New Rider's slogan "Voices That Matter" is one that I generally take with a large pinch of salt. In Zeldman's case, that's true. If Tim Berners-Lee is the father of the internet, Zeldman and the team at the Web Standards Project are the net's midwives. The W3C wrote the standards (or recommendations as they apologetically and coyly them), whilst Zeldman and his gang set about the hard, political and (until now) thankless task of bullying (browser-beating?) Netscape and Microsoft to conform to the standards that they'd helped set. Having brokered the end of the Browser Wars, they turned their attentions to the WYSIWYG tools like Dreamweaver, GoLive and (ahem) FrontPage, actually advising Macromedia on how to make DMX conform to Web Standards.
And now, this time, it's personal. Zeldman and the WaSP warriors are coming for you.
"Though today's browsers support standards, tens of thousands of professional designers and developers continue to use outdated methods that yoke structure to presentation".
This book is part of the campaign to educate us, the Web Professionals. It's part polemic, and part tutorial. Polemic because so many of us are yet a-standard (or even anti-standards), and tutorial because there's so much talk of why standards that a lot of us are saying "We know they're important. We know it's evil and wrong to use tables, and we know every time we use a deprecated tag a fairy dies somewhere - but how do we sew the DOM, XHTML, CSS and Accessibility all together?"
This book tells you how, and - because Zeldman is a real-life designer, just like us, he isn't pontificating from an ivory tower. This reader has read enough standards-fascists shouting "Ignore the real world!" and wonders if those authors actually do the stuff they're frothing about. Zeldman tells us that "My bias [is] toward getting work done under present conditions - a bias I believe most of this book's readers share". (page 3).
Inevitably, there's a forest of three-letter acronyms, and a lot of frankly rather dull stuff to get through, but Zeldman is (to this reader) as much a writer as he is Standards Samurai. There's a lot of jokes in the book. This reader is the first to admit that Accessibility, CSS, XHTML isn't the most fertile ground for thigh-slappin' gags, but there's enough wry smiles and flashes of personality to keep you turning the pages.
That's enough of the tone; what's the structure? Well, the first half of the book is the polemic. If you aren't a standards convert, this will make you one. If you're already a convert, but your boss/ client isn't, strategically leaving this book on the corner of their desk could result in your professional relationship with that boss suddenly becoming a whole lot easier. Like many polemic computer books, though, there's the danger of the first half of the book preaching to the choir.
The second half of the book is where the meat is. We go step-by-step through hybrid XHTML layouts, DOCTYPEs Standards Mode, Typography and Accessibility, leaning by doing it. This is not theoretical. The only depressing chapter is the one titled, "Box models, bugs and Workarounds", on how to accommodate the nasty gremlins of today's browsers. Unlike legacy browser-sniffing that we used to do, however, the Workarounds here are not wasted effort. Standards-compliance is not perfect in today's technology, but it's not going away; the WaSP have generated an unstoppable momentum.
What's bad about the book? Very little, really. It was `fast-tracked' through production, so the occasional page has a slight layout weirdness. Like many recent New Riders books, there's a typographical prissiness (the numerals `2' and `7' in the body of the text are the worst offenders). These are tiny points, from a publishing pedant, that I've only really included because the rest of the review is so glowing!