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Book Review of:
Web Design in a Nutshell
2nd Edition



From the April, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition contains the nitty-gritty on everything you need to know to design web pages. It's the good stuff, without the fluff, written and organized so that answers can be found quickly. This completely revised and expanded 2nd edition is chock-full of information about the wide range of front-end technologies and techniques from which web designers and authors must draw. 

Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition is an excellent reference for HTML 4.01 tags (including tables, frames, forms, color, and cascading style sheets) with special attention given to browser support, platform idiosyncrasies, and standards. You'll also find lots of updated information on using graphics, multimedia, audio and video, and advanced technologies such Dynamic HTML, Javascript, and XML, as well as new chapters on XHTML, WML, and SMIL. This book is an indispensable tool for web designers and authors of all levels. 

Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition includes: 

  • Discussions of the web environment including monitors and browsers, printing from
  • the Web, accessibility, and internationalization 
  • A complete reference to HTML and Server Side Includes, including up-to-date
  • browser support (Netscape 6, IE 6.0, and Opera 5) for every tag and attribute 
  • Updated chapters on creating GIF, animated GIF, JPEG, and PNG graphics,
  • including designing with the Web Palette 
  • Information on multimedia and interactivity, including audio, video, Flash 5 and
  • Shockwave, and a new chapter on SMIL 
  • A revised tutorial and reference on Cascading Style Sheets 
  • Appendixes detailing HTML tags, attributes, deprecated tags, proprietary tags, CSS
  • compatibility and support, and character entities
Reviewer’s Opinion
Once again O-Reilly has published a winner.  Web Design in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition, by Jennifer Niederst is an up-to-date and very comprehensive overview of designing websites and webpages.  The book primarily covers design for the NT server in Windows applications but there is also coverage for the Apache server in a UNIX environment.  

In a “nutshell”, this book is very easy to read and does not require it to be read in any particular order.  The topics are laid in a very organized manner whereas you can jump around the book depending on the topic you are interested in.  

It is beyond the scope of this book to teach any of the subjects covered but it does explain the theory behind the design on many elements of a webpage and provides many excellent quick reference guides such as for markup languages.  It only explains the process and may provide listings of options available.  The narrative manner gives an excellent introduction to topics, and covers detailed theory of applications.  Some areas are slow and boring and you may wonder why you bought the book.  Then you find other topics that seem like someone turned on the lights.  They really get you excited with the possibilities and stir your imagination.  

For brevity, the words “explained” and “discussed” used throughout this review are meant to mean that the book may start as basic as reviewing the history of the subject leading into the basic principles.  The book usually goes into how it works, how it is used, defines code structure and layout and associated elements.  Intermediate application and advanced technologies of the topic are included to keep the reader up-to-date with the latest version. This book also includes detailed reference user and design data in many cases.  

Beginners will benefit from this book by learning beforehand, what to consider before developing a webpage and what areas of development to include.  Web Design gives the beginner a basic understanding of the principles of designing a webpage.  The book is very easy to read.

Intermediate designers will benefit by learning something new.  Never should a day go by that you don’t learn at least ONE new thing.  This book will definitely help in that area.  One of the biggest challenges for any designer is to keep up with new technologies.  

Advanced developers will benefit by brushing up or fine-tuning their existing skills. There are many tips and quick references to ideas even an advanced developer will have forgotten about.  

Many website URLs are referenced throughout the book for detailed clarification, examples and further information.  

Every once in a while the book does give a quick tip on “How-To” do something.  The tips are usually very straight and to-the-point with no fluff or wasted words or wasted space.

The book is divided up into 6 major parts. 
Part I:  The Web Environment discusses Browsers, Displays, Principles for Print Designers, Servers, and Internationalization.

The book starts off discussing Browser differences and commonalities and covers how and why the coding is different for them.  Examples are given throughout the book pointing out coding differences for the different browsers.  Several browsers are compared in order to understand the differences of designing for each.

Browser strategy design is discussed in order to reach the largest audience possible.  Emphasis is put on standardization and testing so the website is error free and fast loading.  

The book then goes into a detailed summary of Display Resolution.  It covers everything from pixels to screen sizes and colors.   Color differences are also pointed out for the different browsers.    Printout cautions are discussed with fixed and variable webpages, as are special formatted , preformatted text, cascading style sheets and <blockquote> text. 

