If, as Voltaire once opined, “God is a comedian, playing to an audience afraid to laugh,” then CSS (Cascading Style Sheets for you non-nerds in the audience) were written by Geeks as some kind of convoluted “you can’t get there from here” joke on the rest of us. I’m sure God finds it funny. I don’t.
Back when the World (Wide Web) was young, all you needed to create websites was a copy of Notepad, a copy of Photoshop, and nerves of steel. Creating anything past the simlest of pages was a study in frustration. Editing or updating a page was worse. Torture. Client requests to “make all the body copy one point larger” could make the strongest web geek’s blood run cold. Make strong men cry. Turn weaker men to ashes. You get the picture.
Then along came CSS. The promised land for web designers – style sheets, where you could divorce the data from the style elements. Create the pages once, then change one line of code in a style sheet and watch the changes ripple through the other pages, as if my magic.
That was the promise. The reality is something else.
It reminds me of the story about the guy who dies and goes to Hell. Satan takes him on a tour, and offers him the chance to pick where he’s to spend eternity. In the first room, the occupants are eating danish, reading the paper, and enjoying a nice spring day overlooking a lake. In the second room, the occupants are being tortured with pitchforks, standing on hot coals, and breathing raw sewage. The guy looks at Satan and says, “What, are you kidding? I’ll take room #1!” They go back to the first room, and Satan opens the door. Inside the same occupants are being roasted alive over eternal flames, in constant agony. The guy looks at Satan and says, ‘Hang on…this isn’t what you showed me!” Satan replies, “Oh, that? That was just the demo.”
CSS gives me all the same warm feelings as that schlemeel. One little mistyped word, one tag in the wrong place, and you could be spending days – DAYS, I tell you – finding and fixing the problem. And that’s not the worst of it. The creators of CSS could have consulted print guys for terminology. After all, the goal was to bring the control of the printed page to the web. But nooooooooooooooooooooo! They create some weird, extra-dimensional world, Twilight Zone interpretation of the mother tongue, so nobody really understands what in the HELL they mean.
The best part is that every friggin’ browser on the planet seems to “interpret” CSS differently. Not much, mind you, but just enough to make every page potentially look completely different on any given browser.
The worst offender is (drumroll, please): Microsoft. We web guys have a pet name for IE – Internet Exploder. Microsoft seems to take the Leona Helmsley approach – the rules don’t apply to them. I actually have to write seperate CSS pages for IE and one for all the other browsers. It’s that bad. Microsoft’s idea is to OWN the standards, and if they don’t own it, lock, stock, and pica pole, they will “Embrace, Extend, and Devour” it until they do. Every time they release a new browser, we web designers dutifully line up to hold the football, just like Charlie Brown, and every year, Bill Gates & Co. pull the ball away just like some kind of demented Lucy Van Pelt.
I recently spent a day of my life that I’ll never get back, rewriting a site’s CSS code from the ground up, because it was easier to start over than to fix whatever obscure bug had found it’s way into my code. Not fun. I was NOT feelin’ the love.
So if you’re out there, and you’re thinking about getting into the wonderful world of web design, and you’ve heard that this CSS stuff is the magic bullet that will make your life worth living, your teeth brighter, and attractive to the opposite sex, think again, Bunkie. Ain’t no such thang. Now, excuse me whilst I pay my passage across the river Styx, and forge back into the heat of battle…