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Re: [css3-multicol] The purpose of multi-column layout?

From: Aryeh Gregor <Simetrical+w3c@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 24 May 2010 16:32:39 -0400
Message-ID: <AANLkTimtBjtEYGGBV_f_BHHjHHXLIqhkuWFhbcC99bIS@mail.gmail.com>
To: Andrew Fedoniouk <news@terrainformatica.com>
Cc: www-style@w3.org
On Mon, May 24, 2010 at 2:30 AM, Andrew Fedoniouk
<news@terrainformatica.com> wrote:
> Simple question: what is the purpose of Multi-column Layout Module
> http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-multicol/ ? What problems it is trying to solve?

Long lines of text are hard to read.  On wide monitors at typical font
sizes, a full-width block of text is a real pain to read.  Columns
break it into more readable chunks when it gets too wide without
sacrificing screen real estate.

One use-case is citations in Wikipedia articles.  The lines are often
pretty short, so they wouldn't fill the width of the screen if
positioned in a single column.  On the other hand, almost all readers
will skip references, and those who look at them only care for a
specific one, so you want them to be compact and unobtrusive.  Laying
them out in multiple columns as the UA's screen width increases
minimizes the space they take up.  In fact, some Wikipedia articles do
lay out references using CSS columns, although most don't.

Another use-case is apparently Robert O'Callahan's blog, although I
admit I never saw the benefit of that.  ;)

> But with HTML/CSS it is not quite so - pretty much each UA uses its own  way
> of measuring and rendering text - positions and dimensions of words may
> vary,  sometimes significantly.  So you cannot design the CSS page as
> newspaper page - e.g. it is not possible to ensure how many columns the text
> will actually get, will all columns be filled in full, etc.

That's why you can specify columns by width instead of number.  For
instance, you could specify column-width: 50em; to ensure that if text
gets more than 50em wide, it will be broken without sacrificing screen
real estate.  column-count doesn't seem as useful, but it seems like
an easy enough thing to add, so no reason to leave it out.

> Multi-column assumes that its content is rendered in the view with
> horizontal scrollbar and without vertical scrollbar.

Not really.  You'd just have to scroll up when you get to the end of
each column, if the columns are tall enough.  I don't know how
annoying this would be in practice -- maybe it wouldn't be a big deal,
since if you have to scroll, the columns must be tall and so scrolling
will be infrequent.  roc's blog posts are too short for me to have
noticed any inconvenience from the columns.  But this is immaterial
for the references use-case, since you aren't expected to actually
read them from beginning to end.
Received on Monday, 24 May 2010 20:33:15 UTC

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