Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: "Programming HTML5 Applications" by Zachary Kessin; O'Reilly Media

I recently joined the O'Reilly Blogger Review program and the first book I selected to review was "Programming HTML5 Applications" by Zachary Kessin.

I enjoyed this book and learned a few interesting things along the way.  But I would tend to describe myself more as a JavaScript intermediate "user" more than a skilled JavaScript "programmer".  If you are an intermediate JavaScript user - this book will help you rise to the next level.  If you are already a skilled JavaScript programmer, I think you may find that there is not sufficient topical (HTML5) information in this book to justify your purchase.

Zachary Kessin has been involved with web development since the early 90's.  His experience as a working programmer shows clearly as he shares the lessons born from these experiences - this book doesn't read like a man page for JavaScript.  It reads like a talk from an experienced programmer sharing the tips of the trade - not only in terms of how - but also why you do things.  Overall this is good - but sometimes it seems like he slips into a shorthand way of describing things that takes a couple readings to decipher.

At 132 pages cover to cover, this is a short book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  You could probably make it shorter by skipping chapter one and ten - which really don't add much value to the experience in my opinion.  Chapter one is kind of a rehash of the history of the web with some focus on the evolution of development paradigms. In chapter ten, Zachary tries to look into his crystal ball and see the Internet of 2017.  Neither chapter is particularly relevant to the topic of programming HTML5 applications.  If you are already a skilled JavaScript programmer, you can probably similarly skip past chapters two through five without missing anything about HTML5 (although I found these chapters very useful - as they helped fill several gaps in my knowledge of JavaScript).

A better title for this book might be, "Modern JavaScript and HTML5."  Beginning in chapter two, the author takes the reader on a tour of "advanced" (my word) JavaScript methods, JQuery and ExtJS before discussing tools and methods for testing JavaScript.  I was aware of many of these topics at various levels previously, but the author does a good job of explaining them at a high level and why you would use them.  These chapters aren't really tutorials, but you get enough information to start exploring each area - which is probably how most of us learn JavaScript anyway.

From chapter six the book turns to HTML5 coverage beginning with a discussion about the LocalStorage APIs.  It goes on to offline applications, web workers and web sockets. It starts off as mostly similar content to what you would see in or similar sites, but where it shines is that the author ties these features to real-world examples and back to the topics he previously discussed (like ExtJS and JQuery).  Throughout most of the book, the examples reinforce the text pretty well, although they could be commented better in several cases.

I think the main problem I have with this book is what I mentioned earlier - the title of the book doesn't seem to mesh with the content as well as you might hope.  For a book titled "Programming HTML5 Applications", my expectations were totally different than the (pretty good) content that was in this book.  I think I expected that the book might take that familiar path of developing a non-trivial "HTML5 Application" teaching how to use the HTML5 APIs as it goes.  I would have liked that better.

So...  Would I recommend this book?  Probably not.  It was interesting.  I learned a few things (much from chapters two and three).  It was a good start.  I wouldn't mind looking at it again when it is finished - I might change my mind (a great effort on finishing chapters eight and nine would be a good start).  But the problem right now is that there is already so much of the sort of HTML5 information that this book provides - in a very similar format ("this is what is new - here's a snippit") - available for free at a number of great HTML5 sites (like "Dive into HTML5" as mentioned before.)

Note: This was my first "Early Release" book I've looked at.  Apparently, "Early Release" indicates that the book was released directly from the author without the benefit of a review by an editor.  I found the large number of typos, misspellings, unfinished sections, etc. in the text to be quite distracting. I've tried to look past this.  I think that early access is a great idea especially for fast moving domains like web development.  But if this sort of thing bugs you - you might want to wait for the normal release.

Disclosure: I was provided with a free PDF copy of this book by O'Reilly as a part of their "Blogger Review Program" program.  (

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