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Book review: HTML, XHTML & CSS Sixth Edition, by Elzabeth Castro

HTML, XHTML and CSS are the technologies behind the web. You can create websites without knowing anything about these, but an understanding of the basic rules is helpful even if using a WYSIWYG editor or website builder. If you want to get the most out of your website or are involved in delivering dynamic content then understanding the building-blocks of the web is a pre-requisite.

The book starts at the very beginning first explaining the principles before creating some html. Xhtml is essentially just a more strict enhancement of html, so it xhtml and html examples are normally the same and are therefore explained together. CSS is then added as the book progresses before adding multimedia and a very basic mention of Javascript.

The book takes a very step-by-step approach explaining what to type and showing the end code alongside. This works very well at the beginning, but by the end of the book this starts to get a bit tedious. By the time you reach Javascript or are looking at the difference between embed and object then it should not need such basic instructions.

Another negative comment that I have about the book is that the section on search engine optimisation is a bit dated and over simplistic. In the past it was possible to make a few minor changes and work your way up the search engine ratings, but that’s not enough these days. The optimisation section is still useful, but only covers the basics and makes it appear simpler than it really is to improve your rating.

There is little mention of Linux other than mentioning that it is becoming more popular. The book appears to be written by someone who primarily uses a Mac, but it covers Windows as well. The book discusses Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer (IE 6 and IE 7). The book is not recent enough for IE 8, but Firefox 3 / 3.5 and IE 7 and still the predominant browser versions in use so that’s where most websites are still aimed at.

These minor points aside this is an excellent book at explaining html, xhtml and css. Castro certainly knows her subject. As well as covering the theory there is good guidance for what to do when the browsers don’t follow the standards, including some workarounds.

As well as teaching html, xhtml and css from the ground upwards it can also be used as a reference guide. It’s not as comprehensive as a dedicated reference book, but it has most of the basics provided for. You may get away with this as your only html / xhtml book, but it’s certainly useful to have an additional CSS reference. See my book review of The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web which gives a good idea of what can be achieved using CSS, otherwise the css reference books should list all the different properties for you to work with on creating your own site.