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Book Reviews

Submission + - SPAM: Android Application Development

stoolpigeon writes: "Google's mobile OS Android has received plenty of press. As with a lot of Google products, there was much anticipation before any devices were even available. Now a number of phones are available, with many more coming out world-wide in the near future. Part of the lure of Android is the openness of the platform and the freely available tools for development. The SDK and accompanying Eclipse plug-in give the would be creator of the next great Android application everything they need to make their idea reality. The bar to entry in the official Google Android Marketplace is very low and it doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to predict that the number of developers working on Android is only going to grow. As with any hot technology the number of books will grow as well and O'Reilly's Android Application Development has jumped into the fray, promising to help budding Android developers what they need to get started.

The book begins with a brief introduction to Android followed by detailed instructions on procuring and installing the Android SDK. Space is given to Windows, Linux and Mac. The install is relatively simple on all three platforms, extra information is provided for Ubuntu users but no others distributions. Extra care is taken to help Windows users with items they may not use regularly, such as environmental variables. This is all pretty basic and gives the book very much of a 'for beginners' feel. Before I had the book I had already installed the SDK and Eclipse plug-in on Windows, Ubuntu and Fedora without any issues beyond getting a current version of Eclipse for the Ubuntu machine. The version I already had from the Ubuntu repositories was not able to run the plug-in. It's a short chapter and if someone really struggles with it, they probably should shift their focus from learning to code to learning how to use their platform of choice. This does set the tone though, that this is a book for those who are very new to development.

Chapter two steps the reader through the ever present "Hello World" and gives an overview of the structure of Android applications. Chapter three introduces the example application that will be used for the rest of the book. There is a lot of repetition here on just what directories and files make up the guts of an Android program. I was quickly worried ( the first four chapters are only fifty-six pages in ) that maybe four authors had been too many. The repetition made it feel as if separate work had been combined without enough editing to remove what was redundant. Fortunately this got better, though there was still a strange proclivity to list files while referring to earlier chapters that explained their purpose. This would be helpful to anyone jumping right into the middle of the book, but the index also serves the same purpose and saves space for more valuable content, as opposed to explaining the purpose of AndroidManifest.xml repeatedly.

Once I moved into the fifth chapter, Debugging Android Applications and the following chapters, things got better. The pace picked up and the repetition dropped off for the most part. The book did not become incredibly difficult, trying to be everything to everyone, but did maintain an introductory style. At the same time the example application makes use of many Android features that are likely to be used by developers. How to set up and use tools was covered step by step. This is very nice but did cause some issues for the authors due to the rapid pace of development on Android. A visit to the book's errata page will show that many readers struggled with changes to the SKD tool set that came out very shortly after the book. The authors say that future editions will fix these issues, but this creates a dilemma for that reader needing introductory level materials. They are more dependent upon the book than a more advanced user and so these issues can be very trying. Based on the responses to the errata posts it became trying for the authors as well. This isn't a knock on the book itself but rather a limitation of the delivery method.

Once the reader is digging down into the example application the team approach to writing the book does become an asset. The authors bring a number of skills to the table that closely resemble the players that would be necessary to a team developing a real-world application. The reader is now being pulled into an example that benefits from the knowledge of each and does a good job of exploring the range of options an Android developer has available. This includes core functionality, UI options and how to best take advantage of the platform while at the same time taking performance and user expectations into account. I felt like I was getting something beyond the excellent documentation provided by Google. This is where I felt the book stood strongest.

Working with a single, large example application was a move that probably helped move things along on writing the book and I think it's an interesting approach. The problem is of course, that means that this example must be right. Right for the task and technically correct. Small issues in the code are inevitable but now their impact is book wide. The changes to the platform just made it just that much more difficult to sort out. On the whole I still found this to be a better approach primarily due to the fact that it gives the features highlighted a better sense of context. Stand-alone examples are often good at highlighting technical features but completely ignore the issues necessary to using the feature in a larger piece of code.

I'm a fan of O'Reilly books. Interestingly enough this doesn't mean that I'll gloss over issues with what they produce. The result is actually the inverse, in that I go into all their titles with a high level of expectation with regards to quality on every level. This may mean that though I strive to be neutral when I look at a book, I'm probably a little tougher on O'Reilly titles. This made my rough start with Android Application Development a bit jarring. The repetition and what felt like sloppy editing are not what I expect. I was quickly given a sense that this book may have been rushed to publication a little sooner than it should have been. As I moved deeper into the book, things improved and while I think there were still editorial issues, things did seem to smooth out to some degree.

There is an interesting tension that exists purely do to the nature of print books. I don't like to bring up print versus electronic in reviews as I don't think it is on topic, but here it is unavoidable. The book is aimed at people that need a little more hand holding and help getting going. It does a good job of providing step by step instructions, the problem is that some of those steps have changed. I don't think anything in the code itself needs to be different, but the tools have changed enough that getting the code to run in a development environment against the new SDK is different. That means that portion of the book is no longer of as much value without going to other sources to find the new steps.

