Review: Mastering Mac OS X

Mastering Mac OS X cover Here’s a handbook of everything Mac OS X from Sybex. Mastering Mac OS X by Todd Stauffer is in its second edition, updated for OS X v10.2 (Jaguar). Whether you are new to Mac, upgrading from Mac OS 9, already familiar with Mac OS X but have a specific question, or a power user from the Unix world, this book has the answer.

Explanations are clear and understandable. Of course, the new features of Jaguar are covered, such as using Sherlock 3, QuickTime 6, iChat and Address Book. But the book also details how to use Classic applications in just as much detail.

Setting up printers, managing fonts, configuring the Apache server, using the Terminal with Darwin command lines and networking with Windows and Unix machines – it’s in there.

Making PDFs, using the Finder, creating users, using key caps, firewalls, networking – it’s in there.

AppleScript, Unix shell scripting, adding CGI scripts – it’s in there.

There are troubleshooting tips, hardware maintenance tips, tips for managing Classic, and installation tips. The 800+ pages of this book have something for anyone who uses a Mac. Something well written, easy to understand, and immediately useable.

The author, Todd Stauffer, has written over 25 books, many on Mac topics. He is a contributor to MacAddict and runs a Web site called Mac-Upgrade.

Review: HTML for the World Wide Web with XHTML and CSS

From my perspective as a teacher of HTML, there has been no better book to use over the years than Elizabeth Castro’s HTML for the World Wide Web, a Visual Quickstart Guide from Peachpit Press. I have bought every new edition and have consistently found each one to be an improvement over the last. The 5th edition is now available and it is a new gem.

It is always a struggle to keep up in this business. The minute you learn something, it changes. Tags get deprecated, new standards appear, new functions materialize with amazing rapidity. Each new edition of HTML for the World Wide Web has helped me keep up with all this change.

This edition is not just a rewrite, but a whole new approach. It includes XHTML and CSS as the basic knowledge needed to create web pages. Something very interesting about the book’s approach is to take one file and work with it over and over again, applying various tags and styles to it. The page is transformed dozens of times beginning with basic plain vanilla and working through the HTML paces with images, lists, tables, forms, and so on until you end up with a slick and smart looking styled page. Each new chapter adds another basic piece of information to the mix and it is reflected in the example page.

There is more than just XHTML and CSS here. She includes quite a bit of information about using multimedia for sound and movies. There are cgi scripts to accompany the forms chapter and some JavaScripts for a few basic functions. A new chapter on character encoding and language is helpful for those who need to use character sets other than English, or want valid XHTML character encoding information.

As an acknowledgement to a past that won’t go away, Castro includes two chapters on how to layout and format text in what she clearly labels “the old way” using nested tables and font tags. The fact that these are Chapters 21 and 22 tells you how much her approach to HTML has changed since the 4th edition of the book.

There is even a chapter on Wireless Markup Language (WML) for mobile devices. HTML and WML are so closely related that the two are natural together, and it certainly makes sense to me as a teacher to help students learn to make their pages as usable in a mobile world as in a desktop world.

Castro rounds out the book with tips for search engine placement and appendices on XHTML properties and attributes, CSS properties and values, intrinsic events and hexidecimals.

I usually work with Dreamweaver and don’t hand code pages unless I’m teaching basic HTML these days. The site management tools save so much time and work. But I spend a good part of my time working in the code and not in the WYSIWYG window. Elizabeth Castro’s HTML for the World Wide Web is the book that keeps me going in the right direction with all jumping around in the code.

There are a few nitpicky problems with the book. There are some confusing typos, such as an example screen purporting to show how XHTML needs closing tags, but there are no closing tags in the example. She persists in using quotation marks in style declarations of font-family where they are not needed. (Quotes are needed in style declarations of fonts with whitespace in the name, such as Times Roman, but not in font names with no whitespace such as Helvetica. She has been using quotes in the last two editions for font names with no whitespace, which is an error that always has to be corrected when working with students.) But overall, I have to say that Liz Castro has hit the bullseye once again with her 5th edition.

Review: Dreamweaver MX Fireworks MX Savvy

book cover imageSure, Macromedia created all its Web tools to play well together, but from my perspective as a writer I would find it very challenging to write a book combining the use of two of Macromedia’s complex software tools.

Author Christian Crumlish met the challenge with success in Dreamweaver MX Fireworks MX Savvy from Sybex. This is the second book in the new Savvy series from Sybex that I have reviewed, and I must say that the Savvy series has impressed me mightily so far.

Dreamweaver MX Fireworks MX Savvy is aimed at users of all experience levels. The book does not walk you through each feature of each tool in an attempt to give you every nuance about both Dreamweaver MX and Fireworks MX. Instead, Crumlish takes an approach that matches real-world work flow. This work-oriented approach starts in Dreamweaver with planning and setup, moves into Fireworks for graphic creation, and then back to Dreamweaver to build the site. A simplified listing of the tasks covered in order is:

  1. Set up the workspace
  2. Learn templates and libraries
  3. Produce graphics
  4. Build basic pages and apply CSS
  5. Add interactive elements and multimedia
  6. Add e-commerce and database functions
  7. Add web services and .NET
  8. Set up security and administration
  9. Test and publish

There are over 600 pages of in-depth information, project and tutorial files on an accompanying CD, useful appendices, and a generous helping of other resources in the book’s 32 chapters. In keeping with the site-building approach, the book includes information about such matters as site maintenance after the launch, cleaning up an existing site, meeting accessibility guidelines, CGI, Cold Fusion, and customizing Dreamweaver.

