Monthly Archives: November 2013

Review: The Truth About HTML5 eBook

Book Review on The Truth About HTML5 by Luke Stevens article header title image.

Book Cover Image © Luke Stevens – used here only for visual informational purposes.

I have a number of e-newsletters that drop random bits of awesome into my inbox. From the website MightyDeals.com, I found this little gem. Written by Luke Stevens, “The Truth About HTML5: for Web Designers” comes in two formats – as an ebook (kindle, epub, and pdf formats are available in the download) or paperback. It is a self-proclaimed critical review of HTML5 (per the spec and not the extra bells and whistles of CSS3 and JQuery), touching on why it does what it does, why it doesn’t do what some people think, and how we can use it to benefit our clients.

I love the web design community because it’s filled with smart, excitable, curious, opinionated folk who will call you on your BS. This is an opinionated book, not a dry explanation of the technology, and I’ll be stating my views pretty strongly. I look forward to you doing the same. Passionate, considered debate makes us all smarter. So please, write it up on your blog, send me happy/sad/angry emails (luke@itsninja.com), talk to me on Twitter (@lukestevens), or whatever you like. I look forward to the discussion.

~ Luke Stevens. The Truth About HTML5 (For Web Designers). Indie Digital Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

So, I shall take up the challenge. Beware Mr. Stevens, I am quite opinionated!

The Short Of It

1. This book is not a text book, nor is it for beginners. It seems written for those who have been following the trends and evolution of web design, the markup behind it, and the web-politics that drive some of it.

2. Opinionated doesn’t touch how many “conversational rants” are embedded into its pages. The sections within the chapters are short and to the point, but can sometimes over lap previous gripes and arguments. Again, this points to a more “conversation” book rather then a “text book”.

3. Educated and well researched. Most of the points Mr. Stevens broaches are documented through urls linking to various articles and documents from a wide number of resources. It made me wonder how book research has been so thoroughly replaced by internet research – and just how expansive our ‘net really is, when you think about it. Thought provoking.

4. Enjoyable if you like books written more as the author speaking to you, then a more traditional text-book, or informational article. Downright funny as well!

5. I endorse picking up a copy of it, if only to get your teeth into some of the less know and less understood aspects of where HTML5 was born, who came up with it, and some nit picky details about the specs. Good Read.

6. Although it provoked a few negative knee-jerk reactions in me, personally I found it to be a challenge to my world view. After reading through it more, I came to better understand his points. I may not agree with them all (due to various non-web-design business related experiences under my belt), but I was glad to have his points to review my ideals against.


Overview

First, the way this book is written is more like listening to a conversation then reading a technical, educational, how-to manual. Often books that go into code and design can be rather stale or they lack a personality, because these books are written to pass on as much information as possible about a topic that can often be very complex. You know the type; “text books”.

So, some people may find this style of writing hard to read. Their expectations of this book may derive from the area of “it’s about HTML5, so it should be more dry”. If you are looking for something more like a Visual QuickStart Guide that is very “text-book”-like – go purchase a Visual QuickStart Guide instead.

So, from that aspect of it, I do not believe this is a book for beginners just wetting their toes in creating web sites. It’s better suited to those who have been following the trends, or have already a good solid understanding of the code itself. It is more thought provoking. Now, don’t get me wrong. It does educate, in terms of bringing to light some aspects that many designers and developers may not have realized at first glance. However it is my opinion that it is just not something for newbies who have never really crunched code before now.

Indeed, this particular book is different by and far. For example:

Shea’s view was a popular one at the time, and certainly reasonable given our faith in the experts in the W3C. But we never made it to XMListan. The car ran out of gas, the wheels fell off, and the engine exploded about two blocks down the road.

~ Luke Stevens. The Truth About HTML5 (For Web Designers) (Kindle Locations 99-101). Indie Digital Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

The wheels fell off… Heh-heh.

Speaking of Exploding…

Although it does offer information about HTML5, it’s tags, and specs, it discusses them. In some places the author rants about them as he points out some lesser known issues with how HTML5 is being spec’d out.

It also discusses a lot of the more widely accepted (and thus written about) “best practices” that may in fact not be truly best for designers to adopt. This made me sit up and wonder. “Best practices” are there to help unify, simplify, and keep things tidy, right? After reading his commentary about these so-called best practices I started to wonder about them myself.

There is a lot in this book that I found myself either nodding along with laughing all the while, or growling in the author’s general direction as I disagreed with some of his points.

So, if you are into a more thought provoking, conversational style writing perhaps picking up a copy for yourself is a good idea. Just beware, it may challenge your personal ideas, ideals, and previous beliefs about what HTML5 is really all about.

So as an educational book – it may be a bit too biased. As a conversational book that educates – it does it’s job well.



Personal Points of Interest

As he goes on to talk about the history of HTML, XML, XHTML, and on, I get a glimpse of some forgotten (and for good reasons!) memories of my college days. The lure of the internet beckoned to me and I self-taught in the early days of HTML 4, just so I could have a website about dragons! Yes, dragons. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

I do remember the kerfuffle over the XHTML 2.0, and looking over the specs at the W3C made me want to weep. I liked the idea behind it. I liked the organization it offered. However, like many others also thought, it was too abstract and too over-the-top to be really useful. The idea that XHTML 2.0 wasn’t backwards compatible reminds me greatly of “the levels of stupid” involved with the game console wars.

