Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Safari Books Online

Abstract: Safari Books Online is a development resource I wish I had subscribed to a long time ago.  There are some advantages over dead-tree books. The subscription would have saved money because I would have bought fewer books.  It works well in my multiple-monitor, multiple-computer development environment.  Like all software there is room for improvement.  The major limitation is that it is realistically an online-only product.  Most books I would like to download cost a token per chapter.

I loved to introduce myself to new programming technology sipping coffee while carefully & deliberately pruning a stack of possible books into the optimal subset I could carry and afford.  In general I was disappointed by the few books I bought sight unseen over the internet based solely on reviews.  The books were fine and the reviews accurate, just not a good match for my learning style.  It was worth it to buy a less comprehensive book I could grok quickly vs. a book with stellar reviews but not targeted to my learning style and tree-based bookstores gave the comparison opportunity.  I did my part to help keep them going and have the receipts to prove it.  But bookstores are closing so I had to try another way to find those authors that quickly make the MSDN Library my first reference.  Winking smile

I did a trial of Safari Books Online.  The trial has limitations and I could not determine from the trial – or Safari’s web site – if a full subscription would meet my needs.  I signed up for the Unlimited Access Safari Library ($43 / month) and am glad I did.

Key Features

If I could have found this information on the Safari site I would have subscribed long ago.  If one or more of these features go away I may discontinue my subscription.

  • Multiple-Device Simultaneous Access.  I can use the Safari Library on my laptop, desktop and Android tablet at the same time.  This supports the way I prefer to work.
  • Multiple Books Open At The Same Time.  Safari has never complained that I have too many books open, and I’ve had 10 +/- open as a result of searching.
  • One Book Open Multiple Times.  It is great to have a book open to every page you want.
  • Multiple Monitor (MM) Friendly.  Safari works fine on my MM desktop.  I have invested a lot of time and money to have sufficient screen space to have everything of immediate interest visible.  I can glance at another monitor quicker than anyone can <Alt>-Tab.  I tolerate few MM-unfriendly programs and no MM-hostile programs.  When needed I can have a Safari book open to 3 or more different pages in side-by-side-by-side windows.  You can’t do that with one copy of a dead-tree book!


Nice Features

  • Portrait Monitors Ok.  When I’m doing a lot of work with portrait-oriented documents I like to rotate the top row monitors to portrait to see more and scroll less.  Some programs look awful in portrait mode and some fail. I’m glad that Safari in Firefox looks fine in portrait mode.  There is a little “fuzziness” that as I understand cannot be avoided because of how the LCD pixels are manufactured.  But I didn’t notice it until writing this post.  Portrait mode is acceptable.  I don’t know or care what the ClearType settings are, no change is needed.
  • “Related Information” Helpful.  The related information feature has pointed me to genuinely useful data in other books in the library.  Note this feature is part of the Safari Library but not the Bookshelf.

Room for Improvement

  • Android Support.  I have not found a browser for my Android 3.1 Acer A500 that works well in both portrait and landscape modes.  Don’t know if this is a Safari, Android or user issue.  The form factor is nice but usability is poor.
  • Two-Page View.
    • Needs a Non-Continuous Mode like Adobe Reader.
    • “The Matrix” Related Content bug looks cool but is unreadable. Winking smile

  • Bookmarks & Other UI / Metaphor Topics.  Future posts.  Applicable to most eDoc systems, not just Safari.