if wishes were browsers

After hearing about it on Twitter all day, I figured that I didn’t need to actually download the Safari 4 beta myself. I was already hearing about it non-stop and I generally don’t download betas, because I’m not an authority on anything to do with the web and even if I downloaded them and made recommendations, no one’s going to listen to me. So, I figure, better to stick with what I’m actually developing for. But once I got about halfway through Apple’s “CSS Recipes for WebKit,” I’d decided I couldn’t wait for the official release. Cause, hello, column management!

You think about people’s issues with CSS for layout and they basically boil down to wanting three equal-height columns and not being able to get them with minimal effort. That’s really CSS’ big flaw. The rest you can get around pretty easily. So naturally I got really excited because what Safari appeared to do was take three block-level elements and give them each their own column within a container with the -webkit-column-count property set to “3”. Course, it has that appearance because each of those child elements contain only one line of text. I didn’t know that.

The code I rushed to test in my newly-downloaded browser had uneven column lengths, and that was how my hopes came crashing down and I realized that the -webkit-column-count property does not solve the most challenging problem with CSS layouts; it gives you a pretty newspaper article, distributing your content evenly among your columns, splitting blocks in half if it needs to do so. I’ve needed something similar like five times. I’ve needed three equal-height columns with arbitrary content like five zillion.

I’m sure that Safari is just following the specifications of the W3C and that these sort of columns were a piece of low-hanging fruit they figured they could implement without too much hassle. It’s salt in the wound, though, when a similarly-named property could have taken its immediate children and dropped them into its allotted columns in order, providing a parent as tall as the longest product and finally shutting up the “tables 4-eva” crowd. That is what I wish browser makers and the W3C were knocking off first. Newspaper columns, IMO, can wait. Were I a person of any consequence in those circles, I would damn well say so.

On the bright side, the new Web Inspector is extremely nice. I had never actually installed Drosera, so I can’t compare it there, but it offers the same useful debugging and freaky-CSS-tracking-down features of Firebug. Additionally, the browser itself is very pretty. It starts up with an animated sequence which is totally what I expected the internet to look like the first time I opened up a web browser 14 or so years ago. In that respect, I’ve got to thank Safari for finally catching up to my expectations. (A column layout would still have been more useful to me here and now, though.)

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