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JavaScript Technology Writing

My Last O’Reilly Book

I sometimes miss the simpler days when an alert was your JavaScript best friend.

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The editor for JavaScript Cookbook, 3rd edition, just sent me a draft to review and comment on. This is the last of the O’Reilly books that will feature my name on it. As it is, I’ve contributed only about 15% or so to the new edition of the Cookbook. New authors, Adam Scott and Matthew MacDonald, took on the majority of the work.

They did a good job, too. I particularly like the chapter devoted to error handling. The days of using an alert message to debug have been gone for decades, and JS developers now have sophisticated error-handling techniques and tools. It is no longer your Mom’s JS.

Good. I’m happy the language and its uses have evolved. But…

I sometimes miss the simpler days when an alert was your JavaScript best friend.

I’ve been working with JavaScript since it was first introduced over 25 years ago. Not just traditionally in the web page, either. I worked on a small project that used Netscape’s server-side JavaScript (LiveWire) in the 1990s. It was so very different from an application made with Node. as you can see for yourself from an old Dr. Dobb’s article on LiveWire.

Writing about JavaScript today requires a different mindset than writing about it years ago. Decades ago, JavaScript was laughably simple. It’s simplicity, though, was also its strength. In its early days, JavaScript was so embraceable. You could literally toss a tiny blurb of JS into an HTML file, load it into a browser, and see an immediate implementation. You didn’t have to fiddle with compilation, installing special developer tools, or, heaven forbid, figure out a framework.

My first book on JavaScript, the JavaScript How-To for Waite Group Press was published in 1996. The hardest part of writing it was trying to find enough about JavaScript to actually fill a book.

JavaScript today, or ECMAScript if you want to be pure, is not so simple. And oddly enough, that’s its strength now: it is powerful enough to meet today’s very demanding web applications. And the hardest part of working on a book such as the JavaScript Cookbook is limiting yourself to the essentials, because you could easily write three or four books and still not envelop the world of JavaScript as it exists today.

When O’Reilly asked me to do a new edition of the Cookbook I knew I just didn’t want to take on that kind of burden again. It was hard to give up control of one of my favorite books, but after 25 years of working to deadlines and dealing with tech editors, I knew I just didn’t have the energy or patience to do the book justice. I knew it was time for me to hang up my drafts.

Thankfully, the new Cookbook team have done an exceptionally good job. I’m happy to have my name on the Cookbook, one last time.

If I write now, it’s solely for me: my ideas, my deadlines, my expectations. I may only write in this space. I may try my hand at self-publication.

Who knows? Maybe all I’ll do is write incendiary commentary in Facebook and Twitter and see how often I can get banned.

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