Will "the Mighty" Strohl

Book Review: Building Websites with DotNetNuke 5

Packt: Building Websites with DotNetNuke 5 The good people over at Packt Publishing were very generous recently in forwarding a copy of their newest DotNetNuke® book to me and a few to the Orlando DotNetNuke® Users Group (ODUG).  All that they asked of me was to write a review.  That’s easy enough, so I agreed.  This isn’t the first time that I have done this.  I did the same for a few other books.  Though, all books are not created equal.  If you don’t already know me, I am a very honest person.  I try to not sugar coat things, but I will always tell you the truth.  Keep that in mind when reading this review.

It is no secret that I love and read Wrox books regularly, and I prefer those books.  Earlier in my career, I read books from a variety of publishers, and I settled on Wrox because I liked their structure, their consistency, the quality of their content, and the fact that their books don’t just tell me how to do something – they told me WHY I was doing it.  Having such a strong opinion of any single publisher will get you closed-minded over time, so this was a perfect opportunity to see if Packt could dethrone my favorite technical publisher.

Before I begin, I want to thank Packt Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this book for you.  This is very generous.  I also want to thank the authors, Michael Washington and Ian Lackey for their efforts in writing this book.  I know that it’s not easy. 

  1. Background
  2. The Authors
  3. First Impression
  4. Nit-Picking
  5. The Only Deal Breaker
  6. The Good Stuff
  7. My Official Review

Background

What many people do not realize is what all comes into play when a book gets written.  Even though the author has their own voice in the book, the publisher decides how it gets done.  For this reason, I want you to know that I am going to say a few things that you might interpret as being addressed in context of the author, but that’s simply not the case.  Technical books are very much a team effort.

Furthermore, my opinion here is just that, an opinion!  Do not take my word for it.  Review this book yourself.

The Authors

Michael Washington and Ian lackey are each experts on the DotNetNuke® platform in their own right.  Ian is a developer, but also a DNN solutions expert, working on DNN on all levels.  Michael knows DNN from the ground up too, but we primarily know his name for his efforts in helping DNN developers get started through his tutorials, and Silverlight examples.  Any way you look at it, this is a great team to put together to write a book on DNN.  I was very excited at this match up.

BOOK:  Building Websites with DotNetNuke 5
PUBLISHER:  Packt
ISBN:  1847199925

First Impression

The layout of the book is pretty standard, and I love how the reviewers have a bio section, but I really wish that the technical editor(s) had one too.  Packt, please take note.  :)  This would help those of us who know more than the average reader to have context of the reasoning behind how some of the chapters and paragraphs were structured and written. 

Looking at the Table of Contents, it looks pretty well-rounded. The book has a little bit of everything: introduction to DNN, descriptions of the core modules, administration, and module development.  However, in retrospect, the chapters are not ordered in an aesthetic way.  It just seemed to me that the chapters had us jumping in and around topics. 

The size of the book had me curious.  DotNetNuke® can be such a large subject, that a book this small could only go one of two ways.  Either, it would be missing information, or it would get creative somehow to give us plenty of information in a small package.

Nit-Picking

I called this section “nit-picking” because it’s just that.  This section can be attributed to the OCD part of my brain.  ;)  If you’d rather know more important details, please move to the next section.

There were a few things that kept bothering me about the book.  Nearly every code sample had inconsistent tab-spacing.  It appears like the code was pasted directly from another editor, without readjusting the tab-spacing to look good outside of the code editor.  For example, the first line of code would have no tabs, and the following lines of code would have the original tabs still intact that they originally had before being pasted into the book.

There were numerous instances where quotes were incorrectly used.  I completely understand why a writer would end a sentence like “this”.  I do it all of the time, because the correct way doesn’t make any sense to “me.”  And I think it looks worse too.  However, I am astounded that any book from any publisher would allow the book to be published with such an easy thing for their editors to catch.  (FYI… This is a problem that the publisher’s editors would catch, not a technical editor.)

There were a handful of times where terminology was not consistent.  For example, the control panel in DNN is not very often called a “panel.”  It is nearly always called a control panel, but that’s not completely the point.  When you’re writing a technical book, the terminology should not be abbreviated at-will like that, unless the abbreviation is synonymous with the original term, and this is made clear in the text of the book.  This can easily confuse newbies.  Such a thing is not intended, and should be avoided.  I would expect a technical editor to catch this.

Over and over again, I kept seeing things that weren’t being said.  For example, when describing the Role Name field in the Security Roles, it doesn’t mention to the reader that they need to be careful on the naming of the Role Name field, because it cannot be changed after it’s created. 

This is probably the most problematic thing I saw with this book, as there were several of these omissions, and they will simply frustrate a reader.  The reader will read the simplistic description of one of these directions, and try it themselves.  However, they may enter the information wrong, or not know that there is a checkbox that changes behavior, etc.  Then, they will think that the book is wrong – when it actually isn’t.  There was just missing information that could conditionally change the expected outcome.

Lastly, I truly began to get annoyed at the number of times that the book told me where to download the source code for the module.  At some point, we can assume that the reader knows where to find the code.  We get it!  ;)

The Only Deal Breaker

Only a couple times did I see things that I thought were completely wrong.  For example, the book tells us that the Page Title in the Page Settings will be replaced with the Page Name field when left blank.  This is not what happens.  Once again, I’d expect a technical editor to catch this.  The authors, being respective DNN experts, know details like this, but with the pending deadlines and other pressures that come with writing a book, little things like this can get missed.

The Good Stuff

This book was easy to read, and has a lot of information, despite its size.  Michael and Ian are great writers, and they keep you engaged, which few technical books have done for me.  That is perhaps the single most important feature of this book.  Hopefully, Packt will release a new revision or sequel to this book that adds more information – using the same writers.

At the end of this book, I really felt that it did a decent job of giving a high-level overview of the features DNN has to offer.  Perhaps, this is just enough to give someone new to DNN just enough confidence to forage into the DNN community on their own.  :)

My Official Review

Overall, this is a very good book, but it barely skims the surface for what a new DNN’er would want to know – and this book is definitely for the DNN newbie.  Any advanced DNN people should steer clear.  Aside from the Silverlight tutorial, I don’t think you’ll get your money’s worth.  But if you’re new to DNN, this book will also leave you thirsting for more information.  Hoepfully, Packt will recognize this and release a follow-up to this book. 

The final point that I will judge this book on is it’s price.  This book is $40.49 USD.  That’s 40 dollars for 339 pages of content, that I really feel should have been 500 pages or more.  I honestly feel that this book is too expensive.  Also, the e-book version is still too expensive in my opinion, at $30.59 USD.  (I wrote this post at least a month ago, and every time I review it, the price of the book goes down.)

Once again though, I have to point out that this book is a team effort, and a project mainly driven by the publisher.  I wouldn’t blame Michael or Ian for any of the weaknesses I have pointed out, and you shouldn’t either.  These are things that can be caused by any number of decisions, edits, editors, and more.

You can judge this book for yourself, by buying it at Amazon for a slightly lower price.  And I’d have to ask, “why not?”

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