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Review Everything You Know About CSS is Wrong!

Discussion in 'Articles, Reviews and Interviews' started by tripwire45, Dec 11, 2008.

  1. tripwire45
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    tripwire45 Zettabyte Poster

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    Authors: Rachel Andrew and Kevin Yank
    Format: Paperback, 116 pages
    Publisher: SitePoint ( October 28, 2008 )
    ISBN-10: 0980455227
    ISBN-13: 978-0980455229

    Review by James Pyles
    December 11, 2008

    Oh no! I spent all that time learning CSS and weaving my tortuous path through many a messed up website, until I finally figured out what works and what doesn't...at least for me. Now Andrew and Yank come along (yeah, I know...sounds like a comedy team) and tell me I've got it wrong? Egad! But wait! There's hope. After all, of the hundreds and hundreds of CSS books and other resources out there, how can a single book containing a mere 116 pages rewrite everything that came before it? That's what we're here to find out.

    The basic premise of the book, at least from what I could gather from the material on the back cover, is that over time, web designers using CSS have created many and varied ways of trying to accomplish different styling tasks. The problem is, the development process resembled urban sprawl. Sure, the workarounds and hacks managed to work, but they were rather ugly and convoluted. What this book proposes to do is to help "reinvent" (where have I heard that before?) CSS to accomplish web page styling in a much easier to learn way.

    Who should read this book? That just happens to be a topic in the book's Preface. The short answer is "anyone who develops websites". The slightly longer answer is "anyone who develops websites and wants to stay ahead of the curve". If you're reading this review, that probably includes you and if it does, you are probably aware of the challenges of web development for multiple computer and web browser platforms. I use the word "computer" to include hand held devices, since there are people and countries that primarily surf the web while looking at the palm of their hand. Making your website "work" on both modern and legacy platforms can be a real pain. Just getting a single change in your website to perform well in IE, Firefox, and Safari can cause a big enough headache to make you lunge for the nearest bottle of Tylenol. This book tackles the modern problems that have developed relative to CSS and proposes to solve them. How the heck can it do that and be so thin?

    For starters, the book doesn't really teach you CSS. The assumption is that the reader has already been developing websites and is well versed in style sheet technology. If you don't know a thing about HTML and CSS, I'm sure SitePoint or some other worthy publisher has just scores of books to help you learn. Assuming you already know CSS, this book addresses "the problem". The problem, according to the opening sentences in the first chapter, is that CSS is too hard. Actually, it isn't too hard as such. When CSS "made the scene", it was cutting edge and revolutionized how websites were designed. However, web technology has advanced considerably since then and using the same standard CSS techniques won't let you keep up. This is why web standards (and just about every other standard in the technology realm) continue to be updated. Version numbers keep going higher because what was good enough a year or two or five ago, isn't good enough anymore, or at least that's what the authors suggest.

    I've written a fair amount of build up for a book so small, so let's cut to the chase. The book seems to be aimed squarely at Internet Explorer 8, as if it's the end all and be all of the browser world (and didn't I just mention Firefox and Safari...and what about Opera, plus current, future, and older versions?). On the other hand, I did also talking about "staying ahead of the curve". If this book is just focused on future browser technology, so be it. It does rather undo what I had previously mentioned about designing websites that play well with a wide variety of platforms, though. This generally is what responsible web designers want to do, unless the target audience for their sites are only people who use IE8 (and most people are still using IE6 and 7...or Firefox). Actually, the book does mention other browser platforms, but just barely. I did find it interesting that browser screen captures were exclusively of Safari (go figure). I guess inconsistency can be the spice of life.

    I can appreciate the premise of this book. It's good to look ahead and to plan website development for the future, but not at the expense of the present. This book doesn't seem (alas) to really accomplish what I'd hoped it would. In fact, it doesn't convince me that "everything I know about CSS is wrong". Actually, that's a relief. I'm glad I don't have to toss everything I know out the window. I was hoping however, to learn how to streamline my design process, at least somewhat. Unfortunately, despite the title, the book fails to be revolutionary or even evolutionary. After all the build up, the book doesn't deliver what the title promises, and I'd assumed that the title was "hype" to begin with. It's the feeling I got when, after waiting 22 years for "Star Wars: the Phantom Menace", I actually saw it.

    I hate to say it, but the Andrew and Yank book didn't really satisfy my appetite to advance my understanding of CSS styling. I can't see myself significantly changing how I do things because I've read this book. If you design websites for a living, it wouldn't hurt to read this book, but in my opinion, you could also live without it. Pity. I typically have a high regard for the books published by SitePoint. Unfortunately, this one disappoints.
     
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