REVIEW - Webmaster in a Nutshell


Webmaster in a Nutshell


Stephen Spainhour, Robert Eckstein



O'Reilly (2003)




Christopher Hill


April 2004



Following a previous Highly Recommended review I would like to issue a word of warning.

This third edition is dated 2003; the second edition came out in 1999. To quote from the preface "What was relevant when we did the second edition in 1999 is still relevant today". Well I am not so sure. I have the impression that this is little more than a reprint, with a revised preface and few other minor changes, which makes this quite a dated book.

Chapter 3 the HTML reference talks of the "new" HTML 4.01 specification, and urges caution in using the advanced table elements (THEAD TBODY and TFOOT as "the latest browsers do not support them". This may have been true in 1999, but is no longer applicable in 2003. The chapter also does not indicate which elements are standard, and those that are vendor specific (i.e. MARQUEE and MULTICOL to pick two at random); nor is there any indication of deprecated elements. I also found there was poor cross-referencing between related elements; for example the LI element does not mention UL nor OL elements.

Chapter 9 covers CSS1; CSS2 became a W3C recommendation in 12 May 1998, but does not get a mention in this 2003 third edition. Interestingly the text claims to use Netscape and Internet Explorer icons to show which browser supports each property (as it did in the HTML section). Neither section has these icons in my printing.

So while this may be a useful single book to take on site to jog the memory, it will not inform a newcomer, nor satisfy the expert, nor touch on more recent specifications.reviewed by Francis Glassborow

I went out of my way to get a copy of this book because I felt far too ignorant of the subject to understand how the various aspects of the website I maintain for my book worked. The publishers do not appear to be very keen to sell copies because when I dropped by Blackwells to get a copy there were none on the shelves. One of my friends in Blackwells searched their database and discovered that the book had been on order for eighteen months with a second order pending after six months. Eventually the ordered copies (well actually for the second edition though the original orders had been for the first) arrived almost a fortnight after a telephone call chasing them.

Was it worth the wait? Only because I was not paying for my copy.

To start with anyone who did not have some prior experience would not make head nor tail of the explanation of Cascading Style Sheets provided in the first few chapters of the book. These meander, use jargon and show no real grasp of what the newcomer might need.

The rest of the book is at least 50% too long because it is packed with unnecessary and often positively unhelpful repetition. For example the section on ' margin ' separately describes ' margin ', 'margin-left ', 'margin-right' , 'margin-top ' and 'margin-bottom' . Of course with the tiniest of changes the sections are identical all the way down to which browsers support them.

What I really need is a single block description of the whole family coupled with notes about any ways in which individuals might be different.

I found it depressing to read through the lists of browsers that do not support a particular feature. Describing these as 'unsafe' seems an unnecessary euphemism for 'not implemented.' And I can see very little benefit in knowing that something is partially supported by a browser. I want my site to be as independent of browsers choice as it can be. In that light it would have been helpful had the author spent some time on how to bomb-proof HTML so that impoverished third world people using ancient browsers could still see something readable.

Yes, I will use this book for reference but I will not recommend it because it would be over-priced at any price in excess of $10 orĀ£5. If the author is contemplating a third edition he should start to do a complete cover to cover rewrite. Start with a clear introduction to CSS, follow with a greatly condensed reference section and conclude with how to use CSS to make sites more portable across generations of browsers.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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