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My Book My Opinion Publishing

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 2: The Perils of an all-digital world

In this second part of The Future of Book Publishing series (read part one, The 10 Steps From Idea to Printed Book here) let’s take a closer look at the future; more specifically digital book publishing. We are at a crossroads in time right now. Whereas before book, magazine and newspaper publishing was a secluded realm of large corporations with massive printing facilities and distribution networks, now the internet and its myriad of connected devices has cut a big hole in that impenetrable wall and made it accessible to anyone with the ability to type. And we’re only getting started. The e-reader, in its many manifestations, has begun to make inroads into our homes and our bags and with it the written word suddenly bypasses the entire printing and publishing process that previously took so much time and money. But what does that mean for the future of book publishing, and more importantly democratic access to information?

The problem begins with content control

It may seem like the publishers have been sleeping at the wheel where the whole ebook phenomenon is concerned. Nothing could be further from the truth. Publishers have not only been aware of ebooks as an emerging technology; in many cases they have been driving it. In spite of appearances cutting out the middle man and getting a book from the author to the reader in a couple of weeks rather than a couple of months is something that would benefit the publisher as well. That is if they could control the content.

The inherent problem with ebooks and digital publishing in general is that the second the work exists in a digital format it is ripe for illegal duplication and distribution. And while music and movies have been fairly easy to duplicate ever since they started appearing on CDs and DVDs, books have, by nature, been well shielded from this problem: Scanning hundreds or even thousands of pages manually is just too much work. Not so with the ebook: Since it is by nature a text document it is very easy to copy and distribute.

To curb this problem before it becomes a problem, publishers, distributors and 3rd parties are all working furiously to come up with the perfect copy protection method. Unfortunately this has led to yet another format war with two main rivals.

ePub vs. Kindle — yet another idiotic format war

You can join the ebook revolution right now by buying your very own e-reader or e-reader app. Just be warned: Whether you choose ePub or Kindle as your preferred technology it may end up like Betamax or HD-DVD. You see, behind the scenes in the ebook universe there is a fierce battle raging — one that is hard to spot on the surface. In the western trenches you have Amazon and it’s Kindle. In the eastern trenches you have the open ePub format supported by the US Nook (Barnes & Noble), Canadian Kobo (Chapters / Indigo), Sony Reader, North American public libraries and most European book publishers.

Based on the description one would think the Kindle was already drowning in mud. But it isn’t because Amazon is too big (in North America at least). Amazon’s market share and enormous sales volume means publishers can’t ignore the Kindle. So even though they may support the ePub format, they will also make a Kindle version of the books to reach the Amazon customers. As a result Amazon has a huge advantage. In truth, if it wasn’t for the growing library of free Public Domain ePub material and the fact that library ebooks can’t be read on the Kindle I don’t think there would be a format war at all — Kindle would already have won.

As it stands North American consumers looking to buy an e-reader currently have to make a choice: Do you want access to Amazon’s seemingly limitless ebooks library and buy exclusively from Amazon or do you want to buy books from another retailer and also have access to Public Domain libraries and ebooks from the library? If you want to go with Amazon, you buy the Kindle. If you want the other option you buy one of the several e-readers on the market and cross your fingers that Amazon won’t kill it. Or you wait. Like with every other format war the only real casualty here is the consumer.

…and then there’s the issue of distribution

The past couple of years have seen the shocking decline of print media. It seems if trends continue the way they are now newspapers, magazines and even books printed on paper might be a thing of the past sooner than we expect. It could be attributed to a natural progression; spoken word becomes hand written scrolls becomes printed paper becomes e-ink; but the forces at play here are much greater and more convoluted. Let’s not dwell on the “why” just now. Instead, let’s look at the “what happens next” part.

The truly great thing about the printed word, and the reason it was so revolutionary, was low cost and easy distribution. You can buy a book for under $10, read it as many times as you like and give it to someone else to read. If the book is lucky it may change hands hundreds of times and be read by all sorts of people. This is the very nature of the book — you can share it and it lasts forever.

