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Book Review of: HTML5 Foundations

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Review of HTML5 Foundations, by Matt West (Softcover, 2013)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


I found this book to be both technically detailed and readily accessible. That is a very rare combination. I started with HTML in 1996, and it was pretty simple back then. We didn't have CSS, and even something like an included page (used for menu, for example) was considered fancy stuff. When HTML 2.0 came out, I felt a bit overwhelmed. As this specification has evolved, I have not managed to keep up.

Part of the reason for my Neanderthal-level coding mentality is I have thousands of legacy pages, and I have several sites that have the old coding and old structure dating back from the pre-CSS days. But another part is it's just been difficult to wrap my mind around the changes while trying to do everything else. It's not just new abilities that you can tack on, it's a series of fundamental changes in how we do things. Some best practices, such as using good taxonomy, have not changed. But many have, and what used to be good coding is now bad coding.

If this book wasn't intentionally aimed at people like me, it hit the mark anyhow.

I'm not a Web designer; I'm a site administrator. Mostly, I create content. The coding is just something else I have to do. It makes up a minor part of my total workload. Many site owners are in exactly this position. We don't go to HTML conferences, take Web design classes, or do other things that a specialist would do. There just isn't time (or money). We are, for the most part, out of the loop. And we're seldom doing a green (new) project. We're maintaining existing pages.

On one of my (many) bookshelves is a book on HTML. The copyright is 2000. It's the only other HTML book I have. Ouch.

Sadly, there's not a WYSIWIG editor that produces clean code. At least, not that I know of. I still use FrontPage for my static page sites because of structural issues, but I have to spend time manually cleaning up the bad HTML that FrontPage sticks into those pages. For my dynamic pages, I use Dreamweaver as my editor. I also use Notepad. This is just to maintain things and to make some smallish updates, and I run into HTML questions that I don't know the answer to. This book will help me immensely.

As I said, I'm not a Web designer. People compliment me on my e-commerce sites (crystalkeen and mindonnection). While I'd like to take credit, that credit goes to Kevin Ford at MivaMan. Now after reading this book I understand some of the things that Kevin just gave up trying to explain to me. Now instead of just implementing this or copying that and not really knowing why it gets done that way, I know.

If you're at all involved in doing any coding on any Website, even just maintenance, this book will help you better work with your Web designer. You can avoid making mistakes that your Web designer has to clean up for you (sorry, Kevin!), and you can be more realistic about what approach to take to implementing features on the site if you're the owner of it and need to understand the scope of the work.

For the full-time coder or Web developer, this book probably holds some real nuggets. At the risk of channeling Donald Rumsfeld, I don't know what it is you know and don't know. But the detail and the organized way in which it is presented are good clues to me that you should get this book.

If you're a "part-time coder" who's been at it for very long (a decade and a half, in my case) you probably share my problems with legacy code. I could spell them out here, but you know what I'm talking about. Not having access to classes or the other resources that come with training for a job, we "wing it" folks have had to learn the hard way. And we've not only missed many good things, we've learned many bad things. This book is ideal for us.

In the Introduction, Matt said it's OK not to read from cover to cover. While I understand where he was coming from on that, I did read this book from cover to cover and will probably do so again. This book can really raise my game, and that's the main reason I love it.

HTML5 Foundations consists of an Introduction and 14 chapters occupying 332 well-written pages, plus three excellent appendices, a detailed TOC, and an indepth index.


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