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Book Review: Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition For Dummies
Ged Mead

Ged Mead (XTab) is a Microsoft Visual Basic MVP who has been working on computer software and design for more than 25 years. His journey has taken him through many different facets of IT. These include training as a Systems Analyst, working in a mainframe software development environment, creating financial management systems and a short time spent on military laptop systems in the days when it took two strong men to carry a 'mobile' system.

Based in an idyllic lochside location in the West of Scotland, he is currently involved in an ever-widening range of VB.NET, WPF and Silverlight development projects. Now working in a consultancy environment, his passion however still remains helping students and professional developers to take advantage of the ever increasing range of sophisticated tools available to them.

Ged is a regular contributor to forums on vbCity and authors articles for DevCity. He is a moderator on VBCity and the MSDN Tech Forums and spends a lot of time answering technical questions there and in several other VB forum sites. Senior Editor for DevCity.NET, vbCity Developer Community Leader and Admin, and DevCity.NET Newsletter Editor. He has written and continues to tutor a number of free online courses for VB.NET developers.

by Ged Mead
Published on 6/5/2006

    "Visual Web Developer 2005 Expression Edition For Dummies" by Alan Simpson is a recent publication in this ever-popular, long running series of books.

   Although not the usual 600+ page  coder's book, don't be too quick to write this one off as of no use, advises DevCity reviewer Ged Mead.  It may be more useful than you think.





   Who would have thought that a 350 page book that probably contains less than 100 lines of .NET code would be useful?   Surprisingly perhaps, to many people this book will be very helpful because it fills a very useful purpose in a particular niche market.

   One of the much heralded advantages of ASP.NET 2.0 and the newly minted free editions of VS2005 is that the amount of code required to produce useful, usable basic applications has been dramatically reduced.   In the case of ASP.NET 2.0 the figure of 70% reduction has often been bandied about as the target.    Whatever the actual final figure turned out to be, one thing is true - you can drag and drop items from a whole mountain of  new and easy-to-use features via the Visual Web developer 2005 Express Edition (VWD for short) and create limited but functional starter applications with almost no code of your own.

   And it is this ability upon which the book is based.   It homes in on those built-in features that enable complete novices to create basic websites.  It covers all the basics, including Master Pages, CSS Styles, Themes, Navigation, validation, some of the ASP.NET controls, and a short SQL Server crash course.

   Two CDs are bundled with the book. The first contains a copy of VWD itself, which seems now to be a fairly standard feature for 2005 books.     The second CD  contains a range of video tutorials from the LearnVisualStudioNet site plus some useful links to videos from Wintellect and various other online resources.    






Contents and Sample Chapter


  The detailed contents list is as follows:


Part I: Planning a Web Site.

Chapter 1: Getting Started.

Chapter 2: Creating a Web Site.

Chapter 3: Configuring a Membership Site.

Chapter 4: Creating Master Pages.

Part II: Building Your Web Site.

Chapter 5: Creating Web Pages.

Chapter 6: Designing with Styles.

Chapter 7: Working with ASP.NET Controls.

Chapter 8: Easy Site Navigation.

Part III: Personalization and Databases.

Chapter 9: Using Personalization.

Chapter 10: Using Themes.

Chapter 11: SQL Server Crash Course.

Chapter 12: Using Data in Web Pages.

Part IV: The Part of Tens.

Chapter 13: Ten Terms to Make You Look Smart.

Chapter 14: Ten Alternatives to Being Helpless.

Appendix: Publishing Your Site.

What’s on the CD-ROM?


Sample Chapter

   You can view Chapter 1 of the book in PDF format by following this link to the Wiley web site.   (I'm not totally convinced that this particular chapter is the best example of the strengths of the book.  It does demonstrate the author's easy to follow style and lack of pretension, but I would have liked you to be able to see just how detailed and clear some of the more technical chapters are.   )

    In particular, you would have been able to judge how the author succeeded in the book's aims which the publishers list as follows:

  • Explains how to harness "drag-and-drop" tools that build on the popularity of ASP.NET, offering Web designers an easy introduction to the new Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Framework.
  • Shows novice Web developers step by step how to create powerful ASP.NET Web applications
  • Explains how to access databases through Data Source controls, design site navigation, build interactivity, and much more


       This book is aimed at readers with no previous experience of creating web pages or developing web sites.   In my view, its advantage is that it sticks firmly to the "low road" in that the author hasn't felt the need to (in his own words) " ... wander off into irrelevant product comparisons or advanced topics ..."

       If you are a beginner in this field and want to get a feel for the basics of creating web pages and websites before delving into the more complex areas of .NET coding then this relatively small, relatively inexpensive book should meet that need perfectly.  

       Of course, it is unlikely to be your only web development book if you plan to move beyond the very basic almost out-of-the-box projects, but what it does cover it covers very comprehensively and very clearly.   In particular, the author goes to some trouble to include many safety nets in each chapter.   "Tips" and "Remember" items are inserted throughout the book in places where the uninitiated or unwary reader might get confused or caught out.  

       Again, the author is totally clear in what he sets out to do:  "Another key ingredient of this book is its coverage of things that most other resources assume you already know.   In fact it's Okay if you don't already know them.   Everbody has to start somewhere and website development is tricky enough without having to fight a feeling of being left out.  You won't get 'Sorry, you didn't learn our secret language umpteen years ago when we did so you can't play."'   Here, just about everyone gets to play."

       My verdict:  For its target audience it succeeds admirably in its aim to help beginners build dynamic data-driven web sites.