First Monday

The Efficient Web: new books

Gunther Birznieks and Selena Sol
CGI for commerce.
New York: M&T Books, 1997.
paper, 413 p., with CD-ROM, ISBN 1-558-51559-3, $US39.95
M&T Books:

For those ready to create an online store and put those virtual shopping carts into motion, this book is for you. In two parts, the opening ten chapters describe how to load the scripts to your server, modify the variables, define the variables, set up the databases providing access to products, process orders, and check logs. The second section of this book, in 8 chapters, explains why the scripts and variables work the way they do in your store (always useful if there are problems). Appendices explain the contents of the compact disk (scripts for both Unix and Windows NT/95) and the essentials of Perl. Written for well-experienced Web administrators with some experience in CGI applications and Perl, CGI for commerce is full of details and examples. For a more basic introduction to electronic commerce via the Web, look elsewhere. - ejv

Martin Bryan
SGML and HTML explained.
Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
paper, 234 p., with CD-ROM, ISBN 0-201-40394-3, $US39.95

Why does HTML do that? How does HTML relate to SGML? Bryan's SGML and HTML explained lives up to all expectations and its title, in providing a concise explanation of the grammar of this most useful language. The accompanying compact disk makes a portion of the text available electronically so you can experiment as you see fit. Fifteen short chapters take you from the practical reasons for a markup language to SGML groves and DSSSL (Document Style Semantics and Specification Language). Curious why attributes work in their particular way? What kind of rules govern tags? How do declarations create a document type definition? Martin Bryan explains all in this delightful little book, taking you well beyond 'how' you should work in HTML to the underlying reasons why. For those ready to graduate to this level of understanding about HTML and SGML, this book is an absolute necessity and a surprising delight as well.- ejv

Karen Coyle
Coyle's information highway handbook: A Practical file on the new information order.
Chicago: ALA Editions, 1997.
paper, 297 p., ISBN 0-838-90708-3, $US30.00
ALA Editions:

A collection of selections from reports, papers, and other files related to the Internet, Coyle's handbook acts as a guide to copyright, privacy, censorship, access, and other fundamental issues. Coyle selects documents with care and provides her own analysis of the issues, creating a context for the primary documents. Those close to the battle lines on these topics - as a content provider, trainer, lawyer, or librarian - may not always agree with some of Coyle's sweeping (and at times irritating) statements. Those well versed in some of the history of these issues may wonder over the exclusion of some files, reports, and papers, and the inclusion of others. Much of the information and opinions included in this book are historical; Coyle admits that "even the most dedicated information professionals [are] hard-pressed to keep up." So who will find this book useful? Those trying to get a handle on the basics of Internet controversies can start with this book, using it as a catalogue or guide to the essential documents. Many pointers in the book will take you online to check out the most current developments. For others very familiar with the debates on copyright, censorship, and privacy, this book is really not much of a handbook; look online for the latest news and debates at sites maintained by organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. - ejv

Carl Malamud
A World's fair for the global village.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.
cloth, 281 p., with CD-ROM and audio CD, ISBN 0-262-13338-5, $US40.00
MIT Press:
World's Fair companion site:

How can you critically treat a book with a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, an afterward by Laurie Anderson, an original audio CD with Japanese toccatas, Burmese songs, and lyrics by Charlotte Brontë? In four sections, this well-organized and highly illustrated coffee-table book describes the development of the 1996 Internet World Exhibition and its use by some five million people. Supported by a long list of corporations and governments, this virtual event attracted digital pavilions from 80 countries and visitors from 130 different countries. The last chapters of the book describe information and resources organized for the fair from different regions in the world, from the Americas to Asia and Africa and everywhere it seems in between. Malamud's conversational style brings a sense of familiarity to the text, so you really feel a part of the entire history of the event, its planning, problems, and successes. The fair - like any fair - had something for everyone from the world's first karaoke religious Internet multicast (Handel's Messiah) to virtual cows ( you could create your own cow!). How did this really work? Well, the chapter entitled "The Internet Railroad" explains nearly everything you need to know. How did governments around the world react? Visit the Reinventing Government Pavilion to discover a few examples. Looking for the perfect way to explain the potential of the Internet to your family, friends, or colleagues? This book provides every reason what the Internet can do, right now. - ejv

Chuck Musciano and Bill Kennedy
HTML: The Definitive guide.
Second edition.
Sebastopol, Calif.: O'Reilly & Associates, 1997.
paper, 531 p., ISBN 1-565-92235-2, $US32.95
O'Reilly & Associates:

