Longtime readers of my book reviews know how consistent a fan I've been of Murach's unique series of technical training references. Differentiated from other technical books by both trim size and layout style, Murach's catalog of titles is more exclusive and selectively published, compared to their publishing competitors. Because of the additional time and attention given to Murach's product, the quality and clarity of their books is ideal for learning the depth of a broad topic in a refreshing textbook design.

At the same time, the world of technology and the dissemination of information continue to change rapidly. Nearly all the books I review these days are electronic editions, so returning to ink on paper was a nostalgic trip to pre-eBook days. Likewise, the basics of HTML and CSS have been foreshadowed by the advent of HTML5 and a rapidly expanding world of mobile devices that are Webkit-driven. And yet, the acknowledgment of both an eReader-friendly format (not just the proprietary Viewer edition for Windows and Mac), as well as more HTML5 and mobile device equality in the book, were absent in the distribution and execution of Murach's HTML, XHTML and CSS. Fortunately, the winning Murach methodology was still firmly in place for the book's foundational aspects.

Author Anne Boehm tacitly acknowledges Chrome, Opera, and Safari but spends the bulk of the book and accompanying screenshots with Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.5. An appendix on applications to use with the book (Notepad++, TextWrangler) could have been enhanced with the IE Developer Toolbar and Firefox plug-ins such as Firebug and Web Developer. In fact, using these free developer tools could have been employed as compelling learning catalysts. Instead, the book is mainly dedicated to ground-level HTML and CSS tags and principles. From that perspective, the book succeeds at delivering the basics that new page authoring recruits to the World Wide Web need to know.

Persistent Quality—but Dated Material

Divided into three sections of 15 chapters, the book begins with "A crash course in HTML, XHTML, and CSS" by walking readers through the basics of editing, testing, and validating web pages with HTML and CSS. Section 2 focuses on other HTML and CSS skills such as coding links, lists, tables, and forms and embedding images, audio, and video. Mobile devices are given some ink in Chapter 12, but the meager six pages on designing and testing mobile content doesn't go far enough. And although a chapter on JavaScript covers the elementary aspects of the language, Murach acknowledges the time investment required to learn JavaScript by publishing a book dedicated to the topic (Murach's JavaScript and DOM Scripting).

Still, it would have been educational for new students to understand the broader view of JavaScript's use in dynamic, Rich Internet Applications as well as to touch on some of the security concerns associated with relying on JavaScript. The book's final section examines web site usability, accessibility, and deployment.

Overall, Murach's quality is persistent, but I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the book was already dated for the modern age of web page standards. With the flurry of HTML5 and CSS3 titles coming out from many of today's tech book publishers, the limited scope of Murach's coverage of HTML and CSS is hard to interpret. Was the publisher trying to be deliberately focused on the essentials, or were these new developments overlooked during the book's gestation period? Regardless, for those of you new to web page development or who need a refresher on the basics of HTML and CSS, Murach's HTML, XHTML and CSS is certainly one of the better printed books on the subject. However, for those of you interested in a deeper dive, this book's generic approach may have you seeking an alternative source of material.

Mike Riley (mike@mikeriley.com) is an advanced computing professional specializing in emerging technologies and new development trends. He is also a contributing editor for DevProConnections. Follow Mike on Twitter @mriley.