Two and more columns became possible with the advent of tables, and is a very popular layout on the Web even now. It's not as common to see an equal layout like above, more common is to see 2 column layouts with unequal columns: one narrow navigation column and one wide main column.
Once you have columns you have a lot more decisions to make about your layout. Deciding how wide to make each of the columns is both an aesthetic one and a physical one. Aesthetically, good ratios include 1:1, 5:8 (the golden ratio), 3:4, or 1:2 (double square). The physical realities of Web pages mean that you have to decide between liquid or fixed width layouts. Liquid layouts flex better with the browser sizes, but fixed widths can be easier to read for your customers.