But what happens when the book goes digital? Yes, the book – or file — itself will remain cheap, but accessing the book is no longer as easy. To read a printed book all you need is a light source. To read an ebook you require a device on which to display the book and electricity. It’s a whole new level of technological sophistication, and one that is not readily available to the majority of people living on this planet.

It has been said that the internet is the true democratization of information. But it has also cut a big chasm in society between those that have access and those that don’t. And with the ebook that chasm will grow larger.

Is the ebook a threat to the democratization of information?

Right now I can go to a book store, buy a book on any topic I please, put it in an envelope and send it to a friend anywhere in the world. The recipient, even if she lives in a place with no artificial light, no power and no computerized devices of any sort, can read the book and retrieve the information therein. If the book were not available in print but only in a digital format, my friend would never be able to read it.

“But that’s not going to be a problem” you might say. “The publishers will still print books for less technologically advanced regions, and in time the technology will become ubiquitous.” That last part may be true, in 50 — 100 years, but the first part not so much. Consider this: You are a publisher of books. One day you realize you can cut costs by 80% and increase your earnings at the same time by cutting the print department all together and just push everything out digitally. Why on earth would you not do this? That day is coming my friends.

The key question here is who cares about who reads the book? An author always wants her work to reach as many eyes as possible, but for the publisher it’s all about profit. In other words, a publisher may easily argue that if moving to ebooks and scrapping print means a loss in readership it is more or less irrelevant if the bottom line keeps moving up. Of course this will vary depending on the publisher and its mandate, but it’s a fairly obvious conclusion and one that will sound solid for shareholders and investors.

The problem is the second a book is released in digital-only, the reader base is reduced substantially, not just in numbers but also socio-economically and geographically. So even though it may be good for the bottom line, and it pushes the evolution of the printed word forward, in the process it is leaving a lot of people in the digital dust. In the end it becomes a question for the author: Do I care who reads my book? And if so, do I care if my book will be available for people who can’t access a digital version?

Ebooks for the wealthy, print-to-order for the rest?

Let’s perform a simple thought experiment here (we philosophers love thought experiments): Let’s assume that 10 years from now all major publishers have abandoned print altogether in place of ebooks and that smaller publishers are being edged out of the market due to ever increasing printing overhead costs. We are now in a satiation where if you don’t have the means to acquire a device that can read an ebook and you are not connected to the internet, you will have a hard time accessing new written materials.

In this imagined world a new type of service would likely emerge: That of licenced print-to-order businesses. You’ll already find the prototype of this industry at universities around the world. There either the university itself or the students have set up Copy Co-ops that reproduce compendiums of out-of-print books and selected articles that have been licenced to them. Without this service much of the required reading materials would be inaccessible to the students either due to availability or price. In this imagined world a larger version of the Copy Co-op would likely emerge from which the non-connected, non-e-reader carrying populace could order and get printed hardcopies of their chosen books.

The question here is how expensive will this be, will it even be allowed by publishers and also just importantly what happens to censorship. We already know several countries, including the United States of America, censor the availability and distribution of books that are deemed undesirable, be it for religious, ethical or political reasons (Catcher In The Rye is but one mindboggling example). In this imagined world such censorship would likely become more prevalent as the Copy Co-ops could be punished by having their licences revoked if they reproduced “undesirable” materials. I shudder at the thought.

Ebooks — status quo

What’s outlined above is speculation on my part. But the questions posed, and the scenarios outlined are important aspects of this discussion and shed a different light on the discussion. True, ebooks are revolutionizing the publishing and distribution process and making the written word accessible in new and exciting ways. But they also carry with them serious problems that are being overlooked or brushed under the carpet by publishers and fans alike. It is in times of rapid change we have to take a step back and look at the wider ramifications of our actions so we can see not only the shiny new future but also what happens in the shadowlands.