Part II:  covers Authoring 

This section discusses the HTML standard, tags and how to make the browsers ignore unrecognized tags.  Many valuable styling tips are given for beginners to advanced users.  Global settings and META tags are reviewed in depth.  This section is especially important since the Search Engines have been changing the way they index websites and this section gives up-to-date tips for indexing using META tags.  

This book is the first I’ve ever seen that actually explains the <DIV> </DIV> tags in English. A full chapter in this section discusses creating and managing links.  This includes link protocols and everything from straight hyperlinks, anchor tags, imagemaps, targeting windows and appearance of links.    

The process of adding JAVA Applets and embedded media files are discussed with examples of code and how the “.class” and “.jar” files are referenced.  

Included in the Authoring section is a full coverage on advantages and disadvantages of designing using tables – from simple to complicated nested tables.  Again tips and tricks are plentiful

Frameset structures are explained with a full section on targeting frames and Inline (floating) frames, which is a new one on me.  Of course the tips and tricks section taught me some new things too.

One section I was particularly interested in was on the Forms discussion. The FORMMAIL.pl, FORMMAIL.CGI file was explained and included instructions on setting up FORMMAIL with your server administrator.  This is the first time I’ve seen these explanations in a way that made sense.  This section also gave an overview and introduction to CGI.  For beginners, this section will be invaluable.

The Cascading Style Sheets section introduced the new CSS2.  This section is one of those areas that helps keep developers up-to-date with new versions.  Part II concludes with an overview on “Server Side Includes”, how they are used, and the use of environmental variables.   It concludes with an introduction to XSSI support on Apache.  

Part III:   Graphics and Images 

Part III includes full chapters on GIF, JPEG and PNG formats.  It covers differences in GIF87a vs. GIF89a, compression methods for GIF, JPG and PNG formats.  The differences between GIF, JPG, and PNG are covered with a thorough discussion on colors as viewed in different browser applications.  This section also explains when to use GIF and JPG formats.  Color palettes for browser compatibility and 8-bit, 24-bit, and 32-bit color is discussed before Part III finishes with animated GIFs.  Although this book doesn’t specifically show how to create animated GIFs, it does explain how they are made, as well as explaining compression, interlacing and transparencies.  

This graphics section, as well as throughout the book, many examples and tips are given on how Adobe Photoshop capabilities can be used to enhance the appearance of a webpage.  A full explanation of using Photoshop to divide up a graphics image for faster loading is explained in the Tables section

Part IV:  goes into Multimedia and Interactivity including Audio, Video, Flash, Shockwave and SMIL

Basic digital audio, streaming audio and audio formats are discussed, then how to add the audio to a webpage is explained in plain English.  The same is covered in video but also includes a discussion on video compression.  

The process of using Flash and Shockwave to create animations and movies are discussed from an introductory point of view leading into how they incorporated into the webpage.  Examples are given showing code used to insert Flash and Shockwave into a webpage.  This was an item I found especially useful.  It is actually the first book I’ve found that tells what is involved and what the references are and explains it.  It also explained how to make it compatible for both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator.   

Part IV closes with an introduction on SMIL or Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language and how to integrate the multimedia elements into a webpage.

Part V:  Advanced Technologies covers Javascript, DHTML, XML, XHTML, WAP and WML

Since these technologies are browser version sensitive, the differences are pointed out and plenty of warnings and cautions are given on the shortcomings when viewed by older browsers.  A full background of each is given

Part VI:  Appendixes
include extensive and up-to-date reference charts on HTML Elements, Attributes, Deprecated Tags, Proprietary Tags, CSS Support, and Character Entities.  I thought the glossary was a little short, but was adequate.

TITLE: Web Design in a Nutshell
Edition:  2nd Edition September 2001  
Author: Jennifer Niederst 
Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates, Incorporated
Publish Date: October 2001
ISBN:  0-596-00196-7, Order Number: 1967
Binding: Paperback,2nd ed., 640pp. 
O’Reilly, List Price:  $29.95 US, $44.95 CA, £20.95 UK
 Book Area  Price:  $22.35 USD
Also available at any of the local technical book stores.

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