Re: table usage (was Re: text on graphics?)

Murray Altheim (
Sat, 11 May 1996 15:13:04 -0500

Message-Id: <v02110106adba99adcdbb@[]>
Date: Sat, 11 May 1996 15:13:04 -0500
To: (Walter Ian Kaye)
From: (Murray Altheim)
Subject: Re: table usage (was Re: text on graphics?)

Walter Ian Kaye <> writes:
>At 5:09a 05/11/96, Abigail wrote:
>>Most of the time, <table> is just used to layout the web page. This
>>works quite well when using a graphical browser. However, if the
>>user (= reader) does something the developer (= author) has never
>>dreamed off (say, using a sound browser), things can lead to sillyness.
>><table>s were designed for tabular data.  If they are misused to force
>>a graphical layout, one limits his/her audience.
>If "<table>s were designed for tabular data", then ROWSPAN and COLSPAN
>would not be allowed. These attributes are in direct contradiction to
>your view of what is "appropriate" for <table>s. Do you favor deprecation
>of these attributes?

Certainly tools may be used for whatever purpose deemed necessary, but
don't pretend using them to create presentational layout (ala page layout
tools) was the original intention of tables. If there is commonly "abuse"
of tables, it in the sense that the original design was not intended to
create a method of complicated page layout as an alternative to more
appropriate structural markup, but simply a way of marking up tabular data,
and that use of tables in this manner may make programmatic analysis of
document content extremely difficult. The recent thread underscoring the
difficulties inherent in using drop caps upon search engines ("<FONT
SIZE=5>G</FONT>rape juice") shows where presentation gimmicks can "damage"
greater utility of document content.

The corruption of structured document content with device-dependent
presentational information is also underscored in much of the controversy
over frames, which are certainly a more appropriate tool than tables for
this type of presentational control. That the current implementations of
frames are generally poor is not a mark against the concept, vis how most
page layout software operates -- newspapers are an obvious example of
frames used effectively.

The current tables draft was heavily influenced and designed with
compatibility with the CALS (US Navy milspec), which is used precisely for
display of tabular data. The purpose of ROWSPAN and COLSPAN (if you read
the spec examples) was to allow for more complicated row and column
headings (also a feature of CALS), and is in no way contradictory to the
use of tables for display of tabular data.


     Murray Altheim, Program Manager
     Spyglass, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
     email: <>
     http:  <>
            "Give a monkey the tools and he'll eventually build a typewriter."