10 Steps from Idea to Printed Book

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My Book My Opinion Publishing

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 1: 10 Steps from Idea to Printed Book

As I wrap up the editing of the 3rd edition of my Expression Web book I figured it’s time to pipe in on the raging debate over the future of book publishing. Much has been written on the topic as of late and points both good and bad have been presented. In this three-part series I will present my views on the topic, part one focusing on how a book gets from idea to print and part two looking at distribution models, present and future and the problems with an all-digital publishing model.

From my mind to your hands in 10 steps – the complex world of book publishing

If you’ve ever waited for a book to be published – the last link in a fictional series, an updated version for a new generation of software, the latest work of your all-time-favourite author – you have surely wondered why it takes so long for books to hit the shelves in your local book store or on Amazon.com. I know I did. This is largely because the world of book publishing is shrouded in mystery – or rather lack of information. To be honest it’s not all that interesting so it’s no wonder the many steps of book publishing are not common knowledge. But understanding how a book gets from the author’s mind to a printed work in your hands will give you not only a new appreciation for the work that goes into publishing a book but also a good foundation for understanding the complexities of the current debate over the future of book publishing and publishing in general.

Any serious author knows that without editors their work is unfinished and unpublishable.

To give you a first-hand look at what it takes to get a book out of the author’s head and onto a printed page I’ll walk you through my own experience in publishing Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web in 24 Hours.

Step 1: Author Acquisition (time unknown)

For a publisher to release a book it first needs an author. Self-evident for sure, but none the less important. The task of finding an author is usually done by an Acquisitions Editor. There are many ways of the publisher and the author to connect; the publisher can go out looking for an expert on a particular topic (which is what happened in my case); an author can approach the publisher with a book proposal; a literary agent can approach the publisher with a new author either looking for a project or with a project in hand. Once initial contact is made the publisher will do an extensive review and vetting of the author to ensure that a) she is actually an expert and knows what she is talking about and b) she knows how to communicate her knowledge in a good way and how to write good copy. This might mean reading past works, requesting sample work or interviewing the author.

Step 2: Project Approval (1 – 2 weeks)

Once the author has been thoroughly vetted and the Acquisitions Editor is satisfied the author will deliver, the process of actually getting a book project off the ground and a publishing agreement in place can begin. This is a multi-step process with checks and balances built in to ensure that the book proposed actually will make money.

In my case the first step was to fill out a basic form with a description of the proposed book, the topic matter, target audience, projected sales, competing published works and information about myself. This form was passed to a decision making body where the Acquisitions Editor presents the book and hopes for a thumbs up.

Step 3: Table Of Contents (TOC) (1 – 3 weeks)

Once the overall outline of the book has been approved, a Table Of Content (TOC) is written further specifying how the book will be organized and what it will cover. The TOC has chapter titles as well as bullet lists under each chapter describing in detail what will be covered.

The TOC is passed around internally in the publishing company to ensure it complies with their standards and, once approved, passed to other industry experts for questions, comments and suggestions. The commenter is asked questions like “Does the outline cover the relevant topics?”, “What is the target audience for the proposal?” and “Would you buy or recommend this book?”. Depending on the feedback the TOC might get passed back to the author to be reworked in which case the process starts over.

Step 4: Publishing Contract (1 – 2 weeks)

Once the TOC has been vetted and approved by all the right people it’s time to start talking contract. The publisher will propose a standard contract containing project scope, milestones, deadlines, estimated publishing date and royalties. This is a rather complicated process, especially for new authors, because milestones, deadlines and publishing dates have to be set and adhered to before the project is even started. Then there is the discussion of what kind of royalties should be paid out, how much of an advance the author wants and whether or not there should be a stipend attached to the project. This all depends on the projected success of the book and how famous and important the author is. And if there is a literary agent involved, the process can get even trickier because the agent will want her say as well.

