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Books We Recommend on Web Design, Usability, and .NET Development

Over the years, we've gained many insights and much valuable information from authors who share our continual quest for excellence in design and software engineering. Here, for like-minded developers, we recommend some of our favorite books.

About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design

Book cover: "About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design".By Alan Cooper, the classic book offsite link.About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design (published by IDG WorldWide Books) should be read and reread by every software designer whether or not they design for the Web. You might know Alan as the "Father of Visual Basic."

Don't imagine for a second, though, that Alan is an introverted technocrat. Anyone who has attended a Cooper seminar and seen his huge "Software Sucks!" proclamation knows that he doesn't shy away from controversy. His engaging personality and strong views enliven his writing and, sometimes, enrage self-satisfied programmers.

Even if you don't agree with every single one of Alan's opinions (and you probably won't), once you read About Face you'll never view software design quite as comfortably as you did before. And if Alan enrages you, well, being enraged is lots better than being bored.

Doing Web Development: Client-Side Techniques

Book cover: "Doing Web Development: Client-Side Techniques".By Deborah Kurata, offsite link.Doing Web Development: Client-Side Techniques (published by Apress) introduces the client-side technologies that modern browsers use to present information in an attractive, useful manner. If you need to understand the basics of technologies such as DHTML (Dynamic HTML), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), XML (Extensible Markup Language), and JavaScripting, this book is for you. You'll learn about all of these technologies and, what's more, you'll see how they work together at the browser.

Always very clearly written, Deborah's books on Visual Basic programming—treasured by us—have described how to use her GUIDS (Goals, User Interface, Implementation, Data, Strategies) design approach to develop a high-quality object-oriented Visual Basic application. In Doing Web Development, she describes how to use the same basic approach to craft a browser-rendered User Interface using modern client-side techniques.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Book cover: "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum".By Alan Cooper (yes, the same Alan Cooper), offsite link.The Inmates Are Running the Asylum (published by Sams) provides loads of invaluable advice about designing usable software. In case you wonder how this title relates to software design, just substitute "programmers and engineers" for the word "inmates." (We told you that Alan doesn't shy away from controversy.)

Although we find this entire book to be valuable and entertaining, we'd like to call your attention especially to the last chapters, those on developing personas, creating scenarios, and ensuring the usability of software. We can attest to the importance of those techniques from our own experiences in designing Web sites and conducting usability audits.

Microsoft AJAX Library Essentials

Book cover: "Microsoft AJAX Library Essentials".By By Bogdan Brinzarea and Cristian Darie, offsite link.Microsoft AJAX Library Essentials (published by Packt) explains exactly how AJAX programming works in language that any experienced ASP.NET programmer will truly appreciate. AJAX programming allows developers to create Web pages that provide a responsive user interface akin to desktop applications. An AJAX-enabled Web page can also exchange information with the server without the need for reloading the page on each round trip.

AJAX client technology depends upon Javascript, which is supported by all modern browsers. The powerful Microsoft AJAX Library, written in Javascript, exposes a familiar object-oriented framework that permits ASP.NET programmers to enhance both the look and speed of their Web applications. What's more, the library automatically adjusts for the annoying variations in programming models (DOMs) supported by different browsers. (To be blunt, Internet Explorer is the main culprit there.)

The authors bring their readers along in a logical, step by step progression starting with very clear explanations of how AJAX client and server interactions take place and how the object-oriented features of Javascript differ from the .NET languages. The book's well-chosen case study shows the reader, by example, how to make practical use of the Microsoft AJAX library. We feel that every ASP.NET programmer will find Microsoft AJAX Library Essentials a valuable read and a frequent reference.

Moving to VB.NET: Strategies, Concepts, and Code

Book cover: "Moving to VB.NET: Strategies, Concepts, and Code".By Dan Appleman, Visual Basic guru, author, and founder of Apress, offsite link.Moving to VB.NET: Strategies, Concepts, and Code (published by Apress, of course) tells Visual Basic programmers what they need to know to move from Visual Basic 5 or 6 to Visual Basic .NET. If you plan to make that move, we recommend that you read Dan's book even before you read our book!

During the beta testing of the .NET Framework, we worked with Visual Basic .NET for many months before Dan's Moving to VB.NET book became available, but we learned a lot from it nevertheless. If we'd had his book at the outset, we'd have saved oceans of time and—in one case, anyway—hair.

If you've been programming in Visual Basic for awhile, we're sure that you've encountered Dan's invaluable books on using the Windows API. When you move to Visual Basic .NET, you'll find this book just as worthwhile.

Programming VB.NET: A Guide for Experienced Programmers

Book cover: "Programming VB.NET: A Guide for Experienced Programmers".By Gary Cornell with help from Jonathan Morrison, offsite link.Programming VB.NET: A Guide for Experienced Programmers (published by Apress) explains how to use the first fully object-oriented version of Visual Basic to create robust, state-of-the-art programs. The authors of this book don't pussyfoot around. They make no bones about addressing it to experienced programmers.

On the other hand, you don't have to be experienced in earlier versions of Visual Basic to understand Programming VB.NET. It will help, though, if your experience includes familiarity with the principles of object-oriented programming.

We found Gary's book to be a valuable addition to our library even after we worked with pre-release versions of Visual Basic .NET for over a year and one-half. We recommend it highly.

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