Review: Web Design in a Nutshell

Comprehensive, indispensable web design reference (June 27th, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Price: $34.99 USD, $48.99 CAD, 24.99 GBP

The Good

  • Comprehensive Discusses why as well as what Detailed treatment of CSS and JavaScript Enjoyable read.

The Bad

  • Preoccupation with standards slows down practical teaching.

O'Reilly Media's popular Nutshell book series covers everything from Windows XP to C++. The 816-page Web Design in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference, 3rd Edition isn't exactly nutshell-sized, but it covers everything you want to know to create and troubleshoot web site code.

Comprehensive Web Design Reference

Beginning webmasters may find the book hard to follow, but it is a reference book, not a tutorial. It is comprehensive in its coverage of design tools. Thanks to the excellent index and list of elements and attributes, you can easily find definitions and usages for HTML, XML, JavaScript, and CSS code.

Inside the Book

For advanced beginners who have acquired their HTML or CSS knowledge by trial and error while maintaining and revising sites created by others, the early pages of Web Design in a Nutshell are fascinating. Part I, "The Web Environment," deals with standards, designing for various displays, servers, accessibility, and internationalization. Part II, "The Structural Layer," examines XML and (X)HTML rules before starting on the components of pages. There's a lot of guidance on the benefits and methods of designing according to standards. Occasionally it gets preachy, but for the most part it's written in a clear and entertaining style. The illustrations are uniformly useful.

Part III deals with CSS, Part IV with Javascript and DOM scripting, Part V with graphics, and Part VI with media, including Flash, audio, and video. It is a good reference because Part VII includes a set of appendices and a glossary that you may refer to frequently. It includes color codes, character entities, CSS 2.1 attributes, and microformats. Parts III and IV are greatly expanded since the last version, because as the author explains, CSS is now an accepted standard.

Try Before You Buy

The book is available also through O'Reilly Media's Safari Books Online service, so you can evaluate it before you buy. You can read part of the book and see the Table of Contents and Index on the spot, then sign up for a free 14-day online trial. If you like it, you'll want it in hard copy for easy access.

If you're just starting out, and don't have a WYSIWYG editor to get you through the nitty-gritty, this may not be your best first book. If you're more seasoned and you need to clarify terms or look up usage rules than this is the book you want to keep in your web reference arsenal. Whatever your level of experience, it is an invaluable reference.

by Barbara Mende and Ilene Hoffman


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