If you want to know how far the Web has come -- and how far the profession of web design has come -- read Special Edition Using HTML and XHTML, Seventh Edition, by Molly Holzschlag. She’s been there from the beginning -- she ran BBSes and helped build Internet gateways years before there was a Netscape, or even a World Wide Web. She remembers the simple “old days” fondly. But they’re gone, and if you have any doubts, she disabuses you of them on Page 1.
This HTML book doesn’t start with paragraph tags: instead, Holzschlag starts with a “markup roadmap for professionals.” As she pointedly observes, “in past years, it was commonplace to use HTML hacks, workarounds, and proprietary tags and attributes to build sites. But in a world of disparate operating systems, hardware, and browsers, hacks and workarounds just don’t cut it.”
It’s no longer enough to let Dreamweaver or FrontPage do all the dirty work (and maybe generate code that doesn’t meet official W3C standards). To build sites that work in tomorrow’s complex environments, you need to be more disciplined. You need have a deep understanding of what’s going on under the hood. You need to be aware of everything from PDAs to wireless phones to accessibility issues.
Especially, you’d better become comfortable with the rigor that XML and XHTML imposes -- rigor that liberates your documents to easily move among platforms and formats and to leverage the growing intelligence of tomorrow’s web applications.
That’s where Molly’s coming from, and that’s the knowledge this book delivers.
Moving through Part I, you’ll systematically review what it takes to write conforming documents, both now and in the future, as XHTML and XML move forward. (Careful with those nested tags!) As with nearly every chapter in the book, Holzschlag’s coverage of DTDs ends with a case study -- in this case, the New York Public Library site built around the XHTML 1.0 Transitional standard.
Part II moves into the topics that “used to” lead off HTML books -- but even here, Holzschlag teaches you how things ought to be done now, not in ’98. You’ll learn the right way to manage text, lists, and hyperlinks -- including techniques for “aiding and abetting” search engines. There’s a practical approach to working with tables (design first, and only then, plan and execute the table). Holzschlag offers the latest skinny on frames, including borderless and inline frames. There’s also a full chapter on building forms.
With broadband taking hold (albeit far more slowly than most Web designers would like), Holzschlag moves on to page-fattening visuals. There’s a full chapter on web multimedia, covering file creation and formats, plug-ins, and streaming media, including an overview of Flash and its implications.
Then it’s back to the topics that just aren’t covered in your old, dogeared HTML books. Did you know that Section 508 of federal law mandates maximum accessibility for sites built by the federal government -- both for government employees and members of the public with disabilities? That’s a big market and a rule that’s likely to spread. Holzschlag provides detailed guidelines and checklists for building accessible sites (it’s not hard, it just requires care -- and many accessibility techniques improve your site’s usability for everyone).
Making web pages for everyone also means internationalization and globalization: building sites that “are not only viewable in the languages of the areas they support, but are culturally correct as well.” Some of these are technical issues, some aren’t; Holzschlag talks about both.
There’s an authoritative, detailed section on CSS scripting, finally universal and standardized enough to begin meeting its promise. The book ends as it begins, by looking forward, with detailed guidance on what web designers need to master next: XHTML modularization and document structuring; working with XHTML DTDs and defining your own; and finally, transforming documents with XSLT, CSS’ long-term successor.
Since the Web’s earliest days, Molly Holzschlag has been a powerful influence. And when it comes to the Web, that’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed. (Bill Camarda)
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.