There has been quite a lot of discussion recently on various tech- and webdesign-related blogs about major sites being redesigned with fixed-width layouts. See this and this and this and this and this, among others.
Personally, I prefer to at least try to design liquid sites. If you design a fixed-width site, you have to make sure that it’s viewable at 800×600, as forty-something percent of your viewing audience will tend to have that resolution. At a very large resolution, however, that layout will leave an awful lot of blank, wasted space, with a cramped-looking content area.
It depends on the site, I suppose. If the visual design of the site is paramount to the message that you are trying to convey, then yes, a fixed-width CSS design is MUCH, much easier. Most of the sites on CSS Zen Garden are fixed-width, for very good reasons…liquid designs using a lot of graphics that have to fill an exact amount of space are a stone bitch to design. It takes a lot more work to make them liquid. Just try to deconstruct any of the designs there, and make them liquid, and you will see exactly what I mean.
The designing for the web isn’t an exact science, and you never have control over what your visitor will see. But that is part of the beauty of it, to me; part of the challenge resides in designing for all possible combinations of browsers and resolutions and operating systems. Sometimes, when you know that your audience has a certain configuration, as on a company intranet, you can design exactly for that. Sometimes you have a sterling client who says “forget the Netscape 4.X people, design for modern browsers,” and then you can fall down on your knees, kiss their feet, and go happily to work.
What is your personal preference (for the techies in the audience, who are the only ones who have made it this far, anyway)?