|Perl: the Markov chain saw|
Perl CD Bookshelf Version 3.0by marvell (Pilgrim)
|on Nov 25, 2002 at 14:29 UTC||Need Help??|
Item Description: 7 Bestselling Books on CD-ROM
Review Synopsis: A paper lover's view.
Being a great fan of paper, I entered into this review with fear and trepidation. What is a CD bookshelf? Who is it for? Is it cost effective? Is it any good? Will it be any good for me? These were the questions I wanted answers to, and this is how it went.
A CD bookshelf is a collection of books, on a CD. More than that, you get a master index, covering all of the books, and a search facility, which you'd not find with normal paper manuals, of course. The CD, in this instance, has seven books (even though the search help page states six):
The pack also comes with a paper version of Perl in a Nutshell, which was most gratifying for me, but I'm not sure what the point was, in context. Described as a "Bonus Book", the implication is that it's free, which it clearly isn't. The production cost of the book would have been large in comparison to the CD, and it adds a lot more weight to the package.
Previous versions of of the Perl CD Bookshelf have always come with Perl in a Nutshell, Programming Perl and the Perl Cookbook and have always come with a paper Nutshell. Previous other books have included, Learning Perl, Advanced Perl Programming, Learning Perl on Win32 Systems and Perl for System Administration.
The fact that Learning Perl and Advanced Perl Programming were included together rather implied that it wasn't really aimed at learners. Indeed, how many learners invest this much money in a new language up front? So, who is it for? Well, judging by the titles, it's for people who program Perl and needs a good reference. I was slightly concerned about the validity of the Systems Administration title, but it's clear that the XML and LWP titles are for Perl programmers, in many contexts.
The choices are clearly difficult. There is not a whole range of CD bookshelves, one for web people, one for data mungers and one for computer scientists. O'Reilly has tried to find a balance of titles and levels to attract as many people as possible, but is that the right thing to do?
The pack sells for £76 and with each book retailing at £20 to £30, you make a significant saving on purchasing the books individually. So, would you buy them all anyway? Well, no, but you only need to want four of them, and it's paid for itself. Of course, this does not include the other bonuses of having a search facility and other bonuses of electronic storage.
So, down using it. I slapped in the CD and got on with it. Browsing was easy. Just as easy as surfing the web. The pages were laid out well and it was obvious what to do. The internal references worked as you'd expect. The master index was very useful indeed, giving you the ability to choose your book based on your type of enquiry.
The search facility was implemented with ease in mind. Most search systems I've written myself have used CGI or similar technology; relying on a web server. This is clearly not an option for something everyone should be able to just get on with, so the Java solution is a good idea.
The search system is not pretty and it's no more than a boolean full text search. It's slick, and returns results. I hope that in the future, we can see a more complex search involving relevance and maybe some intelligence. Clearly this would require further work from O'Reilly, and that rather depends on the user base and popularity.
I would have liked to seen phrase matching, ie. the ability to match two or more words which are concurrent. With some of the pages being very large indeed, the results can often lack context by virtue of the fact that there are many contexts in one place. An example was the flip-flop (..), also known as the 'range operator'. I had to search for '(flip flop) or (range operator)' since there are no synonym matches. This resulted in a multitude of irrelevant links, since the words 'range' and 'operator' are frequent on many pages, even though they are not in the same context. I would have liked the ability to search for '"flip flop" or "range operator"' and not have that problem.
Another useful feature would have been to indicate the position of the searched term in the text itself. With large pages, an extra, browser level, search is often required to find the actual reference. It is not beyond the ability of a good web programmer to perform this action, nor would it to provide some context of information when the search results were returned, which would have been another useful feature. With so much space left on the CD, I'm sure there is room for extra indeces and to split up the book. This would note require extra analysis of the books themselves, but would enhance the text searching ability greatly.
I tested the system on numerous browsers on different platforms. The HTML works fine, but the search Java system does not work on newer browsers with newer JREs, like Mozilla or Opera.
For me the relevance of the titles was good. The value for money was good and the extra ability to have, say, multiple pages of the same book open and to do global searches, added value. I still like reading books for learning, but for reference, this is much better.
In summary, the CD bookshelf represents a good reference source for most Perl programmers. It is pretty much always cost effective and is more likely to be so if you've not bought one before or you are a Perl programmer covering many fields. It works on many system and is very easy to use. The search engine is useful, but could be much more so.
I liked it a lot.
Steve Marvell is the Proprietor of an IT Solutions Provider based in the South West of England and runs the Devon and Cornwall Perl Mongers.
This review may be used, in full, including this message, by anyone, but may not be edited without the author's permission.