Tag Archives: web

DVD REVIEW: “For A Beautiful Web” DVD Series

andyclarkedvds

The three-disk “For A Beautiful Web” DVD series is a very nice resource for web designers, with roughly two hours per disk on three important topics: CSS, microformats and web accessibility. Presenter Andy Clarke, a web designer based in the UK, knows his stuff and presents things clearly and also with a bit of his own opinion on how CSS and other design elements can improve one’s workflow, which for me was a welcome addition to what could otherwise have been a merely informational resource.

My favorite disk was Designing with CSS: I know CSS pretty well but Andy suggested a different approach to conceptual design and advocated building mock-ups with CSS-based layouts instead of the usual graphical design that others (including myself) produce in Photoshop or something similar. This was a new idea to me and one that I want to implement this year for my web design business. The DVD was not just monologue on workflow but also a survey of basic and advanced CSS techniques and applications. The working webpage he used to illustrate his points was well-designed, well-executed and illustrative.

Designing Web Accessibility was also very useful. Designing with Microformats was interesting but I got the impression that microformats are not yet widely used. This was the disk I was most interested in since I had heard very little about microformats previously, but after viewing the disk I’m not sure if I have a very good reason to look into microformats further.

I should also note Andy Clarke’s presentation. He is definitely a very skilled web designer with strong CSS chops, and his presentation skills are good—I was able to follow the DVDs easily. But I thought Andy was too methodical, slow and a little monotonous in his delivery. Sometimes there were long pauses in the monologue that broke up the flow. I think if Andy could bump up his energy level and fluidity of his speaking it would help make the series more engaging and fun to learn with.

“For A Beautiful Web” DVD Series:
Designing Web Accessibility
Designing with CSS
Designing with Microformats

Presented by Andy Clarke
Published by New Riders
US$39.99 (Designing with CSS US$34.99)
Rating: 8/10

BOOK REVIEW: Complete Web Monitoring

web-monitoring

Leave it to O’Reilly to publish over 600 pages of material on a web design topic as small as statistics and monitoring! I’m not saying Complete Web Monitoring is full of fluff in order to increase the page count, only that monitoring is a very small piece of the topic of web design and I am always impressed that O’Reilly’s authors have the depth needed to write such large books on such small topics.

Alistair Croll and Sean Power have written an interesting book that I think speaks more to marketing directors and businesspeople than to web designers and developers. There’s a lot of pages dedicated to business and analytics models, interpreting data, devising methodologies of metrics, and other business-related aspects of web analytics. There’s also a lot of material on deploying measuring tools and software to actually gather the data, which of course will be what designers and developers will focus on, as well as project managers and such.

Like other O’Reilly books, the sheer depth of Complete Web Monitoring can make it difficult to grasp. There’s a huge amount of information here that speaks to varying audiences, and while it makes the book comprehensive it also makes it tough to digest. There’s a lot of content I’m not sure I will ever be able to or want to implement, and ironically my clients often are happy just to see visitor trends and such given all the other things they have to worry about in this economy.

Measuring web traffic and statistics is one of the most-overlooked aspects of managing websites, and I think Complete Web Monitoring should be required reading for anyone in charge of a website or web presence of some kind. The material is excellent and comprehensive almost to a fault—but no one’s required to read it cover to cover.

Complete Web Monitoring
Alastair Croll and Sean Power
Published by O’Reilly
US$49.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: High Performance Web Sites

high-perf-websites

Last year I reviewed Even Faster Web Sites, an eye-opening book that revealed some website performance tricks “hidden in plain sight,” due to their simplicity and reliance on everyday aspects of web technology. I learned this book is actually a sequel to another highly-regarded book, High Performance Web Sites, so I had to review it.

High Performance Web Sites is extremely similar to its successor. Steve Souders authored both books and has the same analytical, left-brained approach to measuring performance and capturing best practices in simple rules. Thorough testing is conducted and reported, and the tests can still be duplicated at stevesouders.com, three years after the book’s publication. There’s nothing as illuminating as conducting tests on your own, with Steve’s clear guidance.

Despite its age, High Performance Web Sites is still very pertinent because it improves performance on essential things such as reducing HTTP requests, structuring external script and stylesheet requests to keep data moving and other very basic tricks. This book is even more simple than its successor and deals strictly with the basics. This makes it a very helpful book for all web designers at all skill levels, which in itself is hard to do.

