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Philip & Alex's Guide to Web Publishing Paperback – April 29, 1999
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This isn't another cookie-recipe approach to planning a successful Web site. Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, by MIT veteran Philip Greenspun, is both broadly conceptual and deeply technical, and it assumes that the reader is willing to think seriously about the challenge of building a content site, a community site, or an e-commerce store before plunging in.
Although heavily Unix-oriented, it does not set out to proselytize a product, or even suggest that there is only one way to solve certain technical challenges. Rather, it encourages the reader to think about Web content and functionality as something designed to help visitors answer questions or do something useful. This may sound nebulous, but his observations about why Web sites go bad are illustrated with many well-chosen examples.
The core of the book is quite technical. Three long sections on publishing, community, and e-commerce architectures are illustrated by the author's data models and working open-source systems, so someone with C, SQL, and a good understanding of Internet Protocol (IP) under his or her belt will get the most out of the discussion. Such technical readers will find numerous Web addresses and other citations for further technical information. The author also invites readers to use his code if appropriate.
Although there is a lot of technical meat here, Greenspun dispenses with a dry, technical tone. Throughout, he manages to speak to the reader in a way that is always interesting and frequently bemused or ironic. The overall effect is that of a wry professor who knows his stuff, has thought about the problems, and isn't about to engage in commercial puffery. --Kathleen Caster
From Library Journal
A technical manual that is also a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book, this is the oddest, most interesting guide on web design and publishing this reviewer has ever read. "This book is a catalog of the mistakes that I've made while building more than 100 Web sites in the last five years," writes webmaster Greenspun, who teaches at MIT. Covering web publishing and web-based services in a lively, engaging tone, he makes complex technical ideas simple and accessible to beginners and nontechies who have to manage large web sites. Drop-dead photos taken by Greenspun and available for free on his site (www.photo.net) illustrate the text. Greenspun also gives away almost all the software he writes about and uses, and the entire book is available on the web (http://www. photo.net/wtr/thebook/). Still, all libraries should seriously consider getting one or two copies of the wonderful print version.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The guide has an emphasis on people who have access to their own servers, so those of you looking to create a page on Geocities will not find this book very useful. In particular, you will want to have script-writing abilities and access to a database; database-backed websites are a core tenet to his thesis. Many of his examples use the TCL-based AOLserver and the Oracle database, although other solutions are explored as well.
An amateur photographer, Mr. Greenspun has peppered the book with many of his photographs, usually not relevant to the material but making the book a little more delightful to skim than your typical O'Reilly "animal" manual.
In short, if you are serious about creating web pages, whether it be for personal or business use, you should read this book first. I guarantee it will change the way you view webpage creation.
The author's writing style is unusual. The book reads like a lecture rather than a book. It is conversational, and the prose therefore is a little less tightly structured and focused than most classic texts I've read. The author chooses to digress into his pet peeves every now and then, but his peeves make interesting reading.
If you are expecting a "great" book, with a style similar to the Unix classics, e.g. Kernighan and Ritchie's book on C, then you won't get it here. But Greenspun's style is perhaps more appropriate for the unstructured and extensive subject area he attempts to cover. He covers Websites to begin with, and what makes Websites usable. He then moves on to interactive Websites and the technologies behind them. Finally, he covers implementation details, including database systems, scripting languages, and all sorts of other hands-on areas.
One impression that I came away with is that Greenspun is a good engineer. His sense of good engineering elegance is extremely rare, and this sense is visible all through the book. I agree with his choices of technology, and in particular, his reasons for choosing them. An unusual choice is his preference for Tcl as a scripting language over Perl. I feel that his book would have allowed more readers to relate to his examples if he had used Perl, which I suspect is more popular than Tcl, at least in the Web scripting world. Similarly, his choice of AOLServer + Tcl leaves one wishing that he had covered Apache + mod_perl in as much depth.
His coverage of issues like rationale behind choosing one DBMS over another, is really rare. I wouldn't say his treatment is systematic or exhaustive, but no other book I have read even attempts to address these issues from the practitioner's viewpoint the way he does. And the descriptions of his experiences with Cybercash, server downtime, etc., are superb.
This book is in a class by itself. Having handled Web application development since 1995, I felt I had found a kindred soul.
I am using this book as required reading for a course on Web Technology for Information Management majors, which I teach, in a management institute in Bombay. I will also make it required reading in the software development firm which I manage... especially for the managers. :)
Many of us have been lucky enough to pass through magical places and times when--somehow--education suddenly happens because some critical mass is exceeded and ideas and insights reflect off the walls and into our brains at an almost unbelievable rate. But for all of us these places and times are exceptions (and many of us never experience them at all).
Philip Greenspun believes that the web will make such magical times and places much more common...
Reading it on the Web is not as good -- the photos in the book are much higher resolution (and printed on the highest-quality glossy paper so the contrast and luminance is as good as print gets), and it is great to have everything in one portable package. An ideal gift for a friend or yourself.