CSS3, along with HTML5, is central to the future of web design. Also like HTML5, CSS3 will eventually enable a wide range of capabilities. But today, there are just a few pieces that are ready to use, and you need to exercise care due to the uneven support in various browsers.
It will be many years before full support for either CSS3 or HTML5 is something on which you can depend. For widespread use of both standards, the gating element is, unsurprisingly, likely to be Internet Explorer—as soon as IE9 is the oldest version you care about supporting, you can you use most of CSS3 and HTML5 with abandon.
In the meantime, how can you benefit from these emerging technologies right now? A Book Apart, the young book-publishing arm of the organization behind A List Apart and An Event Apart, has just released CSS3 for Web Designers, by Dan Cederholm, as a guide to CSS3 from the "what's really useful right now" perspective. As with the company's first book, HTML5 for Web Designers, this orientation, combined with an expert author, takes a large, complex subject and reduces it to a small, readable book.
The value of this book, as well as its HTML5 companion, is as much in giving guidance as to what to ignore, as it is in explaining how to use the parts that are ready. For example, CSS3 offers a new layout engine that—gasp!—actually comprehends the concept of a column. As tempting as this sounds, because the specification for this feature remains in flux and browser support is very limited, it's not worth trying to use it at this point.
Certainly not, if you look at CSS3 in its entirety (or even at any large swath of it). But there are parts of CSS3 that are useful now, if they are used with care:
Even these core features should be used only for embellishment, rather than for core requirements, because they are not supported in IE through IE8, or even consistently across Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. They do, however, provide fairly easy ways to enhance the user experience in those browsers. And once IE 9 ships, even Internet Explorer users will start to see the benefits.
In future posts, we'll delve into several of these areas. We've assembled a list of CSS3 tutorials, references, and tools to help get you started, and we recommend you go pick up a copy of CSS3 for Web Designers.