tests. Time ensured quality and interoperability."

 I wonder if incrementing by an entire version number will also take the next 15 years.