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Enterprise AJAX by David Johnson, Alexei White, Andre Charland

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<pre>Author/s : David Johnson, Alexei White, Andre Charland
Publisher : Prentice Hall PTR
Category : Web design, HTML and JavaScript
Review by : Ulf Dittmer
Rating : 7 horseshoes
The subtitle of the book -- "Strategies for building high performance web applications" -- nicely sums up what this book is about: Not so much a tutorial about AJAX that takes the reader from 0 to 100%, but rather a collection of topics that relate to AJAX-based web applications, bundled into book chapters. The chapters span a wide gamut, from basic browser technologies like CSS/DOM/JavaScript and XMLHttpRequest, to more advanced stuff like the design of JavaScript code, Web Services, and the handling of sizable chunks of data within JavaScript. The book also covers issues of the software development process as they relate to AJAX applications, like usability, prototyping, testing and project risk management. Three case studies round out the book, but don't provide much additional insight.

If a chapter isn't of interest to the reader, it can generally be skipped without impacting the understanding of later material. Everything is explained with plenty of code examples, along with explanations of what gotchas to look out for when running under different browsers.

The book would have benefited from a more thorough proofreading. As it is, an annoyingly large number of typos, duplicated words and sentence fragments, and even incorrect picture captions and footnotes, have crept in. Nevertheless, the authors clearly know their stuff, and break it down into pieces that are easily digested and readily applied. Just about any web developer will get useful ideas out of Enterprise AJAX, no matter how big his projects.

More info at Amazon.com
More info at Amazon.co.uk
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The reality is this book is just plain bad. The direct problems are numerous: spelling, grammar, style, verbosity. And there are a few issues relating to the authors and website I will also discuss.


The book begins quite well, the odd typo doesn't take away too much from a very promising first chapter. But it slowly unravels in the following chapters, where you begin to see more and more typos, grammatical errors and simply poor writing. Large passages of chapter 2 are unreadable, labouring over points and meandering around what seem to be irrelevancies. Here we also start to see a major problem that is simply unacceptable in technical books: source code formatting - or lack of it. No indentation for starters, very annoying line continuations that do not break or indent with any meaning, and incorrect references in the explanations immmediately after the code - using different names for variables, for example. Not just once or twice, but this sort of thing continues throughout the book. Or at least the first five chapters, as I could simply not go on beyond this point.

Chapters 3 and 4 are awful. Seemingly endless passages of sub-par writing style, repetition, over-constructed explanations of what should be basic background technology coverage. Here is an example of what I mean:

"Just because we deal with JavaScript here does not mean that we don't have, or want, to use UML to describe the operation of our systems, particularly when you get into advanced AJAX techniques where queuing of XHR requests needs to take place and complex error handling or other issues with asynchronous progrmaming need to be handled, and even more importantly, communicated to all the shareholders."

Wtf? That is one sentence as well, and it is not an uncommon experience throughout this book.

Ok, you might be thinking that I took the passage out of context, but therein lies the greatest problem with this book: it fails to develop a context most of the time. I was constantly wondering to myself, asking questions such as "what are they talking about here?", or "wait, where am I?". Having to flick back a page or two to get my bearings. I don't know about anyone else, but that is not my idea of good-time reading.

Chapter 5 was the deal-breaker. An endless procession of high-school quality essay writing, repetition, forever dwelling on mundane explanations that the author must have felt were necessary because there was obviously not enough clarity of expression. Mind-numbing overuse of "which", "that", and other amateurish twitches in writing style.

Now, I don't mean to be unfairly critical, but you should know I have read well over one hundred technical books in the past (maybe closer to two) and I am happy to recognise a well written one and acknowledge it as such. But unfortunately the bad eggs still seem to come along. Even if the content is not necessarily that which I might find useful or always agree with, a well written book leaves you in no doubt as to the discussion at hand. For example, Ted Neward's style is a little informal and verbose for my liking, but he is expressive, and has a flow of style that makes it clear what he is trying to say. After all, that is what I want the book for, to actually learn something.

This book fails in that, and so many other ways. I really think some kind of standards or quality assurance body needs to be set up for technology books, who award quality labels to books that meet a certain high standard. After all, they are expensive purchases. Enterprise AJAX is an all-round disappointment, and PH need to be made aware of it. The authors all work for the same web 2.0 outfit, and I believe they must be asked the question: what made them actually think that three people from one small business would all be qualified to write a book? Writing is a specialised skill, and we should expect, no, demand more from those who attempt it in this professional field of ours.

I feel I have made my point, but there is also the book's website - www.enterpriseajax.com. Oh dear, what a load of horse crap. Terrible rendering problems, broken links, a navigation nightmare. I did eventually find a link to the source code, but having lost so much faith in these authors I will not even bother trying to make use of the code. Given my experience so far, the risk is not worth it.
"To do good, you actually have to do something." -- Yvon Chouinard
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