That said, warts and all I found this to be a helpful way to get my feet wet with Android. I really look forward to future versions as I think just a little more time and work will move this from my 'good' list to my 'great' list. Making things a little tighter and cleaning up the few typos and errors would certainly make this an 8 instead of an 7, which is really substantial in my mind. I'm no super developer and I need stuff like this, that can take things a little more slowly and make it all clear. I think this guide is great for those of us in that category as long as the reader is o.k. with hopping to external sources for the information they'll need to get the newer tool set working.

Title: Android Application Development
Author: Rick Rogers, John Lombardo, Zigurd Mednieks, Blake Meike
Publisher: O'Reilly Media Inc.
Pages: 332
ISBN: 978-0-596-52147-9
Rating: 7/10
Tagline: Programming with the Google SDK.
Reviewer: JR Peck"

Submission + - SPAM: Learning Ext JS

stoolpigeon writes: "Rich Internet Applications (RIA) have often been associated with some type of sandbox or virtual machine environment to make desktop features available via the web. Many applications though, have left behind the restrictions and demands of those technologies, implementing RIAs as pure web interfaces. One key technology in this area is JavaScript. It's been well documented that working with JavaScript can be problematic across various browsers. In response a number of JavaScript libraries have been created to alleviate the issues in dealing with different browsers, allowing developers to focus on application logic rather than platform concerns. One such library, focused on providing tools for building RIAs is Ext JS. For the aspiring developer looking to use Ext JS, Packt provides a guide to the library in the form of Learning Ext JS

The book is written for people with experience in doing web development. The authors state that a working knowledge of HTML and CSS are important, but experience with JavaScript is not essential. I think that a reader that has not used JavaScript may want to supplement this guide with something that covers the basics of JS. Experienced developers that haven't worked specifically with web programming should have no trouble keeping up. Anyone completely new to the idea of programming, scripting, markup, etc. really will need to take some time to get familiar with those concepts before they dive into this book. The authors do not spend time teaching programming, they are focused purely on realistic applications of Ext JS.

The authors begin by stating that, "Ext is not just another JavaScript library..." and it is understandable that they would feel this way. I am unsure why one wouldn't think so other than a personal preference for the product. That said Ext JS can be used alongside other JS libraries and does provide a lot of features 'out of the box' that make it an attractive choice. The emphasis on RIA widgets and building strong applications is nice as Ext JS is not working to be all things to all developers.

The book is heavy on code and examples but not so much so that it falls into the cook-book style of writing. Learning Ext JS is more of an extended tutorial with ample explanation to help the reader not only understand the code but why certain choices are made. Frederick, Ramsay and Blades have done a good job of working through the examples in a concise manner. While the book is the result of group work, it does not have the feeling of being written by a community. I did not run into an abundance of repetition and topics flowed well. Learning Ext JS also covers installation and integration of the library as well as a very quick survey of tools for development. While short these sections would be extremely important to anyone coming into web development with little experience.

It's a quick read, and doesn't delve extremely deeply into more advanced topics. Rather, a reader new to Ext JS will get a launch that should make the library usable in a practical way and also give them the framework to push deeper. The book was written and published just as Ext JS moved between versions. The new version is backwards compatible with the material in this book and a number of the changes in version three would not have fallen within the scope of this book, so it is still a good place to get started with Ext JS. Those who want to dig deeper will need to look elsewhere.

The brevity of the book wont work for those folks who want to really dig down deep into Ext JS. I on the other hand, wasn't looking for a massive tome to lug around and grind through. I was happy to have a very accessible tool that would get me started quickly and that is what I got. On the other hand I do like to be able to find what I need quickly and nothing is more important to me when learning than a solid index. Unfortunately the only really large ding I have for the book is that the index is weak. It would be a lot worse if the book were larger, so the brevity helps here a bit, but it's still unfortunate. This does make the ebook version a little more attractive. Packt will bundle them at a cost that makes the addition of the electronic copy very attractive. That said, the easy flow does it make it easy to read this book front to back while working the examples. Learning Ext JS just wont be my first choice when I need to quickly check a reference.

I've discussed the shallow coverage, but this does not mean that the book is not useful. The Ext JS library bundles enough functionality into the stock widgets, that decent applications could be written with nothing more. Creating custom widgets is covered and extending existing code as well, but this is later in the book. The material prior to that covers not only the use of the provided widgets but how to tie them together, theme an app and then handling data. This means the reader pretty much has everything in hand to build a stock application. The focus is on dealing with these issues on the client side. The examples do include a small amount of back end code when necessary for the execution of examples. All the examples are available to download from the Packt site and come packaged with all necessary scripts, images, etc.

I've always worked primarily with desktop applications. I've done some work with web applications, but it seems to me that increasingly the tools that I use the most are web based. With technology like Google Gears making those applications available whether I'm connected or not they have become much more attractive. Tools like Ext JS make it much easier for me to transition over to this new way of developing applications. I've found that Learning Ext JS has been a valuable resource in taking what is a great resource and allowing me to get the most out of it more rapidly than I would have otherwise. Reviewer: JR Peck Title: Learning Ext JS Author: Shea Frederick, Colin Ramsay, Steve 'Cutter' Blades Publisher: Packt Publishing Pages: 309 ISBN: 978-1-847195-14-2 Rating: 8/10 Tagline: Build dynamic, desktop-style user interfaces for your data-driven web applications."

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