I don’t give out perfect ratings very often, but I did for Even Faster Web Sites and I will do the same for High Performance Web Sites. The book is clearly written, very effective, almost unprecedented in its usefulness for all designers, and thoroughly researched. The only thing I wish is that it were longer.

High Performance Web Sites
Steve Souders
Published by O’Reilly
US$29.99
Rating: 10/10

Cederholm’s “Handcrafted CSS” Is An Enjoyable Read

handcraftedcss

I never did get a chance to review Dan Cederholm‘s Bulletproof Web Design, but I know the reputation it has in the web design community. That’s why I was excited to grab a copy of his newest book, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design. Handcrafted CSS is a very good book: well-designed, full of both hands-on projects and commentary, and also well-written.

New techniques require new books

Handcrafted CSS is really a book about a handful of new CSS techniques that weren’t feasible when Bulletproof Web Design was written. A new batch of modern browsers and some designer ingenuity have given Dan new cutting-edge techniques to write about, including new methods for creating rounded corners, parallax scrolling, improved floats and more. Ethan Marcotte also writes a chapter on his own contribution, a fluid grid-based layout.

Some of these techniques are browser-specific: modern browsers like Firefox and Safari make several of Dan’s techniques possible, but old version of Internet Explorer ignore the code because the browser is just plain lousy. Dan advocates progressive enhancement, adding the improvements for those who can enjoy them and allowing the site to degrade—but still work—for everyone else. Handcrafted CSS even has a chapter on this topic (“Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?”). A few years ago, most of my clients would have answered “yes” to this question; today, my clients seem to understand that Internet Explorer doesn’t allow them the web’s full potential.

Leaves you wanting more

Handcrafted CSS lacks a larger perspective that I hoped would be included. For example, in Chapter 2 Dan explores two vendor-specific extensions: -webkit-border-radius and -moz-border-radius. These extensions allow CSS to apply and control rounded corners in Mozilla and Safari browsers. Chapter 2 is a wonderful read and makes the popular “rounded corner” design easy to execute, but it left me wanting to read more about vendor-specific extensions. Handcrafted CSS is focused on specific projects and techniques to the detriment of the broader theory and techniques, and I think some of “the big picture” could have been included without making the book much larger or expensive. It would have also made the book more accessible to beginners, though a book on advanced CSS techniques is not a bad thing for advanced users. This all is a minor complaint though, because the material is so good.

The cutting edge

I would recommend Handcrafted CSS for any experienced web designer working with CSS today. Like Dan says in the book, the cutting edge continues to move forward and new techniques must be learned to stay current and maintain true craftsmanship. I really like the “craftsmanship” angle that Dan sticks to throughout the book, and the DVD (available separately or together) and companion website (used in all chapters and exercises) make this a very hands-on book as well as a good read without them.

I also think that beginner and intermediate designers will benefit from Handcrafted CSS, though this is not a book from which to learn CSS. It’s written to expand your knowledge of the cutting edge and employ new CSS techniques that weren’t practical just a few years ago. I’m already looking forward to Dan’s next book, which will surely be needed just a few years from now.

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design
Dan Cederholm with Ethan Marcotte
Published by New Riders
US$39.99
Rating: 9/10

Adobe Revamps Adobe TV Website

Have you seen the new Adobe TV website? It’s always been a good source of training on Adobe products, and last week Adobe launched a new website design that helps make things easier to find. I haven’t had time to work with it yet, but at first glance it’s definitely easier to navigate directly from the homepage. Adobe TV is a particularly good source of videos from events like Adobe MAX and other conferences, so I recommend trying it out if you haven’t done so already.

Here’s the press release:

PRESS RELEASE

Adobe today launched the newest version of its popular video channel Adobe TV, an innovative Web site offering free expert video training across Adobe product lines. Designed in response to customer feedback, the site offers users new ways to experience and access Adobe TV episodes through streamlined navigation, robust search options, customization features and interactive capabilities.

Produced and delivered using leading Adobe products and technologies, Adobe TV is the first Web site to deploy a video player built with the Open Source Media Framework. Announced in April 2009, the framework offers production-ready components to streamline the development process, reducing the time content publishers spend creating playback technologies. Adobe TV is also developed with ColdFusion 9, a powerful technology for building dynamic Web sites and Internet applications.