Step 5: Writing the first draft (1 – 2 months)

With contracts signed and everything in order, the actual writing can start. At this point the author starts working on a very strict deadline. The publisher will expect percentages of the draft delivered at certain times. Depending on the type and length of book the deadline can span from a month to three months for 100%. More importantly there are strict milestones for 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%, usually with a monetary compensation at each point.

While writing, the author will at first feel like she is working in a complete vacuum. As she finishes her chapter and hands them in they are passed on to a series of editors (step 6) and while they are working the feedback is pretty much non-existent. In most cases the author will churn out 50% or more of the draft before the first edits start coming back.

Step 6: First Author Review (AR) (1 month – partially overlaps with step 5)

This is where things get serious. While working on the latter half of the first draft, edits will start coming back from the publisher with comments. There are at least three different editors involved at this point:

  • Tech editor – responsible for making sure everything is correct and all the examples make sense and work properly
  • Development editor – responsible for making sure the content is in accordance with guidelines for the book and or series
  • Language / Copy editor – responsible for making sure the language is publishable (ie the person that rewrites every sentence)

Each of these editors will make alterations to the text and leave comments and questions to each other and to the author. Each of these edits, comments and questions must be answered by the author to ensure the consistency of the book and that everything is still understandable. At the same time the author is expected to make her own edits to the text and move things around if need be. This process is extremely complicated because with so many different people editing the same document it can be hard to grasp what the finished text will look like. It is further complicated by the fact that the edits have a very tight deadline that falls within the deadline to finish the rest of the book. So while the author is writing the last part of the book she also has to start going through the first part with a fine toothed comb to make sure everything is correct. She may also have to do rewrites of paragraphs or even whole sections at this point so in effect she will be writing two separate parts of the book at the same time.

The first author review is the time to make major edits and changes to the text. Once the author review is completed the chapters are returned for more editing.

Step 7: Second Author Review (2 – 5 weeks)

3 – 4 weeks after the author review chapters were submitted, the second round of AR kicks in. This time the author receives PDF versions of the reviewed chapters with figures, headings and layouts included. These chapters will already have been passed through the same gauntlet of editors so they are again full of comments, questions and alterations that have to be answered by the author. This time around any edits should be minor as the book is being laid out and major changes will impact all the following pages. Edits here usually consist of font changes, typographical corrections and figure replacements.

Second author review is also where the Index and Front Matter (intro, acknowledgements etc) are introduced and must be edited.

This second author review might overlap with the first author review.

Step 8: Cover and publicity copy approval

In the midst of all this other stuff the author will receive two documents for approval: The cover and the publicity copy. These must be approved of by the author as well as the editors, all of which have to give them the go-ahead.

Step 9: Printing (6 – 8 weeks)

Once all the above steps are completed, the book is considered to be complete and is passed on to printing and distribution. This will usually take 6 – 8 weeks meaning if everything is done and wrapped up by the author in mid-August, the first run of books will hit shelves in mid-October.

When the book is printed the author will receive two shipments: Complimentary copies of the printed books and an unbound copy for future edits. The author now has a chance to make minute changes to the book in preparation for the second round of printing (if there is one) right in the pages of the unbound copy and send it back to the publisher.

Step 10: Digital and Online Publishing (varies)

By the time the book hits shelves it has in reality been done for 6 – 8 weeks. Meanwhile it could be published in digital format, either through an online subscription service like InformIT.com or through a 3rd party distributor like Amazon Kindle. Whether and when this happens is entirely up to the publisher. The digital and online versions of the book are usually identical to the printed version except they are in colour (the book may be printed in black and white only).

Time from inception to the reader’s hands: 6 months or thereabouts

This is of course assuming that the book was started from scratch and that the author took a full 2 months to complete it. Seasoned authors, or authors revising earlier works, tend to take a shorter time which would cut the time down by up to 5 weeks.

The necessity of complexity

Seeing this list, and realizing just how long it takes to get a book out there for people to read it’s easy to think this process is unnecessarily complex. And judging from the current debate it’s obvious a lot of people, including some prominent authors, are of the opinion that most of the steps above are unnecessary time sucks. They could not be more wrong.

