Review: Developing With Web Standards

January 15, 2011 Mark Casias

A Community Member Book Review — 2.5 stars

Developing With Web StandardsA review by Mark Casias of Developing With Web Standards

I learned something about myself this year. I learned that I don't own a blue beanie. I never promised that this was going to be a ground breaking discovery, just something I learned.

The reason I bring this up is, as you may know, November 30 is the International Blue Beanie Day in support of web standards. On this day, web nerds from across the world should don a blue toque and remember the importance of developing websites using the designated standards.

Since I don't own such a magical helmet, I showed my support this year by reading Developing with Web Standards by John Allsopp. Another "Voices that Matter" series book by New Riders, the book focuses on the client side development of a web site. This means it concentrates on the aspects of web development that touch the web browsers, and more importantly, the part that the end user sees.

The book is focused towards people who already understand the underlying principals of web development, so it won't be much use to your aunt who is trying learn how to build that knitting website, or your typical Dreamweaver user. It also won't be the quick reference for developers who need a quick reminder of the detail that is eluding them, and forgot how to use Google.

Section One

As most tech books out there, Developing with Web Standards (DwWS) is broken down into sections. The first section touches on the roots of standards in web development. This section has the most meat on it and, out of the three hundred ninety pages of the book, it envelopes almost half of them. The section nicely points out the proverbial stone tablets where the standards are written. Of course most folks know that the majority of these stone tablets are, in fact, still in draft form, but it is where the standards are defined so it can be considered the proper source.

In the early pages of this section there is a great argument as to why anyone should even care about the standards we are learning. If you are just going to buy this book to add it to your impressive library, at least read this section of the book.

The first section also dives into some basic HTML syntax and techniques that are great refreshers. The chapter on web accessibility is very well detailed and has great explanations as to why it is important to keep accessibility in mind when developing. It's a far better explanation than my de-facto "cause it needs to be done," so you will probably get a lot more out of reading this section than talking to me about it.

Additionally, the first section dives into the intricacies of CSS and the importance of separating your content from presentation when creating your web application. Finally, this section addresses the differences between the various web browsers and how important it is to consider all browsers when developing.

Section Two

Section two, REAL-WORLD WEB DEVELOPMENT, drives home the final portions of section one by showing some use cases of cross browsers CSS layouts. The section brings up the importance of making sure your site will gracefully degrade when a feature is not available in older, less cooperative browsers. As well it brings up the fact that web sites will look different between browsers, and the world should just get used to it (mainly projects managers should get used to it).

With that in mind, it also address looking for browser features instead of using the typical ‘browser-sniffing' techniques that were so popular. Section two also introduces some ideas and techniques for CSS based layouts and addresses using CSS resets to keep web browsers from throwing a wrench in your design.

Section Three

The final section, Real-World Development, shouldn't be confused with section two because it uses capitalization instead of caps lock in the title.

Plus this section is focused on the newer technologies that are coming out. The new CSS3 specification is detailed in this section and, with that, there are many new concepts that are documented. The addition of web fonts with @font-face opens up many creative facets that couldn't be explored without using images, and this is the first print book I've seen that details the process.

Also new with CSS3 is the ability to embed media into a website without using Adobe's Flash. A lot of what is covered in this section have not become actual standards because where as the specification has been define, not all browsers have implemented these abilities, yet. Of course that's where the reader should be running back to caps lock land, or section two, to read over the section of feature detection again.

Overall …

I enjoyed the book. It was a well-written book that flowed quickly and it did cover a lot of information that I am interested in. However, there are a few things that I noticed which makes it difficult for me to recommend it.

One of my main irritants is that this book suggests that if there are any questions about the content, one should go to their website to get involved in "the community" of web standards. With that statement I was expecting a forum or something where the book could be discussed. Instead, there are the links he used to reference in his book. This does turn out to be a very good resource, however, that is not much of a community to me.

Also I was hoping to see some sort of errata for the flaws that made it into the book. I do not want to bad mouth the technical editor of the book, as I don't know him, however there are a few irregularities that are very basic and should have been corrected before the book went into print. I get that mistakes happen, but once you see those flaws, it makes it difficult to take the book as a solid reference.


Summary: There are some good parts of the book, mainly the sections where they discuss philosophies and techniques one might want to implement in their web developing life. If you are looking for a reference guide, however, I would stick to your friend, the Google search bar.

Annotated review posted on Amazon.