barryhawkins writes "
Programmers are flooded with choices about which technologies to pursue in order to maintain a marketable skillset. Even in a particular area of programming like web applications, one must choose carefully where to invest time. Ajax, to the regret of some and delight of others, has emerged as a means of providing rich, responsive web applications that are highly cross-platform. However, when arriving home after a 10-hour day at the office programming, who has the energy to plow through yet another new facet of emerging technology? If a developer is going to invest their free time in self-driven career development, should it not be at least remotely enjoyable? Judging from the content of O'Reilly's new release Head Rush Ajax, their answer is yes." Read the rest of Barry's review.
Like its forerunner the Head First series, the Head Rush line approaches learning a given technical topic with the principles derived from studies in cognitive science, neurobiology, and educational psychology. It comes as no surprise that the classic approach of turgid, monotonous, visually-fatiguing tomes is not the ideal way to have someone learn a topic. Learning is aided by having variation in the way content is presented. This book moves between presentation of information, application through interactive exercises, and review questions that stimulate the reader and invite them to continue in the book's journey through Ajax. Each exercise is also tied to a storyline, where the reader has a person with an application that needs to be enhanced by the application of the skills being learned.
Head Rush Ajax scales well. Ready-to-run scripts for the more technical components of the sample applications are provided so that a reader with only a background in HTML and CSS will not experience barriers to participation early in the book. This facility does not come at the expense of the experienced web developer; anyone who knows their way around a PHP script and databases is free to write the server-side code on their own. Some readers may look upon the choice of PHP for the back-end scripts as regrettable, particularly those with Java and .Net backgrounds. However, the focus is on Ajax itself, and not the particular back-end platform providing the HTTP responses. Those who look upon that sort of thing with scorn typically view Ajax as a novelty itself, so the number of complaints about using PHP should be relatively low; the dissenting voices will have probably passed over Ajax for the time being anyway.
The author never takes himself too seriously; the informal tone of the book is comfortable, like having a conversation with one's colleagues at the office. The balance of levity and solid technical content is refreshing, making this volume of some 400 pages reach its end surprisingly soon. Retro cartoon graphics and narrative comments like "Now, everyone hates you. You're an idiot, and all this Ajax stuff was a waste of time" when a URL caching error is uncovered make for a genuinely enjoyable read.
The Document Object Model, or DOM, has long had a reputation for being an unwieldy and problematic interface to manipulate. The tree metaphor used in this book along with the series of progressive exercises present the DOM in a refreshingly approachable manner. By the end of the DOM-specific coverage, an entire application has been created that is highly dynamic yet involves no Ajax-specific coding. The critical role of the DOM in effective use of Ajax is driven home without being heavy-handed.
The progression of the book is masterful. The types of issues that typically plague web applications are addressed in the order they tend surface during the lifecycle of a real-world application. Proper functionality is the first stage, followed by enhanced functionality, then onto issues with synchronicity, security, and more complex domain model requirements. A reader can pass through an encapsulated representation of application lifecycles by working through the book from start to finish.
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