Adobe TV now offers new additions such as a resizable pop-out window that allows users to view content while simultaneously working within their Adobe applications. A new homepage provides quick and easy access to relevant episodes, with the ability to sort by most popular, most viewed, highest rated and recently added. And users can download the Adobe Media Player to view and save content offline, and receive new programming as soon as it is released.

Adobe TV users who register with a free Adobe ID can:

  • Interact with show hosts by asking questions in the comments section
  • Create playlists and add them to a personal episode library
  • Customize their homepage by adding or removing content feeds
  • Comment on and rate videos

Keeping designers and developers connected to the latest features and programming,

Adobe TV series include the Emmy award-winning Dr. Brown’s Photoshop Laboratory, as well as Benchmark, CS Insider and Short and Suite. Exclusive videos of keynote sessions from this year’s MAX Conference will also be available on Adobe TV shortly after the sessions take place.

Adobe TV offers free training on Adobe products, including insider tips, techniques and behind-the-scenes videos delivered on demand. Viewers can learn design experts’ favorite tricks and take tours of cutting-edge creative studios. Share content via email, Facebook, Delicious, Digg and StumbleUpon, and by embedding it into blogs or Web sites.

BOOK REVIEW: Even Faster Web Sites

soudersbook

It’s rare for a book to catch me off-guard with unique techniques, but Even Faster Web Sites seems to have done it. The book is written about the topic of website performance and optimization, which grants users a faster, leaner browser experience and less hassle with slow-loading pages and images. I had always known about image optimization tools in Photoshop and coding techniques that help make pages smaller and faster but Even Faster Web Sites surprised me with tactics and techniques that are a level above.

First, a strong pedigree

The book’s stable of authors is enough to make web designers take notice. The main author is Steve Souders, who works on web performance at Google and created the Firebug extension YSlow. Some chapters are written by other authors including:

This is a large group of authors from some of the most recognizable companies in the web technology industry. The books such authors put out often stand out, such as Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski. The writing is solid and the grasp of the web technology is really top-notch.

Magic behind the curtain

I was surprised at how much Even Faster Web Sites revealed to even an experienced web designer like myself. The chapter on image optimization offers several techniques such as PNG crushing and optimized sprites that only experienced web designers will already know about. I think some parts of the book are less helpful for designers than developers and programmers, but all designers working with HTML, CSS and JavaScript are programmers by definition and those chapters might be dense but are definitely helpful.

One of the most impressive aspects of Even Faster Web Sites is the testing and research produced by the authors. Some books get away with stating rules and best practices, but this one provides evidence to support what it recommends. The charts and tables convinced me that I have some room to improve my own website-building practices for my clients, and I’m excited to provide even better service thanks to this book.

Even Better Web Sites is an outstanding book, and a rare book that’s a good read for designers and developers of every skill level. The only designers who don’t need this book are those who know everything about web design already. Some of the techniques explained in this book seem to border on magic. I recommend you pick up a copy and learn how your websites can move even faster.

Even Faster Web Sites
Steve Souders
Published by O’Reilly
US$34.99
Rating: 10/10

Reviewing An Old Favorite: Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think
Don't Make Me Think

Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think left a big impact on me when I first read it several years ago. I knew the basics of writing and designing for web usability but Don’t Make Me Think crystallized the subject in a way that appealed to both web designers and users who didn’t know HTML but did know a bad website when they saw one.

The second edition, which was published in 2006, offers a few new chapters on accessibility and user “goodwill” but leaves out some of the chapters on user testing (though they can be found online at www.sensible.com/secondedition). I re-read the book recently and was surprised by the experience: Don’t Make Me Think is still a great book, still a classic, but it is beginning to look dated.

Many of the examples shown are either ancient (see Yahoo!, circa 1999, on page 27) or no longer exist (Productopia.com, which is studied in detail on page 118–121). This is bound to happen to any book, but Don’t Make Me Think is four years old in its current edition and the first edition was published way back in 2000. Web design has changed so much since then and it’s time for Steve to revise Don’t Make Me Think to acknowledge the changing landscape.

