Extreme O’Reilly

Last of the O’Reilly book review, and I’m going to cover three different brands: the traditional ‘animal’ books, the Missing Manual series, and the Head First series.

The RELAX NG book from the animal series is what you’d expect for one of these books. It is a comprehensive coverage of the topic, with relevant examples, lots of text, and few graphics. Animal books get to the point and are, for the most part, geared to the geeks – or the geek at heart.

This isn’t to say that the coverage of the topic is cryptic or difficult to follow, or dry. After all, I’ve written a few animal books myself and I hope my books don’t fit that description. But they aren’t fluffy books, and make little use of graphics as an aid to understanding. The aid in these books tends to be the examples.

The Head First series is completely the opposite, and about as far as you can get from the animal books. There is still comprehensive coverage of the material, but how it’s covered is completely different. If the animal books are text, the Head First books rely on graphics. A great deal of graphics.

I’ve looked at both members of the series, Head First Java and Head First EJB, and my initial reaction to the Java book, was lukewarm. Part of that can be that I’m used to more traditional computer books to learn a programming language; part of it could be that, like many people, I prefer learning programming languages by example.

The Head First into EJB book, though was different. EJB – Enterprise Java Beans – is a framework and a set of related behaviors, and the graphic nature of the book captured this very nicely. In fact, it was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed reading a book on EJBs. I didn’t think it was possible to be entertained by a book on EJBs, but this book did.

(I think what won me over was the two page behind the EJB scenes graphics on pages 8 and 9. Any book that make me laugh about EJB is some kind of miracle.)

It could be me, but I see a Head First book being better suited toa framework than a programming language; the former is hard to get your head around sometimes, but the latter is easily broken into sample code and with some text to explain what’s happening, you get what’s going on without having to rely on the pictures.

However, if you’re a heavily visual person, you’re going to like this series.

missing.gifThe last book is the Mac OS X Missing Manual (Panther Edition), and this book fits about right in the middle between the animal books and the Head First series, in the ratio between use of graphics and text.

These purpose of this series is to provide more comprehensive information about a specific product than usually comes with the manuals (if any manuals are even provided). Visually, the Missing Manual makes more use of graphics and graphical breaks in the text than the animal series, but far, far less use of graphics than the Head First series. This makes for a book that’s less intense than the animal books, and more comfortable to read, especially if you don’t see yourself as particularly ‘geek like’. Additionally, it is more business like than the Head First series, though again, that doesn’t mean that the writing is dull or uninteresting – it’s just not quite as otherwordly.

I found the Mac OS X one to be very helpful, and I discovered all sorts of new and intersting things about the Mac OS X environment that I hadn’t taken the time, previously, to learn. And since Mac OS X manuals are not what one would call particularly helpful, I can definitely recommend this book for new or intermediate Mac OS X users.

Now the question: Would I write a book in these series

Well, I have written books in the animal series, and would do so again. However, my emphasis lately has been directed more to the non-geeks than the geeks, and that’s not necessarily a good fit for an animal book.

I would not do a Head First book. I wouldn’t know how to do a Head First book. Having to incorporate all those graphics in and around the text, and having to find the appropriate graphics – it would drive me nuts. It would take a special person to do a Head First book.

I would be comfortable doing a Missing Manual style of book. It fits the direction I’m going, which is more towards the interested or engaged or adventurous person rather than intensely directed towards the geek.

You know: someone who drinks lattes rather than Mountain Dew.

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