Like most HTML toilers, my office is littered with at least five or six well-used and marked HTML guides, manuals, and digests. However, the best clue to the utility of any of these tomes is measured by its distance to the keyboard; the closer it happens to be, the more a given text seems to work as advertised. In the past few months, Musciano and Kennedy's HTML: The Definitive guide easily wins this competition. Its 15 chapters and six appendices provide plenty of details and help just when you need that exact answer right away. The first half of the book looks at HTML basics - how to deal with layout of text, links, graphics, and other fundamentals. The second half treats lists, style sheets, forms, tables, frames, applets, and a few tricks. Appendices look at HTML conventions, tags, character entities, and colors, among other topics. A quick reference card, inserted at the back of book, provides help to the impatient. Like all O'Reilly books, this guide is nicely designed to open flat, with lots of illustrations and HTML examples embedded throughout. Utilitarian, this book will be useful to almost anyone doing anything with HTML (and especially for those who think that they know it all). You too will somehow find a place for it within arm's length. - ejv

John Rhoton
X.400 and SMTP: Battle of the e-mail protocols.
Boston: Digital Press, 1997.
paper, 207 p., ISBN 1-555-58165-X, $US34.95
Digital Press:

With the growing popularity of the Internet and Internet-based electronic mail, the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is growing in popularity and use. For those working with X.400 backbones and for those without a link to the Internet, this book provides a good explanation of electronic mail and its mechanics. John Rhoton, working with DEC's office automation solutions, personally struggled with the technical and arcane literature of electronic mail; this book summarizes his experiences in digesting this information and making it accessible to his clients and colleagues. The opening three chapters explain the anatomy of electronic messages, their layers and attributes in terms of the three primary standards bodies (International Telecommunications Union, International Organization for Standardization, and the Internet Engineering Task Force). The middle three chapters describe how messages move from place to place over networks, routing and transferring information with ease and reliability. The final three chapters tackle security and the migration of information to different kinds of gateways and routers. The last chapter analyzes the evidence in favor of SMTP and X.400, making a few recommendations with lots of references to further details. Six appendices provide X.400, MIME, POP3, and SMTP examples as well as other details. For those weighing SMTP and X.400 as options, this excellent book provides a great deal of understandable information on both protocols. For those interested in understanding a little why electronic mail works, Rhoton's book is a good introduction to digital messaging and its future prospects. - ejv

Aviel D. Rubin, Daniel Geer, and Marcus J. Ranum
Web security sourcebook.
New York: Wiley, 1997.
paper, 350 p., ISBN 0-471-18148-X, $US29.99
Web security sourcebook companion site:

Worried about your server? Concerned about your firewall and its virtual moat? Is there a good explanation of the basic issues, without a lot of code and cyber-babble? Web security sourcebook is an accessible explanation of many of the security issues for Web administrators, straight talk with the chatter. The authors in 11 chapters and two appendices guide you through many of the issues, with plenty of pointers to further details on the Internet. For those trying to understand the basics, a number of chapters review the essentials of browser and server security, scripts and firewalls, and electronic commerce and cryptography with direct, plain language. Don't understand hostile applets? Is your server in a DMZ? Ready to use BABEL? Web security sourcebook explains these well, with illustrations, comprehensible text, and pointers to references and other sites. I found the authors' predictions of future security follies sobering; networked viruses, robbery of digital certificates, and targeted Trojan horses sound frightening even if they are fictional right now. Even though this book may not reduce your risk, it will help you prepare for most contingencies and think about what needs to be done as your Internet audience and Web-based information grow. Practical and highly readable, this book is recommended to Webmasters and especially their supervisors. - ejv

Bob Weil and Chris Baron
Drag 'n' drop CGI: Enhance your Web site without programming.
Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
paper, 367 p., with CD-ROM, ISBN 0-201-41966-1, $US32.95
Drag 'n' drop CGI companion site:

Many Web developers look with envy at sites running seemingly magical programming tricks - forms, search engines, even scrolling text. Given the basic constraints in keeping a server up-to-date and content-rich, many Web administrators put Common Gateway Interfaces (CGI) and Perl (Practical Extraction and Report Language) on a virtual back burner. For many, literature on CGI and Perl was not designed for the faint-hearted or programming-challenged. Drag 'n' drop CGI is a welcome addition to the current growing library of books on CGI and Perl, because it simply is a cookbook. With the contents of the accompanying compact disk, the right kind of server, and a little time and patience, nearly anyone can add an online store or a client-side form to their server. In 16 well-written chapters and three appendices, the authors guide you through the complexities of Perl and CGI with humor and experience. All of the "recipes" have been tested on a variety of servers; the authors even provide on the CD and in the text a series of questions that you need to ask your Internet Service Provider in advance of your initial experiments with the suggestions in the book. The opening chapters of the book give you a Web context for CGIs and programming in general. After this orientation (with an explanation of JavaScript), your first script explains how you can set up a counter on your site. Subsequent chapters give you "recipes" for JavaScript-based scrolling text; Perl-inspired graphics variations; remote controls; interactive forms; search engines; and, an online store. For those ready to take the next interactive step with their servers, Drag 'n' drop CGI is the perfect tool to get up to speed productively with the fundamentals of CGI.- ejv

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