Don’t Make Me Think also makes assumptions about average users that I think could be revisited. I think Steve is still mostly correct in describing users’ behaviors as comparable to firemen making snap decisions, but some more specific behaviors and assumptions deserve another look. One is the notion that users don’t expect to reach a homepage by clicking on the logo at the top of a page. Another is the assumption that pull-down menus are bad for usability: I personally agree with this one but they are often effective for quick access when users don’t need to scan a long navigation. I’d be very interested in seeing a third edition of this book that takes another look at users’ “default” behaviors.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy
Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Don’t Make Me Think is still a valuable book for any web designer, and years later I still find myself using Steve’s ideas to describe web usability to clients. I hear Steve plans to have a new book out before year’s end, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. It’s listed as a “do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems,” and might incorporate some of the user testing chapters pulled from Don’t Make Me Think. Perhaps it will address some of the new possibilities and pitfalls in web usability that have developed in the last decade.

Adobe Web Apps, Part 2: BrowserLab

Adobe has become more and more aggressive in the field of web applications, producing various services like Photoshop Express and Acrobat.com to complement their shrink-wrapped software. According to Devin Fernandez, Senior Product Manager for Dreamweaver, the company’s “hosted services” strategy takes advantage of the convenience and quick development times inherent in online applications. Shorter production times means that these applications can be developed and improved faster and more often.

Betas for two new online applications were announced recently by Adobe. One is InContext Editing, a streamlined online content editing system that’s handy for Dreamweaver users. The first part of this series comprises an analysis and review of InContext Editing. The other application is BrowserLab, a service that allows website testing for multiple browsers. This practice is essential for any web designer and any tool that makes the process easier deserves a look.

Pain points

Adobe looks for “pain points” when developing products: I’ve heard this phrase more than a few times during various demos and discussions over the years. BrowserLab is Adobe’s response to several of customers’ pain points: speed, convenience, simplicity and productivity. BrowserLab is designed to improve these four points for users. The browser emulator concept is not new—BrowserCam and browsershots.org are two services similar to BrowserLab—but Adobe hopes to improve on the concept.

BrowserLab is currently in limited distribution. Adobe planned to accept only 3,500 users for the initial preview but demand was high enough that this was increased to 8,300. The service is being tweaked and improved in preparation for a full launch, at which point it will become a paid service. For now the development team is focused on improving stability and performance.

The BrowserLab experience

BrowserLab has the same professional black/gray design as most of Adobe’s other web applications. The application is easy to use, though BrowserLab has relatively few functions and doesn’t need much user interface to be effective. There are only three view modes: 1-up, 2-up and onion skin view. Onion skinning overlays one browser image on another, which is a good way to see small differences between browsers. Users can also zoom anywhere from 75% to 200% to get a close view of the results.

Onion skinning overlays one browser result with another—in this example, Designorati.com is being tested with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.
Onion skinning overlays one browser result with another—in this example, Designorati.com is being tested with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.

I like using BrowserLab, but for a product like this the big question is whether or not it can faithfully test all the browsers you need tested. At this time BrowserLab can emulate four modern browsers and one browser that I consider non-modern:

  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows
  • Firefox 2 for Windows and Mac
  • Firefox 3 for Windows and Mac
  • Safari 3 for Mac
BrowserLab already has most of the browsers I test for, and several others are in the works.
BrowserLab already has most of the browsers I test for, and several others are in the works.

Internet Explorer 8, Safari 4, Opera and Chrome and next up for addition to BrowserLab. I think BrowserLab needs to emulate all these browsers in order to be successful: the ability to test all needed browsers in one application is what will make BrowserLab popular. Fortunately, the BrowserLab team tells me they are working on this right now. For now BrowserLab has a limited browser set, and that’s one reason why I still use bonafide web browsers to test my websites. Dreamweaver’s Live View is also a nice tool for website testing, but it’s not always accurate.

Another reason why I test in actual browsers is because BrowserLab is not a browser emulator: it works by screen-capturing websites in various browsers and displaying the resulting images. These images are not interactive, so you can’t test JavaScript or CSS interactivity and you can’t see Flash or other animations. Flash can also give BrowserLab a false image: in one test, BrowserLab showed a Flash animation’s mask did not work in Firefox 3 for Windows. I checked it out in that browser and learned the browser applied the mask a split-second after rendering the rest of the page. BrowserLab captured the screen too soon to reveal this. Scott Fegette, Technical Product Manager for Dreamweaver tells me the BrowserLab team is looking to actual emulation of browsers in a web application, but for now they are going to stay with screen captures.

Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.
Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.

Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.

Still, BrowserLab is a handy tool if my computer’s unavailable, and it’s online so I can use it anywhere. I want to see more available browsers (such as Internet Explorer 8) and it would be nice to be able to mark a particular capture as a model and have BrowserLab show where other browsers fail to duplicate it, but I think BrowserLab is on its way to becoming a good tool for web designers.

