Examining John C. Dvorak’s Anti-CSS Article

We all know it. John C. Dvorak is a troll. He’s not just a troll. He’s an uninformed troll. In Why CSS Bugs Me, an article posted on June 12th, 2006, at the PC Magazine website, John C. Dvorak explains why CSS is useless.

The base assumption of his article is that he actually knows what he is talking about. John C. Dvorak is not a designer. He’s a tech columnist. His blog site, which he claims to be redesigning, is proof enough of that. It’s pretty clear that his inability to style a website should mean his opinion is worthless. Nevertheless, I found the article linked from CSS Insider. That means someone cared about his opinion.

I know I’m in for a treat when the opening line of an article is ended by an question mark and an exclamation point. Dvorak claims that none of this stuff works. That statement is absolutely wrong. A great deal of it works. In fact, almost everything works as expected. If I do a font-family:verdana, helvetica, sans-serif on a div tag, every important graphical browser that has been released since I started using the web will render the text in one of the listed fonts. It’s only when using advanced CSS that problems arise.

What John seems to be upset about is the PC Platform. Frankly, every major browser for the Mac is pretty standards compliant. Opera was a little bit of a problem before Opera 9 was released, but even Opera 8 rendered most things the same way Firefox and Safari did. The problem lies on the PC where one of the major browsers, which happens to be the most popular, is not standards compliant. That browser is Internet Explorer if you’ve been living in a hole. Microsoft even prides itself on how well it embraced and extended standards (for example, filters). The major problem for most designers is that the Internet Explorer rendering engine does the box model wrong. But, really, with conditional comments, making a bit of CSS for Internet Explorer is a trivial task.

The point is that he is picking on CSS instead of picking on the people who write the CSS rendering engines. He should be bad-mouthing Microsoft, not CSS.

I take that back. For a moment, he did take a strike at the defining principle of CSS: it cascades.

The first problem is the idea of cascading. It means what it says: falling – as in falling apart. You set a parameter for a style element, and that setting falls to the next element unless you provide it with a different element definition. This sounds like a great idea until you try to deconstruct the sheet. You need a road map. One element cascades from here, another from there. One wrong change and all hell breaks loose. If your Internet connection happens to lose a bit of CSS data, you get a mess on your screen.

I’ll ignore the part about the connection losing a bit of CSS data because I think it’s an asinine suggestion. I can only think of one situation where this would happen and it wouldn’t totally mess up the design if the CSS were written properly. What I want to address is the fact that what Dvorak is bitching about is how CSS was designed to work. The beauty of it is that I can declare a font-family on the body and it should cascade down into paragraph tags. I don’t have to explicitly set the value every time. Further, plain-old HTML had some amount of inheritance built in (for example wrapping a bold tag in a font tag will cause whatever is in the bold tag to inherit the font information). The cascading nature isn’t broken; rather, Dvorak’s understanding of CSS or his ability to use it is under developed. If he’s having trouble figuring out where the style is attributed from, it is probably the fault of the author or his ability to read CSS, not the fault of CSS. Well written CSS, like C or PHP, is quite easy to read if the reader knows what he is reading and the writer wrote it well.

John closes his article by throwing punches at the W3C.

And what’s being done about it? Nothing! Another fine mess from the standards bodies.

First, it’s not the W3C’s fault that the browsers don’t implement the standard properly. That’s like blaming law makers when criminals commit crimes. If there were only Mozilla and Internet Explorer, I might concede that the standard is unclear. However, Opera, Safari, and Mozilla typically agree on how a page should look. So, I can’t blame it on the specification.

Second, something is being done about it. Initiatives like the Web Standards Project have been busting ass for years to get browser makers to stick to standards. The web standards movement is making major footholds. The only major graphical browser that isn’t standards compliant is Internet Explorer. The IE7 team is working hard to make Internet Explorer more standards complaint. Pretty soon, the differences between how browsers render pages will be almost nil. The only difference will be how soon the browser makers integrate new CSS features like those in CSS 3 draft that are already being built into browser releases.

It seems John got his panties in a wad over this one. For once, I think this was a real rant rather than a calculated troll to boost the number of page views on his articles. Unfortunately, he comes across as a whining web design newbie. Those of us that have been doing standards-based web design for awhile have dealt with far worse that he is and we still appreciate CSS for the excellent tool it is.

If you want to read the article, it can be found on on PC Magazine.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.