CSSZengarden: A Claim Too Far?

It takes a lot to make me speechless, but a website I have known and respected for some time almost managed it…

The site was CSS ZenGarden, which aims to educate website designers in the use of Cascading Style Sheetsto create more interesting layouts .


I have no problem with that. It’s a good and laudable aim. They have some very interesting samples. I really like the way in which the layout of the pages changes dramatically when you switch style sheets on the same content.

What I did have a problem with was their sweeping claim:

CSS allows complete and total control over the style of a hypertext document.

You’ll all be aware of the recent announcement that Internet Explorer 8 (on which I work) will fully support the CSS 2.1 spec when the final version ships. Hence my interest.

I’ve been interested in CSS since, oh, around 1996, and have especially been following the developments around CSS 2.1 and some proposals for CSS 3 functionality.

The capabilities of Cascading Style Sheets fall far short of “complete and total control”. Today, they offer some level of control. As the standard evolves, we’ll see more and more control possible.

But any designer who reads ZenGarden is well aware that CSS as it stands today falls a long way short of the kind of control over style and look that they can achieve in print. And until we get that kind of control we’re not done. And to claim that we already have it is to destroy your own credibility.

The Web can be as beautiful and readable as the finest printed magazine. And it can be a lot more powerful medium, too. But not yet. Not today.

Problem with the ZenGarden site, with its pseudo-zen message, is that they seem to think we have already arrived at Enlightenment (they even say so).

Haven’t they read their sutras? “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

CSS and the evolution of Web standards is a journey. We’ve made some steps along the way. But we’re a long way yet from Nirvana…


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