The steps above are there for two reasons: To protect the investment of the publisher and to ensure that the reader gets a quality product. One could say the first one is irrelevant to the author and the reader but the reality is they go hand in hand: A bad book will not be read and as a result the publisher suffers economically. So it’s in the publisher’s best interest to publish top quality books. And that in turn benefits the reader. To abolish the steps in an effort to push the content out faster would likely increase production, but it would also result in a dramatic decline in quality.

The not often talked about reality of publishing, whether it be in the form of essays, scientific papers, newspaper articles or books is that what the author originally produces and what reaches the readers are two entirely different products. All the vetting, editing and re-editing steps are in place because no matter how good the author is, she will not ever produce a perfect work. And she is always the worst judge of her own material. Any serious author knows that without editors their work is unfinished and unpublishable.

Taking this into account there really is only one step from the 10 point list above that can be removed to make things more effective: Step 9: Printing. But this strategy has serious consequences both in how the material is distributed and how it is consumed. These issues will be the basis of the second half of this series, to be published shortly.

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Expression Web My Book News

Breaking the silence: What I’ve been doing over the summer

If you follow this site and my Tweets you will surely have noticed my relative silence over the summer. Well, there is a reason… more precicely 3 reasons. I’ve been colossally busy dealing with three major projects that as of now are either nearing completion or at a point where I can start focusing on other stuff (like long neglected clients) again. So, to stave off the criticism for my falling off the face of the internet here’s a taste of what I’ve been working on:

Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression 4 in 24 Hours

Earlier this summer Microsoft released version 4 of Expression Studio. The new version brough major upgrades to Expression Web and as a result my hugely popular book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 4 in 24 Hours had to be updated. That meant I had to go through every nook and cranny of the new version to find all the new goodies, come up with new examples to show them off and then rewrite whole chapters to reflect these changes. It may come as a surprise, but revising a book like this is almost as much work as writing it from scratch. Which means once v5 comes out I am likely to do a complete rewrite. But that’s a different story.

The new book, scheduled to be released end of October, features updated and extended examples, new features, removal of deprecated features. New content worth noting is an extended chapter on the new and improved Expression Web SuperPreview which now includes full support for IE6, 7, 8 (compatibility mode) and 8 as well as a new feature called Remote Browser Testing that allows for testing on external browsers like Safari for Mac and an entire chapter on the new Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Checker tool.

Expression Studio 4 and Expression Web 4 comes as a free upgrade if you already own version 3. That means if you have version 3 you should upgrade right away. And if you alredy have my version 3 book you should get the new version once it comes out. I’m not saying this because I want to sell more books but because there are some new features in there that are important to understand and get the full use out of.

Microsoft Expression Web 4 LiveLessons (Video Training)

In addition to the book I’ve also created a colossal 27 lesson video series clocking in at around 5 hourscalled Microsoft Expression Web 4 LiveLessons (Video Training) for those of you who either don’t want to read a book or who want more hands-on training using Expression Web. The LiveLessons series features an entirely new example project based on the 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon website and provides a best-practice model for how to create professional, rock solid and stylish websites using standards-based HTML and CSS. The LiveLessons series is complementary to the Sams book so there are things that are covered in the videos that are not covered in the book and vice versa. Thus even though you’ll get a lot out of each item alone you’ll get a much better and more in-depth understanding by getting them both. Again, this is not a sales pitch – I’m being honest here. The combo really is the better deal.

The video series will be available on DVD early October and I believe it will also be available for download or online viewing on InformIT’s website (tba).