One more thing for Dreamweaver users

Dreamweaver users can leverage BrowserLab even further with an extension that allows screen capturing and testing directly from Dreamweaver CS4. The BrowserLab extension requires Extension Manager 2.1 and comes in two parts, but completing the installation process will add a BrowserLab panel to Dreamweaver CS4. From there users can send a local or server copy of the active page to BrowserLab for viewing. The combination of Dreamweaver’s Live View and BrowserLab allows users to preview dynamic interfaces, including JavaScript and Ajax, and also preview websites from behind a firewall. Other service-based solutions can’t do this.

Adobe Web Apps, Part 1: InContext Editing

Adobe has become more and more aggressive in the field of web applications, producing various services like Photoshop Express and Acrobat.com to complement their shrink-wrapped software. According to Devin Fernandez, Senior Product Manager for Dreamweaver, the company’s “hosted services” strategy takes advantage of the convenience and quick development times inherent in online applications. Shorter production times means that these applications can be developed and improved faster and more often.

Betas for two new online applications were announced recently. One is BrowserLab, a service that allows website testing for multiple browsers. This practice is essential for any web designer and in the second part of this series I analyze and review BrowserLab. The other is InContext Editing, which I first saw last year at Adobe headquarters in San Jose and has since been upgraded to version 1.5 in late April.

InContext Editing

InContext Editing is a streamlined online content editing system deployable by Dreamweaver CS4 or the InContext Editing website, incontextediting.adobe.com. While many content management systems are proprietary and others like Drupal are open source and web-based, InContext Editing is a standalone web application so it doesn’t require extra code or installed software to work—all it requires is a modern browser. The user interface has the same gray design style found in BrowserLab and other Adobe web applications, and it looks good and works well.

Editing with InContext Editing is simple and effective.
Editing with InContext Editing is simple and effective.

InContext Editing has more functionality than BrowserLab but that also creates some weak user interface elements: for example, in order to reconfigure a website’s settings you have to click its Manage Users button, which then takes you a screen where the Configure Site button resides. It makes more sense to have both buttons available from the main window. Another example is the Remove Site button, which I had to use when one of my client’s websites launched and the testing site was no longer valid. It’s possible to remove a site from InContext Editing, but it’s not clear that all users must be deleted and all invitations rescinded before the Remove Site button reveals itself.

Managing users with InContext Editing is easy, but it can be hard sometimes to find what you need to administer users or site settings.
Managing users with InContext Editing is easy, but it can be hard sometimes to find what you need to administer users or site settings.

The other difficulty I had with InContext Editing is some difficulty handling content modified with JavaScript or Ajax. I learned this after using InContext Editing with a website modified with sIFR 3, which replaces text with Flash text so designers can use fonts beyond standard web fonts. InContext Editing was set up to edit a content block with only headings and paragraphs, but it said it could not function because prohibited tags were in the content block. I learned after some troubleshooting that sIFR, which was modifying the headings, caused the fatal error even though the HTML code was not modified. InContext Editing works well for simple webpages running standard HTML code, but scripts and dynamic content can make it incompatible. Adobe hopes to improve InContext Editing’s handling of these components in the future.

Despite these usability issues, and what seems to be a lot of time loading pages and building editing screens, InContext Editing is a handy tool for web designers whose clients have small pages and want to revise some content. I like that it’s simple, quick, and doesn’t require any software installation. It’s supposed to be so easy that anyone can use it, but there’s a learning curve and I had to consult with the help files a few times.

InContext Editing + Contribute?

One thing that excited me about InContext Editing was the possibility of using it in tandem with Contribute. One of my clients in particular already uses Contribute in-house for content management and the combination of Contribute and InContext Editing would have allowed them to edit content inside and outside the office. However, it seems that Contribute CS4 will not allow editing if InContext Editing code is detected on a page. Adobe’s position is that InContext Editing is designed to make simple updates to basic webpages, while Contribute is designed for more sophisticated webpages and workgroups.

