As a Web developer, I was intrigued by the idea of O’Reilly’s Web Design CD Bookshelf and Web Programmer CD Bookshelf CD collections. After all, I had been dragging around some of the hardcopy versions of these works for the last several years and was interested in the possibility of losing a lot of weight, if only in books. Each of the bookshelves consists of six different books on CD and a “bonus” hardcopy of the introductory Web Design in a Nutshell book.

The Web Design CD Bookshelf
The Web Design CD Bookshelf contains digital versions of these six references:

These six books each are intended to offer a different component knowledge upon which one can build a strong Web development foundation. Web Design in a Nutshell is meant to provide only a taste of various Web technologies, yet it is very detailed in the technologies that it covers. Bundling HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide and Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide together is a natural choice for O’Reilly. The ability to go back and forth between these two texts quickly when researching is great; I often open multiple browser windows.

Whenever I visit a Flash site, I find myself wondering how things were done. This is where ActionScript for Flash MX: The Definitive Guide comes in. It not only answers my technical questions, it also explains why Flash isn’t just for cool graphics.

The two most surprising books are Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Designing Web Audio. In a perfect world, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web would be required reading for anyone developing Web sites. Even if developers took only one or two ideas from this book—say, those covering logical and efficient site layout and organization—the Web would be a much less confusing place. The book Designing Web Audio at first seemed like it would be interesting; after all, once broadband really catches on, streaming media may be the way many people get their content. But unfortunately, this book just flits about like a butterfly from topic to topic without any real depth.

The Web Programmer CD Bookshelf
The Web Programmer CD Bookshelf offers digital versions of these six references:

Three books on this CD I consider indispensable: the fourth edition of JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, the second edition of Dynamic HTML: The Definitive Reference, and the third edition of Webmaster in a Nutshell. JavaScript: The Definitive Guide is my all-time favorite JavaScript book, covering both the basics of JavaScript and some of the more in-depth features and capabilities. Even if you already own the third edition of this book, upgrading to the fourth edition is well worth it just to get the new chapter on the Document Object Model.

At work a couple of days ago, I found myself trying to remember the attribute for an HTML input tag that works like disable but doesn’t “gray out” the text. Try as I might, I just could not remember the tag, so I popped in this CD, immediately went to Dynamic HTML: The Definitive Reference, and looked it up, although I felt senile for forgetting the read-only attribute. The search on the CD version went a lot faster than it would have with my paper copy.

The three remaining books all have a central theme: PHP. Programming PHP is definitely the place to start learning PHP; there is something irresistible about a book cowritten by the creator of the language, Rasmus Lerdorf. This book assumes no knowledge of PHP and progresses logically to advanced topics. Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL covers in detail what Programming PHP touched upon: how to build robust Web applications using readily available open source software. The book PHP Cookbook assumes that the reader is familiar with PHP and just needs a virtual guru to get past a particular problem. However, the Cookbook is more than that; it provides ideas of what can be accomplished with PHP.

In my opinion, there are three obstacles to any of the CD bookshelves becoming as popular as they should be. The first is the price; spending between $79.95 and $129.95 for a CD isn’t easy. The second obstacle is that, with the exception of one hardcopy volume, a computer is required to access the books. The final obstacle is that O’Reilly includes some books that may not apply to your particular development situation.

Breaching those obstacles
At first glance, the price of both CD sets does seem steep. If you price the books individually, you’ll realize the value of each of the CD bookshelves. The Web Design Bookshelf’s total cost for the individual books comes to $234.70 and the Web Programming Bookshelf’s total comes to $264.70.

Requiring a computer to access the CD bookshelves isn’t a problem for me, but it is a matter of taste. Reading from a screen can cause eyestrain, but it can also be used as a way to justify a new flat panel display. The real advantage to the CD format is weight; just imagine commuting to work via the train carrying hardcopies of 12 books from the Web design and Web programming bookshelves. That’s about 40 pounds of books! Now, add a laptop, cell phone, PDA, and lunch, and you can give up your gym membership.

The final problem is that not all the books might apply to your particular situation. But remember, no position is forever; it might be a good idea to have some extra tools—especially those that are easily portable.