I like the cookbook format myself in situations like this. I’m already familiar with HTML but I want to learn about the new features that exist in HTML5. This means I’m not nearly as interested in explanations, especially in the basics, as I am in getting a big diff on the languages with lots of examples and only as much explanation as necessary. Though the trick for authors is to walk the fine line between too much explanation and not enough. If they get too wordy, it really isn’t a cook book any more. Not enough explanation and it can become difficult to understand all the issues that come to bear with an example. This is especially true when dealing with something that is new and still in development.
“HTM5 Developer’s Cookbook” walks this line well. Hudson and Leadbetter have organized the recipes into various categories and further labeled them with a level of difficulty. Recipes are marked as beginner, intermediate and advanced. I found the labels helpful because while I’ve mucked about with HTML and its corresponding tech, I felt more comfortable easing in on the beginner end first. If I were working with someone who was a true beginner to working with any kind of development, I would probably not start them off with a cook-book. I think that is especially the case here because so much of HTML is not covered. This is not an exhaustive resource on HTML but rather a set of explanations and examples on what is new or different in this latest version of HTML.
The book itself begins with a quick review of how we got to where we are, a bit of HTML history. The chapters follow this pattern, starting with some history where needed and an explanation of the new technology driving the examples that are to follow. Then there are the recipes themselves, followed up by any helpful information and a summary. There’s more prose than I’ve seen in many other cook-books but in this case I didn’t see it as a negative. The authors assume that readers are familiar with the old approach and they need to explain how the new approach is different. In some cases tags have changed meaning, this needs to be spelled out.
Hudson and Leadbetter deal with handling how various browsers support (or don’t) the various aspects of HTML5 that they highlight. This is especially important as everything is still in flux. Though if past history is any indicator, even if the spec were completely nailed down, there would still be differences between browsers. This does bring up an important question though. This book has a definite shelf life. As HTML5 continues to develop there are many parts that may become inaccurate. This is true of most tech books, but doubly so in this case. If someone is looking for a timeless tome on the topic, this wouldn’t be it. In my case, it’s a timely resource to get up to speed quickly, from a single source that I trust. I can search the web and find a mixed bag or turn to this one spot to get quickly up to speed.
I had an electronic version of the book made available from the publisher for this review. I’ve found that format to be very helpful in this case. It keeps me from feeling at all guilty about buying a book with such a narrow window of usefulness. I also really enjoy being able to jump straight to recipes. There is a list of just the recipes at the end of the book that are linked directly to each that make this especially easy. I’m rapidly moving away from dead tree books, and I didn’t feel any reason here to miss that format. (On a side note, I got the page count above from Amazon. I wonder what metric we’ll be using to judge book size in the future? Word count?)
All of the chapter titles and recipes are available on line. From new structural elements to integrating with devices, there are plenty of practical and useful examples. I couldn’t find a clear statement in the text of the book on readers being given the freedom to use the recipes directly in code. This surprised me so I checked with the publisher and they told me that all code is free to use. Maybe that is not necessary here because everything shown is just an example of following the specification, but given the current climate with regards to intellectual property I wanted to be sure.
I’ve rated the book 9 out of 10 due to the fact that I think the authors do a great job of not wasting my time but instead quickly deliver what I need. If you want to get a feel for what is up with HTML5 yourself, I recommend this as a great option. If you are interested in a more comprehensive review of HTML in general or how to create web pages, I would find something more suited to providing an introduction to web programming."