This book takes novice to intermediate designers to the next level and is also useful as a desktop quick reference. Many buy such books and end up never opening them or maybe a few times before it's outdated. I admit I'm one of those people, but not when it comes to the weasel (picture on the cover) book. This is the book the professor assigned for one of my first Web design classes and it is responsible for my learning tables, CSS, and knowing when to make a graphics file .gif or .jpg.
It's the most well worn Web design book I have in my collection and the only HTML book I ever bought. Thankfully, there is little that's changed in the format of the book because it wasn't broken. Robbins takes the appropriate steps to update it and expand the sections that are more relevant today.
The book starts off by addressing the biggest challenge of designing a site that looks good in every browser and version. "Designing for a Variety of Browsers" has a two-page chart of various browsers and versions for the Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX environments, showing what each supports and doesn't support.
The next chapter covers another source of frustration for designers, "Designing for a Variety of Displays." If you monitor your Web visitor stats, then you'll probably notice that no size leads the majority especially with WebTV, handheld, and cellular devices accessing the Internet. There are screen shots of browser and system measurements and tips for designing for various displays.
Chapter 26, "Flash and Shockwave" explains what it is, advantages and disadvantages, introduces you to the Flash interface, adding a Flash file to a Web page, and integrating it with other technologies. Flash is a whole different animal and the book gives you the big picture of how it fits with designing Web pages. The following chapter on SMIL covers the same basics.
As useful as special characters can be, I never remember what to type to make the symbol appear, though I know these now. Finding the special character chart is the only complaint I had from the original edition and not even the index helped me find it, so I had to tab the page. This has now been remedied with one of the best improvements of moving the special character reference chart to the appendix for speedy access. Other appendices in the book are listings of HTML tags, attributes, deprecated tags, proprietary tags, and CSS compatibility and support.
As your design skills and knowledge grow, there is always a question that prompts you to open the book and get your answer. It holds true today as I retire the worn out book with a loose page thanks to a certain child and happily replace it with its new younger sibling.
***3rd edition update***
The third edition took a bigger leap from the second than the second took from the first. Web Design in a Nutshell, 3rd ed., comes with a greater focus on Web standards and cascading style sheets (CSS). In fact, the book opens with a chapter on Web standards, whereas it was merely a footnote in the previous edition.
Rather than a sole chapter on HTML, the markup chapter blends HTML and XHTML. The chapter comes with notes explaining the major differences between HTML and XHTML. The greater emphasis on XHTML ensures newer designers dive right into XHTML and improve their chances of designing standards compliant Web pages. Furthermore, the appendix includes HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0 and 1.1, and CSS 2.1 references.
Ajax and WCAG 2.0 have barely been around in terms of publishing time. While the Ajax process isn't new, but its terminology and popularity are recent. Both items are covered, albeit briefly. Had Robbins wrote the book now, Ajax would not likely get huge coverage as it's a little advanced for the book's purposes and target market.
Part III is devoted to CSS, which contains 10 new chapters -- a must as CSS becomes a design standard not something to play with. The third edition superbly reflects today's Web development environment and still sticks to its main purpose -- helping new and intermediate designers get up to speed on Web design. The book continues its role as a valuable reference.