Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tables from the Web to the Desktop

Good design tends to spread from wherever it originates to wherever it can be gainfully applied.  HTML tables strike me as an example of this.  Way back in 1996, when the web we know today was but a wee lad, I remember the introduction of browser support for HTML tables.  They instantly became one of many excuses for me to "opt out" of going to class (I was marginally attending the Univ of Penn at the time).  Playing with cellpadding and cellspacing produced visually interesting results (and these turned out to be another instance of good design that were included in tables - control over internal and intra-cell margins) but it became obvious immediately that the big benefit was precise control over layout.

 

Eventually CSS would come to dominate the positioning game but you still find plenty of HTML tables out there on the web. 

 

Anyway, Windows Forms 2.0 introduced the TableLayoutPanel which behaves nearly identically to HTML tables.  Given that the overwhelming majority of display devices (and I include paper as a kind of display device) are 2 dimensional it makes sense that, over time, graphically oriented layout would coalesce around a few "good tricks".  IMHO the best "good tricks" are often rule-based (rule-based in the HTML table sense, not in the CSS 'create as many rules as you like' sense).  I'm a fan of CSS - it provided a much needed solutions to many design (and management) problems but that's a post for another day.

 

It is good to see good design migrating from one modality (the web) to another (the smart client/desktop/OS).

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