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The World-Wide Web: Beneath the Surf, by Mark Handley, Jon Crowcroft,
UCL Press, ISBN: 1-85728-435-6, paperback.

My immediate reaction to any book on the World-Wide Web has become "(sigh) do we really need another?" And since the authors have more than a modest reputation within the Internet community, I even questioned why Mark and Jon would compromise their integrity or waste their collective talents on producing "yet another Web book."

Web Books

The answer lies in the title. You have to go beneath the surf (in the U.S., we might say "under the hood," or in England, "under the bonnet") to appreciate Beneath the Surf. Web books fall into two categories. The first category is the HTML-primer-how-to-publish-on-the-NET, among which I find Ed Tittel's HTML for Dummies amply practical. The second is generally more offensive, characterized by long lists of "way cool Web sites" which have probably long since ceased to be cool by the time the book hits the shelves. Handley and Crowcroft depict books of the second form as guides for cyber-tourists, and observe that "virtual fashions and weather change too rapidly for a book to be a valid medium to store [that] kind of information."

Organization

Beneath the Surf explains how the Web works in a crisp, concise manner. [1] The first two chapters blitzkrieg you through Internet and information server technology, explaining the concepts and terminology of the Internet and in so doing, laying the stage for an introduction to W3. Chapter 3 takes you through a top-down examination of how the Web works and introduces all the important aspects of W3 technology--uniform resource locators (URLs), HyperText Markup Language and Transfer Protocol (HTML and HTTP, respectively)--and through simple examples, demonstrates how a Web page is borne. Chapter 4 examines client (browser) aspects of the Web in detail, while Chapter 5 attends to the details of how to present  information using Web servers. Chapters 6 and 7 examine Web page design and linkage issues by illustrating examples of academic and commercial pages rather than by listing URLs. Chapter 8 lists all of the WWW servers known at the time of publication, and describes some configuration aspects of the popular WWW servers. (The approach here is value-neutral; if you are interested in opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of PC, UNIX, and Macintosh servers, I'd again recommend Ed Tittel's HTML for Dummies.)

Complete and compact

Chapters 9 and 10 discuss problems with the WWW, and speculate on the future of the Web and the Internet at large. The authors clearly separate themselves from the rest of the pack by identifying the many areas for improvement, and by expressing without hysteria many of the issues that should be of concern to anyone deeply committed to the future of the Internet. A very complete set of appendices present HTML/SGML, URL, HTTP, and MIME grammar and specification. The book reminds me of a very good compression program: Handley and Crowcroft cram a whole lot of information into a very small package.

-- reviewed by David M. Piscitello, Core Competence, Inc. dave@corecom.com

Reprinted with permission from ConneXions, Volume 10, No. 1 January 1996.

ConneXions-- The Interoperability Report is published monthly by:
Interop Company, a division of SOFTBANK Expos.

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