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HTML5: Up and Running Paperback – Aug 27 2010
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Dive into the Future of Web Development
About the Author
Mark Pilgrim works as a developer advocate for Google, specializing inopen source and open standards. You may remember him from such classics as Greasemonkey Hacks (O'Reilly), Dive Into Python (Apress), and Dive Into Python 3 (APress). He lives in North Carolina with his wife, two boys, and a big slobbery dog.
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That being said: why do people buy a book on HTML5? Some would like to have a good in-depth reference on the ins and outs of the new language. Well now - that's not this book. Others might be new to web development and think learning HTML5 would be a good starting point. While they are right that HTML (5 or 4) is the place to start, this book surely isn't.
There's some depth when it comes to background, but much less when it comes to HTML5 itself or how to use it. True, the <canvas> tag and geolocation are covered pretty much in detail, but the author made some hard to defend choices in spending his paper estate.
HTML5 gives us no more than a handful of new tags, still some of those (<mark> and <section>, for example) are simply mentioned once and that's that. No examples, no advise on where to use them, nothing on browser support. Yet the book takes five pages at the start to tell the story of how the img-tag came into being some 15 years ago. Again, mildly amusing, but probably not the reason you are thinking of buying this book.
Another example: there are 10 pages with a primer on audio and video codecs, plus another 19 (!) detailed pages (with lots of screen shots) on how to use a number of specific and probably soon outdated software tools to encode video for the web. All fine for those who are completely new to video encoding and believe a book on HTML5 should be the starting point for that. But when it comes to the actual <video> tag (under the aptly named heading "At Last, the Markup"), this consists of a meager 3 pages that include a statement like this:
"The <video> element has methods like play() and pause()".
Huh? "Methods like"? So which other methods are there? And how and where would I use them? Are these standardized across browsers? Where can I find more about them? Any example, maybe?
If you think these are the kind of questions a book on HTML5 should answer, you are out of luck. The above sentence is all the information on this particular topic you are going to get. Not a word about implementing these methods, or on how to style the browsers' native video controllers that come with HTML5 support. There are a good number of external references for information on things like Unicode, codecs and video containers, and some useful scripts, but not a word on how we can get the information on how to control and style the <video> tag. Maybe the logical conclusion would be: in another book on HTML5, perhaps?
This is good, because the history of HTML has not been a smooth, step-by-step process. Different releases of different browsers have adopted different features of different specs at different times. I can personally recall rejoicing, back in the 90s, when both IE and Netscape finally implemented support for HTML tables. So it's no wonder that the second chapter dives into methods for detecting whether or not a user's browser supports certain HTML5 features.
If the first chapter was boring, the second is discouraging. First he shows how to check if Canvas is even supported. But once that's determined, you have to check if all the features of Canvas are supported. Moving on to the Video tag, even when that is supported, video format support varies across browsers. Basically, in these early days of HTML 5 support, it's like touring the United States early in the 20th century. Flush toilets and electric lights took longer to come to some areas than others.
After the third chapter started breaking down some of the new tags and how they affect the DOM, my eyes were good and glazed. This book is more discussion than documentation. If it was a car repair manual, instead of merely showing you the steps for changing the oil on your Honda, it would give you the history of the internal combustion engine, then detail different kinds of lubrication systems.
In short, there's a lot of valuable information in this book. Mark Pilgrim is no slouch on technical know-how or understanding of his topic. I just find the manner of presentation to be organized in such a way that I don't feel I have quick access to the information I want or that the available path to acquiring that knowledge is optimal. It's short on lab, long on lecture, and isn't something I'd make part of my permanent library.
The subject of the book is of special interest to those of us making a living from our ability to understand and implement aspects of Web technology. HTML 5 is not our present but there are plenty of very smart people working diligently to make it our future.
This "up and running" series book has lots of code samples but, really, don't pick the book up for that reason. This is a book that does the right thing -- it communicates the *context* of changing Web markup. The author concentrates on the multitude of "WHY's" behind HTML 5. It is an effective advocacy work. Intelligent advocacy is precisely what is needed at this juncture.
This book takes us through a re-examination of Web markup as we know it. We get a chance to inspect things from a different angle not quite visible in our normal work day. That is why Pilgrim's book has value way beyond the code snippets. Daily practice is yet to come. Understanding can begin right now.
My main interest in HTML5 arises because the iPhone and iPad don't support either flash or java. Flash is often used for video, but that can be done via QuickTime and WindowsMedia and I've never needed flash for video. Flash can also produce elaborate simulations or games that interact with users and are not video based. So can Java. But both are excluded on the iOS operating system. The only alternative for web developers is the canvas element in HTML5. Pilgrim gives this important element only basic coverage: He shows how to draw a static graph (including axes and labeled points). He shows how to add images, and creates a simple mouse-driven game. But he does not show the full code for the game -- you have to go online to access that. This is the simplest form of interaction and Pilgrim does not cover anything more advanced. I have no idea if the canvas is double-buffered or if we have to do that somehow in our code, for example. Also left out is any mention of animating a canvas over time. Most of what Pilgrim does with the canvas element could be done with static gifs: The game he implements would be EASIER using html4 with tables.
Pilgrim does present a useful discussion of different video codecs in HTML5 and the challenge of working in this developing world. I have been using H.264 recently because I thought it was an open standard and is available on the iPhone and iPad. However, Pilgrim makes it clear that if I ever "go commercial" with my work, I'll have to pay some serious royalties to the patent owners for the next 20 years or so. The WebM and Theora+Ogg systems don't require any royalty payments, but neither do they work on the iPhone or iPad. (Making advanced material available on the iOS within the web is a tremendous challenge for developers these days!)
In his discussion of the new semantic tags, Pilgrim didn't bother with even a single screenshot of the resulting web page, nor did he contrast different HTML4/HTML5 alternatives. More detail is apparently available in the online version, but that presents its own set of challenges: The online edition is only free for 45 days. After that, you have to buy a subscription.
The publisher for this book is O'Reilly, one of my favorite publishers of computer books. But the cover also states "Google (tm) Press." I felt the ghostly fingers of Google (tm) running through the book. I certainly like the company, but I found the emphasis and the tone to be quite favorable to my favorite search engine -- not as unbiased and objective as I felt it should be.
In summary: The coverage of new features is thin, especially with the canvas element. Helpful illustrations are missing (though available for a short time in the online edition). Code is missing (though available free for a short time in the online edition). The alpine chamois on the cover should have been drawn in a more gaunt form and perhaps with a cast on a leg or two: HTML5 is not up and running, it is thin and limping.
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