12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon 2010

Because I don’t already have way too much on my plate I decided to start a huge photography event/contest last year called the 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon. In a nutshell it’s a contest where 60 photographers show up on a set date, pick up a 12 exposure 35mm film and then at the top of every hour for 12 hours are given one theme to interpret in one photo. At the end of 12 hours the films are returned, developed, judged and finally put up in a huge exhibit. In the end we end up with 720 photos divided into 60 sequences of 12 consecutive themes. The 2009 event was a massive success with over 300 people showing up for the gallery exhibit and we expect this year’s event to get even bigger.

In the runup to the even (and to kill two birds with one stone) I developed a new site for the marathon and used this site as the demo project for the Expression Web 4 LiveLessons series. As a result the site features some pretty fancy elements like a transparent CSS-only drop-down menu with multiple in-button styles, CSS3 drop-shadows and rounded corners and tons of other fancy schmancy style elements.

The 2010 12×12 Vancouver Photo Marathon takes place on Sunday September 12 from 8am to 8pm in downtown Vancouver with a home base at Blenz Coffee in Yaletown. Tickets for participation (60 in all) are $24 per person and cover all expenses. Tickets go for sale Thursday, August 12 at 8pm and are expected to sell out fast. The following art exhibit will be held at Vancouver Photo Workshops on the 16th of October.

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CSS My Book News WordPress

By Land, Sea or Air – A travel blog based on the MyKipple project

By Land, Sea or AirWe’ve been talking about taking a road trip through the USA for a long time, so when my TV job ended in October we decided now was the time. And in true blogger fashion, a road trip required a dedicated blog just for that and nothing else. This also presented an opportunity for me to show people how far you can push the MyKipple.com design I created for my new book Sams Teach Yourself Micrsoft Expression Web 3 in 24 Hours.

The result was ByLandSeaOrAir.com – a WordPress based site with a theme that utilizes all the tips and techniques showcased in the book. Fact is if you go in and lift out all the code and graphics from the new site you’ll see that it matches the final project in the book almost line by line.

So the site serves two purposes: To tell the world of our travels and to show that there really is no limit to what you can do once you understand the principles behind HTML and CSS. Enjoy.

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My Book

First photo of my new Expression Web 3 book

FedEx just dropped off a hardcopy version of my new book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 3 in 24 Hours along with what’s called an “F&G” (Folded and Gathered) copy for corrections in prep for the first reprint. That means you can go get your hands on this hot-off-the-presses volume right now!

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My Book Tutorials

HTML Basics: Hyperlink Syntax – Absolute, Relative and Root-relative

My new book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 3 in 24 Hours is nearing completion (just finished final review of the first 10 chapters last night). The book is a revision of the original for the new version of Expression Web and in the rewriting process I also added some new content to help the readers better understand the sometimes confusing and mysterious world of web code. These additions were mostly brought forth by questions and comments from readers as is the case with the excerpt below about hyperlink syntax.

I chose this excerpt because it is relevant not only to people who use Expression Web 3 but to anyone who does anything on the web. When I started out in this field I was often confused about why there were three different types of hyperlinks and how and when to use them. Well, here is a straight forward explanation with examples:

Absolute, Relative and Root-relative Hyperlinks – an explanation

As you are creating hyperlinks in Expression Web 3, you will notice that the syntax of the link address in the Code view changes depending on what you link to. There are actually three different ways of writing a hyperlink address, all of which are used for different purposes:

Absolute Hyperlinks

Absolute hyperlinks are complete addresses that contain all the elements of a URL. They always start with some version of http:// followed by the domain name (for example, www.designisphilosophy.com) and optionally a page/folder. Absolute hyperlinks are used when linking to pages outside of the current site that have a different domain name.

Relative Hyperlinks

Relative hyperlinks are addresses that are relative to the current domain or location. They only contain the name of the target page prefixed with any necessary folder moves (for example, default.html). The browser sees that this is a relative hyperlink and adds the domain and folder location of the current page to the beginning of the link to complete it. If you use relative hyperlinks and you want to navigate from a page stored in one folder to a page stored in a different folder you add the folder prefixes to the hyperlink. For instance, a relative link from a page in Folder 1 to a page in Folder 2 would be ../Folder 2/page.html, where the ../ tells the browser you want to go out of the current folder and into a new one. When you create hyperlinks between pages in Expression Web 3, they are always inserted as relative links so that the application can easily update them if you choose to move files around. However, if you move the files around on your computer outside of the Expression Web program, the hyperlinks break.