Say what? Let me clarify the analogy. There are functional websites out there that may never see the light of a revisionist hands, because they are “good enough”. (Just like some of my favorite games.) However, the push for better code means that some code gets left behind, also know as depreciation, (old consoles being replaced with “newer” and “better”). So eventually you are left with games you cannot play, unless you have a computer with an emulator….even then it’s not the same. Eventually the console breaks down (just as the depreciated code is eventually no longer supported by browsers), and you are left with functional games, but no way to use (view) them the way they were originally designed. A website that hasn’t been touched since the early days of html, may just not work anymore. It /breaks/ in the browser.

What did I take from XHTML 2.0? A desire for neater, cleaner, more efficient code. That’s when I discovered CSS.

Now, he presses on a point I don’t entirely agree with. Call it a “Supply and Demand” perspective, wherein the end user is the one that drives the browser wars. However, I see it from a slightly different angle. If there is NO supply, the end user will complain – but not to us designers. They will complain either to the company that put together their computer, and thus to the browser makers. Or they will go after the company who owns the website itself.

I was “raised” in the “Add a disclaimer to the bottom of your websites – “this looks better in x browser of x version”. I’ve always been in the group of “screw the browser” designers. If the browser doesn’t stick to the specs offered by the W3C, I find a minor work around and go about my day. I can choose not to use a given browser, code to suit the non-spec browsers, and note the visitors to use “x-browser type and version for best effect”. In fact many sites, even governmental ones, have thrown me pop-ups stating that my browser “wasn’t good enough”, and to use “x-browser type” instead just to avoid “issues”. This has often lead to the back and forth of browsers trying to catch up with each other. Well.., except IE.

But then, I despise IE. With a passion that makes lava look cool to the touch, I dislike how clunky and slow IE is for general web use.

So though I do understand his point, I do not agree. The browser makers do not control design, they create a program that displays the design. Like the creation of GIMP, someone, somewhere is going to have a fit and look for someone else to create something that suits their needs, wants, or desires. This is the basic concept behind supply and demand as I understand it.

I’ve had too many years behind the retail lash. I have a good handle on how many of these bigger companies like to pretend to think and what they really do believe -or at least how they enact their “ideals” in reality. Money moves mountains for these groups, and where is the money? In the pockets of the general consumer. So, although the mega-corporations out there like to think they control things, ultimately it’s the customers that do.

The mega-corporations want to make a profit, they cannot do that if people won’t buy their products. You can only con a group of people to think they NEED what you make for so long before they wise up. Yes, sometimes that mass-enlightenment doesn’t happen right away, however in my experience it does eventually happen.

When given a choice they will do just that – choose. This is why Firefox got so popular, and then Chrome. Opera is used as well, but it’s not as prevalent with the general public as the other two. But what about IE? Microsoft tries to leverage it’s power by forcing the user to use the pre-installed browser on machines that have Microsoft’s OS pre-installed. This is what is general available for the general consumers to buy. Seriously, go look at any major retail chain and see how many Linux or Unix boxes are out there next to an Apple OS computer or a Microsoft OS computer. The only competition you see is Apple versus Microsoft.

However, net-savvy folks know they have choices available. If their sites are going to look better in a different browser, they will eventually install that browser. Those who are not net savy often have a friend or relative (even kids, yes) that are more net savy, and will install the better browser. It’s just a matter of time.

This is where the designers muscle lay, in terms of guiding both the consumer and the browser creators both. How? We make things look good. Humans are visual creatures and like things that look good. If something doesn’t look good in one browser, we do have our options. If, for the browser makers, complaints won’t budge them into complying, we can choose just not to use their products. This hurts their pockets. If, in terms of consumers, they aren’t getting the experience we are offering them, we can tell them about other ways to enjoy that experience.

However, we cannot force the issue on the end users. People just don’t like that. So as designers we need to find ways to show them without pushing them. How? Simply code around the non-compliant browser, tell them it looks better in “x browser” with a link to download that browser, and then just let them choose. This endears people to you, when you give them that freedom to choose. Some may not follow suit, but others will and that will be passed by word of mouth. It’s an idea rooted in niche marketing, to be honest.

Note, as a designer I have the major players installed on my machine and hop back and forth as a user and a designer. I despise IE even though I use a Microsoft OS run PC primarily. I used to dislike Netscape, but IE has over taken my dislike levels. I’m not the only one either. As a designer, it’s crippling, backwards, and so “last century”. With the mobile market on the up swing, and with more and more people (kids included) becoming more net-savvy, Microsoft will have to get with it or loose out to other browser makers.

Supply and Demand.


Purchase the special priced eBook here: >The Truth About Html5 by Luke Stevens< from MightyDeals.com

However if you’ve missed that deal you can still grab a copy of it from Amazon.com the physical book here: >The Truth About HTML5 [Paperback] by Luke Stevens< or the eBook here: >The Truth About HTML5 [eBook] by Luke Stevens<

Find the author on Twitter: >Luke Stevens<

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