O'Reilly Pocket Reference books: Content matches size

O'Reilly's reference guides offer a slimmed-down version of the publisher's popular Nutshell books. But do these small books pack a sufficient content punch?

As a developer, I'm always scratching my head trying to remember the appropriate syntax for a given function, method, and everything in between, so online help and books are often a savior. O’Reilly has tried to fill this need with a line of Pocket Reference books. In this article, I'm going to review three of these books: C# Language Pocket Reference, JavaScript Pocket Reference, and VB.NET Language Pocket Reference.

C# Language Pocket Reference

By Peter Drayton, Ben Albahari, Ted Neward
November 2002
Order Number: 429X
128 pages
$12.95 US, $20.95 CA, £8.95 UK

JavaScript Pocket Reference, 2nd Edition

By David Flanagan
October 2002
Order Number: 4117
136 pages
$14.95 US, $23.95 CA

VB.NET Language Pocket Reference

By Steven Roman, Ph.D., Ron Petrusha, Paul Lomax
November 2002
Order Number: 4281
150 pages
$14.95 US, $23.95 CA, £9.95 UK

How big is your pocket?
The size of these books overwhelms the pockets on any piece of clothing I own, so the "pocket reference" description is misleading. Besides, I don’t know any programmer who carries reference manuals with them.

The JavaScript book is 136 pages, C# is 128 pages, and VB.NET is the biggest, at 150 pages. The book dimensions are small, approximately four by seven inches—too big for pockets but annoyingly tiny amidst desktop clutter. I would find myself having to search through papers and other books before tracking them down.

Each book assumes familiarity with the language covered, so they are not user guides or tutorials. They provide an overview of language syntax, along with directions for tackling various aspects of development, such as arrays.

The JavaScript reference devotes the majority of its space to the JavaScript API. However, it does begin with an examination of the language and covers various client-side development issues. The Document Object Model (DOM) is covered, with platform-specific idiosyncrasies included.

Although Microsoft has been lauding the merits of the .NET platform for quite some time, the actual development environment is relatively new. Both the C# and VB.NET books cover version 1.0. Each provides an overview of language syntax, as well as offering details on specific elements such as arrays, classes, and variable types. Two good sections near the end of the books offer a list of the many classes in the .NET Framework and the usage of the .NET command-line tools. This is useful information, but it's readily available with more coverage in numerous other books and on the Internet.

Take it for a test drive
I placed the C# Language Pocket Reference on my desk during a recent project with the intention of using it when my brain failed. The online help provided by the Visual Studio .NET development environment is very good, so the real need came down to programming or logic problems as opposed to syntax. For that, this little book was useless. On the other hand, it did serve as a nice coaster.

Is your pocket big enough?
I enjoy most O’Reilly books, and I often find myself turning to C# in a Nutshell. Although O’Reilly had a nice idea with the pocket reference books, they seem like a stripped-down version of the reference and Nutshell books. Why waste $12.95 on the C# Language Pocket Reference when you can get more than 800 pages of real reference material in its Nutshell counterpart? You should save your money and buy a regular-size book.

I think the pocket reference concept is better suited for operating systems or applications, where commands and other reference material is not as verbose as that required by developers. In fact, I'm looking forward to getting a copy of Windows XP Pocket Reference.

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