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Tables or Div?


The web began with pure text pages. These looked very boring, although they were good enough for the engineers and other professionals who first used the web, and for whom the web was initially built for. Browsers too were text based, as were the operating systems they ran on.

The arrival of Windows 95, along with the already present GUI ( Graphical User Interface ) that the Macintosh computers had, rapidly began to change all that. The Netscape company made the first popular graphical browser, the Netscape Navigator, based on the Mosaic browser. Microsoft, although sluggishly slow to catch on, soon realized that the web was not going away, and so began to both try to destroy the Netscape company ( ultimately successfully, more or less, although it's wreckage was salvaged by the AOL corporation ) by first creating, then packaging with its Windows operating systems, the new Internet Explorer browser.

Suddenly the web could have colors, shapes, and textures. And, more importantly, suddenly a web page could have a non linear structure. This happened when designers discovered that they could use the <table> element to create complex page designs, often using graphics to create looks that could not be done with the very limited HTML of the day ( no CSS, barely any formatting possibilities ). Unfortunately, the 'table' element was never really meant to fulfill this duty, but was supposed to contain data, like from a database.

Nevertheless, the web steamed on using primarily tables to construct all web pages, much to the chagrin of the W3C, the World Wide Web standars body. They quickly realized that the design of the page had to be taken into account, and so began to try to undo the damage that had been done already. The solution?—CSS 1 ( Cascading Style Sheets ), and some new HTML tags, <div> being most important. Div, when styled with CSS, was developed to allow designers unprecedented control of the layout of a webpage.

This happened in about 1998, before the main architectural decisions were made for the newest Microsoft Internet Explorer ( IE ), version 4. Version 4 was a huge leap forwards for browser technology. Netscape, feeling the sting of Microsoft's vicious, and now convicted, monopolistic behavior, simply couldn't keep up, partly because their new browser, Netscape 4, had been started before the release of the new CSS 1 standards. When it was finally released, this browser was so full of bugs, and had such bad CSS 1 implementation, and, to make matters worse, had implemented its own proprietary <layers> Dynamic HTML method, that any complex HTML or Javascript generally had to be written twice, once for Netscape 4, and once for all other browsers. Microsoft, not to be outdone, had also implemented a proprietary method, document.all, but also supported, more or less, the recently released W3C standards.

This singular event set the entire Internet back about 4 years.

The Situation Today

It was only in 2002 that it became possible to actually code sites that used these new div and CSS techniques safely on a commercial level, since by that time Netscape 4 users had declined to about 8-12% of the market. Currently they are about 1-2% or less of most website's visitors, but their users seem to be the least likely of any computer user to upgrade any component of their system. Internet Explorer 4, for example, now constitutes less than 1% of most websites' visitors.

We have found that the ideal use of these techniques is a mix, with the basic page structure made using conventional tables, but quite simplified, and the more complex elements done with div tags and CSS. Most of these more advanced techniques, again, simply don't work on Netscape 4.x browsers, but those browsers no longer constitute a high enough percentage of your site's visitors to spend much time worrying about.

If you would like to see what, for instance, looks like in Netscape 4, click here. Click the close under the image to return to this page.

This website is coded exclusively with positioned div elements, styled with CSS 1 and 2, through linked stylesheets. This technique, or a version similar to it, is now becoming commercially viable, in 2004.

Web Design Site

Please go here if you are looking for our web design site, Phoenix Web Technologies.

Rather than clutter up this site with client information, we decided to create a separate web design site. Check it out, it's pretty cool, has super advanced CSS construction.