Friday, January 21, 2011

Cool Tool for Web Developers: XAMPP

I'm currently reading PHP 6 and MySQL 5 for Dynamic Web Sites: Visual QuickPro Guide. So far I'm loving this book because it is straightforward useful stuff. I'll get more into why I like it so much when I post the review. One of the more useful things I've been introduced to through this book is XAMPP.

When I got the book I knew I was going to have to download a program to run PHP and MySQL. After I started reading I realized I would also need to run Apache for my server which makes sense if I'd thought about it beforehand. I don't really like configuring software. I feel like I should as a software person but it really just irks me. The idea of finding, downloading and configuring all these components and making them work together seemed daunting.

The book referred me to the appendix for installation instructions where it introduced me to XAMPP. The XAMPP website describes the product better than I can. "XAMPP is an easy to install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP and Perl. XAMPP is really very easy to install and to use - just download, extract and start." They aren't kidding. It really is that easy. It took me about 15 minutes to download, configure, and start using the Apache server with PHP and MySQL! The ease of installation is the main cause of my excitement, but as a bonus it is also free (under the GNU GPL license). Where there's free there's me!

So obviously, I'm a believer so far. I'll make updates if I find some undesirable features. It is important to know that the default settings that XAMPP uses to install the Apache server are not recommended for a full production server. The security settings are just not secure enough. Take some time to educate yourself on security settings if you are creating a production environment. For me, I just want something for learning PHP and MySQL on my local computer. For that purpose, security is less of a problem. I realize that someone can type your IP to reach the server, so you probably shouldn't leave it running all the time even as a test only box.

If you are interested in checking out XAMPP, download it here.

If you are the type that likes to watch a video tutorial on setup check out Jimmy Ruska's YouTube tutorial.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: the Zen of CSS design

Whew... It took me forever to finish The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightenment for the Web by Dave Shea and Molly E. Holzschlag. Honestly, this was a tough book to get through.

The book started with a brief introduction. The book is basically an in depth look at the website CSS Zen Garden. The introduction and first chapter introduced the website and it's purpose. CSS Zen Garden was created when CSS was a newcomer on the web scene. People were using CSS, but not to universally and not to its full potential. CSS Zen Garden was created for designers to submit amazing designs that really pushed the envelope to show what was possible with CSS. The remaining chapters highlighted some of the submissions and used them as a starting point to talk about different attributes of CSS design such as layout, typography, special effects, etc.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked that I was given practical examples of how CSS could be used. There is a lot to be learned from viewing the success of others. A lot of useful and advanced topics were covered throughout the book. On the other hand, I didn't like that the book didn't give many practical examples of how the CSS was actually executed. In the book's defense, you can easily go online and view the source, but when explaining how certain layouts are done I feel like a scaled down example would be beneficial. There were no working examples in the book so there is little hands on activity to be done.

Overall, I don't think I'll be purchasing this book. I think it was worth the read, but I doubt I'll go back to it for reference. I would recommend this book to designers and developers who are already fairly comfortable with CSS and are looking for fresh ideas.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cool Tool for Web Developers: Web Developer by Chris Pederick

I'm reading through The Zen of CSS Design and I stumbled upon an awesome resource. If you are getting started developing for the web or a seasoned professional you will love this tool! Are you ready for this? Web Developer 1.18 by Chris Pederick.

This is a Firefox/Chrome plugin gives the user access to tons of useful web developer tools. You can automatically validate the CSS and HTML, resize the window, enable/disable CSS styles, and much more. My favorite feature so far is displaying the div order. This outlines all the divs on the page. You can use this on pages you develop for error checking or on other sites that you may be analyzing to learn from.

I'm sold on this tool. You can check it out on Chris Pederick's website.