MacDirectory Magazine

Winter-Spring 2008 (#36)

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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Page 47 of 179

BOOK REVIEWS 46 MacDirectory Safari Books Online The truth is that the online eBook isn't a technology that has exactly taken the world by storm. In spite of the advantages of fast searching, no physical footprint and the economies of zero printing costs, most of us still prefer the half-millennium- old medium of the printed page (and this reviewer claims an enthusiastic member- ship in that group). And there are a lot of good reasons why publishers prefer the business model as well (not the least of which is the relative impracticality of trying to make a bootleg copy of a book). The focus of Safari Books Online is not so much to replace the paper volumes lining your bookshelf, as it is to open up another avenue of learning and research. In that sense, its main competition is the Web itself, with its billions of terabytes of free (and sometimes accurate and useful) information. To be a viable contender, Safari Books needs to offer an exceptionally broad collection of content in a format that is uniformly accessible. Even though its initial market was large institutions—it's a comparatively affordable way to expand and update both corporate and academic technical libraries—there are now subscription plans priced to attract individual users. For road warriors doing field support, it's a great way to keep an otherwise unwieldy reference library close at hand. Safari Books Online was started in 2001 as an unusual cooperative venture between two rivals in the world of technology publishing: O'Reilly Media and the Pearson Technology Group. Since then, the catalog of online titles has expanded to include offerings from Adobe Press to Wiley, a virtual Who's Who of high tech information and training. The online library has a very clear and consistent appearance and interface. This is rather remarkable when you have content ranging network certification exam preparation to lavishly illustrated titles on digital imaging and color management. Recognizing the challenges of doing heavy reading on a computer screen, Safari Books Online has obviously expended significant effort on design and layout. The pages are surprisingly comfortable and convenient to read. In the variety of titles we perused for this review, it was obvious that there were a lot of layout decisions made on a book-by- book basis. With some titles (notably the more traditional textbooks), the page layout and numbering matched the print version. With other books, the page lengths and other aspects of the formatting are adjusted for greater clarity and convenience. Each page sits in a consistently arranged navigation frame. The left sidebar contains tools to help navigate through the book and search the library. including the book's full table of contents. Disclosure triangles ("twirlies") let you expand the chapter titles to access specific sections. A search bar gives you the option to scan either just the book or the entire library and the advanced search option provides tools as extensive as you'll find in any online database. A book's alphabetical index, as you would imagine, is composed of hypertext links to pages rather than page numbers. At the bottom of each page, you'll find a list of "suggestions for further reading." These are context-sensitive links to pages in other books that may provide some useful background and detail. One feature we found the most useful was the ability to scale the body text size up or down without affecting the text in the other elements of the page. So, if you're on a laptop trying to exploit your screen space, you're not forced into eye- strain mode when you have some heavy reading to do, yet all the navigation elements stay handy. Safari Books subscribers can get a couple of new benefits that aren't available to folks who remain in the realm of print. A substantial amount of video training content is being added to the site on a regular basis. Subscribers get access to "Rough Cuts", pre-publication manuscripts that can be an invaluable asset for early adopters of new technologies. Much like beta testers, Rough Cut readers can provide direct feedback to the authors and editors. Another major challenge that the creators of Safari Books Online had to overcome was coming up with the technology and business model that would keep copyright-holders feeling secure while making their work both useful and affordable for subscribers. Depending on the service level you select, chapters can be downloaded in PDF format or printed. BOOK REVIEWS > READ THE FINEST IN PRINT... AND ONLINE REVIEWS BY RIC GETTER

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