Book review: HTML & XHTML, O'Reilly

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original in en Miguel A Sepulveda

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Miguel Angel is the "retired" LinuxFocus founder. This lucky man now works for Disney cooperation.

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Authors: Chuck Musciano & Bill Kennedy
Publisher: O'Reilly

A few months ago, when I decided to get an update on HTML 4.0 and the new exciting features of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and XHTML, my first goal was to find a nice reference book on the subject. Since I already had some prior knowledge of HTML 3.0, I wanted something that would go straight to the point but at the same time be exhaustive on the topics.

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The book

It is hard to find good books on popular subjects like this mainly because there are too many bad books. I tried to stay away from those "bibles" of more than thousand pages, most of which wasted in useless tables and pointless pictures.

As always O'Reilly didn't disappoint me by bringing to us "HTML & XHTML" by Chuck Musciano and Bill Kenney. It is a readable, fast moving and compact book. Those of us with the need for a good reference book certainly appreciate this one. It is also accompanied by a great foldable reference card three pages in size. The reference card comes very handy for reviewing the syntax and options of the various HTML and XHTML tags.

The authors use the first seven chapters to tour the reader through the origins of the web, and HTML. They describe all the tags very effectively without losing site of what is really important for the reader who wants to write HTML documents. Again and again, Musciano and Kennedy emphasize a point often missed by novices, that HTML is a markup language developed to format content and not form. I have personally witnessed the difficulties people coming from the desktop publishing world have trying to force HTML to work as a typesetting language. It just doesn't work because it was not designed with that objective in mind. Musciano et al are very good at explaining the origins of HTML and making the reader understand its limitations. It also seems to me that they like the point of view of emphasizing content over form, so that it is up to the browser to format and present the document as it seems appropriate.

Now passing from HTML 3.0 or older to HTML 4.01 is tricky, specially because it seems every major provider of web browsers out there has decided to implement some and omit parts of the standard. There are also many third party extensions to HTML that add complexity to the mix. In this book I had not much problem following what is old HTML and what is new in 4.01. Also the reader will find a list of popular HTML extensions found in the two most widely used browsers nowadays: Netscape and Explorer.

As mentioned above, HTML was not designed with document style formatting in mind. It was developed mainly by scientists to facilitate the sharing of knowledge through a local network. In any case at the present time the applications of HTML have far exceeded the expectations of its original designers. For this reason the W3C (Organisation in charge of the HTML standard) added to HTML 4.0, Cascading Style Sheets. Chapter 8 in the book give us a very easy to understand primer on the use of these new features. It shows how to use styles for the formating of text. Hopefully CSS will help close the gap left by HTML and typesetting languages.

synopsis of the book

Title HTML & XHTML The Definitive Guide
(4th Edition)

Authors Chuck Musciano & Bill Kennedy

Chapter1 HTML, XHTML and the World Wide Web
Chapter2 Quick Start
Chapter3 Anatomy of an HTML document
Chapter4 Text Basics
Chapter5 Rules, Images and Multimedia
Chapter6 Links and Webs
Chapter7 Formatted lists
Chapter8 Cascading Style Sheets
Chapter9 Forms
Chapter10 Tables
Chapter11 Frames
Chapter12 Executable Content
Chapter13 Dynamic Documents
Chapter14 Netscape Layout Extensions
Chapter15 XML
Chapter16 XHTML
Chapter17 Tips, Tricks and Hacks
Appendix A HTML Grammar
Appendix B HTML/XHTML Tag Quick Reference
Appendix C Cascading Style Sheet Properties Quick Reference
Appendix D The HTML 4.01 DTD
Appendix E The XHTML 4.01 DTD
Appendix F Character Entities
Appendix G Color Names and Values