Crumlish has written 15 other computer books. He has taught Web design at the university level. (This book would be an excellent text book for a Web design class.)

Review: Dreamweaver MX: Design and Technique

Another good new book from Sybex, Dreamweaver MX: Design and Technique, written by Ethan Watrall, is aimed at beginning to intermediate Dreamweaver users.

Dreamweaver MX: Design and Technique book coverThe book explains Macromedia Dreamweaver MX using text and illustrations. The accompanying CD contains hands-on files for use with a couple of chapters dealing with connecting to a database and adding dynamic content from a database to a Web page. Otherwise the learner is strictly studying the text and illustrations to master the software. This approach is perfect for someone who has a project already in mind and wants to look up various techniques as they apply to their own needs. With or without a hands-on activity, the chapters and explanations are clearly (and rather too chattily) written.

My chief gripe about the new Dreamweaver MX is that it retained the font tag options right there on the top of the properties panel. Macromedia did put a toggle on the properties panel so the user could select CSS classes instead of font tags in MX, but I was hoping to see the priority given to font tags on the properties panel go away completely.

My chief gripe about Dreamweaver books is that they teach the font tags and the Page Properties including bgcolor and other deprecated tags in the first chapters of the book. I assume they do this because they are hesitant about using CSS or because the font tags are right there on the properties panel and look like the expected way to manipulate text. This book is no different in that respect. Other than explaining how to set up a site and save a page, the first instruction the reader gets is in the use of deprecated tags. This book finally gets to style sheets in Part III: Working with Dynamic HTML, which the author takes on after a thorough discussion of Intermediate Dreamweaver techniques in Part II.

There is a nod to the art of Web design with an overview of the topic at the beginning of the book and Design Reminders and Design Inspiration features in every chapter. The book includes a full color Gallery of inspirational Web sites near the beginning of the book.

Because the Windows version of Dreamweaver MX has capabilities not available on the Macintosh version, Watrall chose to use mostly Windows screen shots in the book. This should not hamper a Mac user in getting the good from the book in any way, however.

Features new to MX are clearly marked with an MX icon, a nice touch for the more experienced Dreamweaver users navigating the book. I, for example, was attracted by the new to MX icon to the terrific new Insert Hyperlink popup panel accessibility options. These are new options in Dreamweaver MX, available only under the Insert drop down menu. Using Browse for File or Point to File, as in Dreamweaver 4, does not reveal this panel with accessibility options for hyperlinks.

Watrall has written two other books for Sybex: Dreamweaver 4 / Fireworks 4 Visual JumpStart and Flash MX Savvy. He is an instructor at Ivy Tech State College in Indiana.

Review: Photoshop 7 Savvy

If Photoshop 7 Savvy from Sybex is an example of the quality we can expect from the new Savvy series, then a new standard in hands-on tutorial publications in graphics and Web books has been set. This book raises the bar.

Photoshop 7 Savvy
Author Steve Romaniello wrote Sybex’s interactive Photoshop 6 Learning Studio and is CEO of GlobalEye Systems, a software training company. He teaches at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. Photoshop 7 Savvy is the second in the new Savvy series. The first was Flash MX Savvy.

The book includes everything we have come to expect from a hands-on tutorial book, but it goes beyond what other books provide. There is the requisite CD with project files and software samples for the hands-on exercises. The lessons are well thought out and step users through the exercises in a series of perfectly clear operations. The section of the book called “Photoshop Core” takes the student through the basics of working in Photoshop. There is an entire section on color. There are chapters on photo retouching, Image Ready, and digital video. There are four Appendices which describe the tools, file formats, blending modes and quick keys. And there is a plain English Glossary that explains terms such as “dot gain” and “one-quarter tone.” There is a 32 page color section with color-oriented material from each of the chapters so users can see the images in full color.

If you are an experienced Photoshop user, the book makes it easy to find features new to Photoshop 7 by placing an icon in the margin next to each new function. It is easy to flip through the pages and find new Photoshop features such as the wonderful File Browser.

In addition to the practical step by step exercises, there is also information about theory, history, and design that enhance the learning experience. The writer gives you more. In Hands On 3: Painting, Paths and History, I worked through step by step to give the tutorials a try. The exercise involved painting and highlighting a sea horse, adding some texture, using paths to add an eye and adding an ocean background with patterns and some shapes with Photoshop’s Patterns and Custom Shapes tool. I appreciated the ease with which I could follow the steps and the helpful diagrams and illustrations. I especially liked the occasional extra tidbit that added to my knowledge even though it wasn’t strictly necessary for me to follow the steps. For example, this step, “Choose a medium-sized soft brush. Set the mode to Overlay so that when the texture is applied with the brush, it will overlay the color of the sea horse, blending it rather than just painting in the grayscale texture.” Many books would have stopped with, “Set the mode to Overlay.” In addition to completing the step by step exercise, I also learned something about how Overlay mode works. This kind of bonus material is everywhere.

Photoshop 7 Savvy is part training manual, part reference and part inspiration. I absolutely recommend it.