Re: Good Book/Document?
Tue, 25 Apr 1995 12:39:35 +0500

Just a note on HTML books....
thre are lots of them.

Scan through the book before you buy it:
* if it talks about HTML+ or HTML Plus as if it's something real and current,
don't buy the book -- it's a year out of date. HTML+ is dead, and
was replaced (notionally) last June with HTML 3.

* if it makes you learn the low-level syntax without discussing the
alternatives, such as GUI-based HTML editors, look at other books;
this in itself isn't a cause to reject a book, but you should be aware
of other approaches to learning that are easier for some people.

* if it describes tags (<P> etc.) as `formatting codes' or `commands', be
wary; it may be doing this for pedagogical reasons, but if it doesn't
get beyond this terminology quickly, it might also be because the author
was seriously confused about HTML. There are such books...

I generally recommend the WWW Unleashed book (with a gold, red and black
cover); if you are running a server, also look for Andrew Ford's book,
which has the advantage of being almost completely devoid of fluff -- it's
thin, and has a high signal:noise ratio...

We make an editor called HoTMetaL, so we look at most of the books to
see if they mention us. Most do. From the point of view of learning
HTML, obviously a book doesn't have to mention our product (!!!), but
it should discuss the editors that do the actual tagging for you.
There are only two or three HTML editors you can use without having to know
anything much about HTML syntax, as far as I can tell, and still get
everything done, and two of them came out too recently to be in most books.

A good book will discuss
* how to get & use the HTML editors (HoTMetaL PRO, Internet Assistant,
SGI WebMagic, Quarterdeck's, Grif's, perhaps others, e.g. Alpha on the Mac)

* the different approaches to working with HTML

* what SGML validation means (in a very broad/rough way) and why it is
useful to create documents that conform to the HTML 2 draft

* the actual HTML syntax, although this might be in an appendix. If you are
a programmer, or at least write shell script or MS/DOS BAT files or
perl execrences :-), you'll want this information so that you can
write scripts that generate HTML, e.g. from database output.

I have even seen a book that claims `learn HTML in a week'.
The way they teach it, it probably will take that long, but you shoud be
able to get useful work done in the first day.

In a HoTMetaL PRO course (sorry for the plug) people are able to make
their own pages, that work first time, with links and inline images,
after a couple of hours.

Now, learning HTML itself is straight forward, but the issues around it
are not.

* interaction with infrastructure:
* how ISMAP, ISINDEX and HTML forms work, and how they communicate
with the http server
* server side includes, and access counts (you are the 12th person to
read this document in the last five minutes, you win a free extra byte!)
* the relationship between HTML, the borwser, the server, and MIME
* ``helper apps'' such as Acrobat for PostScript/PDF and SoftQuad Panorama
for SGML (no books will talk in detail about SoftQuad Panorama yet,
although it's occasionally mentioned, but some do talk about Adobe
Acrobat; there will be other such apps soon, that use the API to talk
to Mosaic directly)

* performance issues
* the effects of caching --
use the same URL for a bitmap, don't copy it, etc.
* size of bitmaps
* how to do thumbnails
* document size, tables of contents & chunking

* other information formats and protocols
* netnews found on Usenet
* gopher
* ftp
* e-mail

* cultural issues
* `nettiquette'
* announcing your server to the world
* common idioms
* coloured bullets, how to do them & why not to
* icon bars (and performance)

and so it goes on.

Still, as I said above, the WWW Unleashed is a good start, and if you
combine this with the Yale style guide (ignoring any Netscape-specific
stuff in there), you'll be in good shape.

Yale C/AIM WWW Style Manual