Book Review: "Practical XML for the Web" (1/2) - exploring XML
Book Review: "Practical XML for the Web"
Last month young publisher glasshaus released "Practical XML for the Web," a book "for Web professionals of all levels who want to know how XML can be put to great practical use in their work today." I was already pleasantly surprised when the package arrived...
Rather than choosing the prevalent cumbersome format of a 1000+ page bible with pointless appendixes, a slim padded envelope revealed a 440 page book, thinner than my ThinkPad. The appendixes are real case studies, not XML references or Javadoc printouts. A first look at the Table of Contents shows a logical flow of topics from a concise and brief introduction of XML, to its implementation and use in the contemporary browsers, all the way to server-side applications.
Most chapters set out by defining the ground they intend to cover, and close with a summary of the addressed topics. The introduction covers XML syntax, rules, constructs, namespaces and definition through DTDs and Schemas in a mere 36 pages, with many pointers to external resources for the more esoteric details. Another roughly 20 pages are dedicated to introducing the main areas of concern for XML on the Web: Parsing, displaying and linking XML documents. Light reading for everybody who has ever ploughed through books with hundreds of pages of reproduced material from the W3C standards.
Chapter 2 covers the most important display-related standards XHTML, MathML, and SVG in some depth, combined with a quick mentioning of RSS, XForms, VoiceXML and database formats. Again, pointers to Web resources and other books give more depth to the presented content where required. The next chapter deals with the support of XML in the current versions of the major Web browsers, being defined as
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 6
- Netscape 6 and Mozilla
- Opera 6
While some warnings are present regarding compatibility with other browsers, the obvious question for every Web developer is neither answered nor even mentioned: "How do I design XML on the Web for ALL to see?" While there certainly is no easy answer, this vital topic for "practical" XML should not be overlooked. The situation became even more complicated in recent days, with the arrival of new browsers: Netscape 7, and more significantly Apple's Safari browser for OS X, derived from the Konqueror Web browser of the KDE desktop for Linux, which is a whole different codebase altogether.
While I have only one easy answer (ignore the low-marketshare browsers, if you had to ask) I want to at least list the problems you face, should you choose the hard way:
- Netscape 4 has no support for XML whatsoever, but has still more market share to date than Netscape 6 and 7 combined, according to browsermonitor. To be fair, the authors tout server-side XML as a possible solution, but only in the respective chapters later in the book.
- IE acquires its XML processing from a separate component, MSXML. Earlier articles explained the problems with that approach in an uncontrolled environment, where updates flow freely and browser sniffing code is all to easily misled.
- While IE market share is close to a monopoly again on PCs, it is not so on all non-PC devices. (Well, except Pocket PCs, policy makers please wake up!) With the rise of PDAs, mobile phones and TV set-top boxes, and their growing support of XHTML instead of WAP WML, HTTP client devices will become much more diverse, at least for a while. Who was it again that bought ARM, the main chipmaker for handhelds and mobile phones? Intel? Hmmm...
But back to the challenges of XML development...
Produced by Michael Claßen
Created: Feb 03, 2003
Revised: Feb 03, 2003