Web layout functionality and cross browser compromise

Web browsers are a varied beast, and great ideas can become bogged down in frustrating hand holding and gentle coercion.

With an ongoing project – devReview(), a number of requirements for the site layout were put together:

  1. CSS based (and clean as possible)
  2. Cross browser compatible. [IE6+, Firefox 1+ and other Gecko browsers, Opera 8.5+, Safari 1.3+, Konqueror 3,4+]. IE 5/5.5 went in the nice to have bin. Given the site is for techos, the spread was wide but more modern.
  3. 3 column with a fluid centre for content
  4. Content to appear first in html.
  5. Viewable down to a min of 600px.

In the early development, a number of layouts were looked at, and trialled. Eventually it was settled to use the ‘In Search of the Holy Grail‘ layout from Matthew Levines ‘A List Apart’ article. It seemed to best satisfy all the requirements above.

So where are we today. Well if you look at the devreview site now, you will notice the 3 column layout is gone, replaced by a 2 column version. Some may call this failure, I call it compromise. With relatively simple content the layout stayed together, but once it needed to be pushed and extended, some of the browsers (IE6 mainly) became such a pain. Eventually it was much more productive to dump the ‘the holy grail’, lose a bit in layout, but gain extra in maintainability, and extendibility.

So of the 5 layout requirements, 4 have been kept. We could have selected a different 4 (ie dropping the content first or fluid centre), but the 2 column solution seemed the most workable.

Sometime in the future this can be looked at again. Old IE versions will not disappear straight away, but I am confident that the new browser wars are a good thing, and all web users (and developers) will benefit.