Two benefits for Dreamweaver users

Adobe has made both BrowserLab and InContext Editing especially tempting for Dreamweaver CS4 users. InContext Editing is easily deployed by Dreamweaver CS4, with editable and repeating regions available with a click in the InContext Editing panel. You can also manage the CSS classes available to clients with this panel. The code for InContext Editing regions is quite clean, with a single div tag around the editable content:

< div ice:editable="*" > Content here < /div > (spaces added for clarity)

Editable regions can be inserted with Dreamweaver CS4, very much like template editable regions.
Editable regions can be inserted with Dreamweaver CS4, very much like template editable regions.

The asterisk property for the “editable” attribute allows all available HTML formatting in InContext Editing, including strong/em, indenting, creating lists, inserting images and more. The web designer, working with Dreamweaver CS4, can restrict these however he or she chooses. Regions can also be created directly with InContext Editing from the web browser. The other treat for Dreamweaver CS4 users is the ability to set up a keyboard shortcut for invoking InContext Editing within a web browser—however, it involves editing a JavaScript file and looks like anyone with an HTML editor (or a text editor) can hack it. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Open the ice.conf.js file. If you use Dreamweaver to set up a website for InContext Editing, this will be found in includes/ice/ by default.
  2. Rewrite the PC keyboard shortcut (found in line 43) and the Mac keyboard shortcut (found in line 60).

The future of InContext Editing

I’m curious to see how InContext Editing fares in the future, given the many choices available to web designers for editing and managing content. Adobe is currently meeting with InContext Editing customers for feedback for a version 2 to be released in the future, but we’ll see how that turns out. It’s hard to say how much InContext Editing will change from version 1 to version 2, but I think InContext Editing’s simplicity and its browser-based ease of use gives it a lot of potential. More robust editing and management tools will help InContext Editing secure a place in the web designer’s toolkit.

BOOK REVIEW: ActionScript 3.0 Classroom In A Book

as3-classroom

Remember “Training From The Source”? This was the name of Macromedia‘s official line of training books for Dreamweaver, Flash and other design applications. When ActionScript 2.0 was released I bought the book Flash MX 2004 ActionScript Training From The Source to learn that new version of the Flash programming language. I carried that large book through many airports and conferences, chipping away at its pages over the course of a few years.

By the time I was finished with that book, ActionScript had moved forward again to version 3.0, Macromedia was no more (having been acquired by Adobe) and “Training From The Source” was folded into Adobe’s own “Classroom In A Book” series. I thought it fitting to review the series recently with a look at ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book.

Small, compact, solid

Compared to the Training From The Source book, which was a large book in both page count and size, Classroom In A Book is smaller in both respects. I actually appreciate the smaller size because it increases portability. The book design is sharp, with a matte finish cover that is easier to handle and a clear layout design that aids learning. I was surprised the author, Chris Florio, had a laid-back, informal writing style—one would expect a workbook like this to have a no-nonsense tone—but I could appreciate a bit of levity after working on the exercises for hours at a time.

A different approach to ActionScript training

Classroom In A Book has roughly half the pages of its Training From The Source predecessor, so either ActionScript 3.0 is less complex than version 2.0 or the book doesn’t cover everything. It’s actually a combination of three things:

  • ActionScript 3.0 really is less complex than ActionScript 2.0, though it’s more verbose; the distinction is comparable to HTML and the more strict XHTML. Syntax is streamlined and coding skills apply to everything in a more uniform way.
  • Classroom In A Book doesn’t cover everything. Some topics such as CSS aren’t covered at all, while others (like classes) aren’t covered in their entirety. That might be a good thing, since ActionScript has always been a large language with many classes and elements. It seems this book is designed to teach essential ActionScript skills and leave minutiae to other resources.
  • Classroom In A Book is project-oriented, while Training From The Source was skill-oriented. Both books have projects to work on (and ship with a CD-ROM full of good project materials) but Training From The Source focused on skills such as handling text fields, XML, conditional logic, debugging and so on. Classroom In A Book thinks more in terms of building preloaders, loading content, creating quizzes and working with XML and video. Both approaches are good and Classroom In A Book teaches a great deal if one completes the exercises, but it’s not necessarily a compendium of ActionScript knowledge like Training From The Source was. It complements other sources such as the ActionScript 3.0 reference files, accessible directly from Flash.

Conclusion

ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book is worth buying, and particularly helpful for new Flash users who don’t know ActionScript or experienced Flash users who have not yet upgraded their skills to include ActionScript 3.0. The language really has made a sea change from ActionScript 2.0 and learning it requires training. Classroom In A Book is a good place to start.

ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book
Published by Adobe Press
US$54.99
Rating: 9/10