Root-relative Hyperlinks

Root-relative hyperlinks are a subset of relative hyperlinks in which all the links are assumed to start from the root folder (domain name) of the site. They differ from the relative hyperlinks in that the address is prefixed by a forward slash (for example, /default.html). The browser applies only the domain to the beginning of this link. Root-relative hyperlinks are used in place of relative ones in large sites in which there is a chance the files will be moved around without using an application such as Expression Web 3 to update them. Because they refer to the root of the site rather than the current location of the page they are placed in, they work regardless of where the file is placed as long as they remain under the right domain.

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Expression Web Microsoft Expression My Book News

This is Expression Web 3

Expression Web3

Expression Web 3 is now available for trial download directly from Microsoft. Click here to join in on the fun!

It’s no secret that I’ve been playing around with various pre-beta and beta versions of version three of Microsoft Expression Web for the last few months, all in preparation for the release of my new book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 3 in 24 Hours which is available for pre-order from Amazon.com right now (even though it’s not finished yet!) So for all this time I’ve had to keep my mouth shut about my new toy and what it can do. Well, no more. I just got the all clear from the development team to talk about the application publicly and share some screenshots of what you can expect when it goes public in the next couple of months.

So, without further ado, here is a quick rundown of the new features, the new appearance and my innitial thoughts on the new member of the Expression Web family.

New Flat-tastic User Interface

The first thing you’ll notice (apart from the new logo in the splash page of course) when opening Expression Web 3 is the new UI skin. The application looks very different from its two prior iterations in that the team has moved away from the classic fake 3D/embossed look to a 2D/3D inspired look with flat surfaces and drop-shadows. The interface is also a lot darker than the prior ones with a dark gray being the predominant colour. The new look makes me think of new media applications like TweetDeck and DestroyTwitter and there is little doubt in my mind that much of the inspiration was taken from what I want to refer to as the post-web2.0 look.

As you can see in the graphic at the top of this article the new look is very clean and sharp and makes icons, toolbars and panels pop out. This dark flat-tastic look has already been used in Expression Design and Expression Blend and I think it is a welcome change that not only links Expression Web to it’s application siblings. It also visually separates the new application from those of the past and signals a new beginning of sorts. Not to mention that to me at least it is much easier on the eye (I tend to do a lot of design work in the dark).

AutoHide Panels

AutoHide PanelsOne of the things that really irks me with design applications in general is all these toolbars and task panes that take up valuable screen space. To curb my frustrations I prefer to work on a dual-monitor setup where I can stash all the tools and task panes on one monitor and leave the application on the other. But this doesn’t work when I’m on my laptop (which is where I’m at most of the time these days). And in Expression Web 1 and 2 even with a widescreen monitor the task panes ate up a lot of real estate. As a result I kept turning the task panes on and off all the time – a process that was a real time waster. In response to complaints and suggestions to do something about the task panes, the dev team introduced a simple AutoHide feature that lets you collapse the panels (they’re not called “task panes” anymore) to the sides from where you can open them by hovering over their names. In practical terms that means you can leave all your favourite panels on the workspace without having them take up tons of room in the process.

The AutoHide feature is easily toggled on and off with a pin logo (seen in the upper right-hand corner of the grab to the right). When the pin is lying sideways as in the grab, the panel is pinned to the wall (AutoHide on). When it’s in the upright position, the panel is a permanent part of the workspace. It’s a simple feature but it makes a world of difference, especially because you can pin individual and rarely used panels to the sides for easy access if you were to need them.

New and improved publishing options

It’s no secret that the publishing options, and especially the FTP publishing option, in Expression Web 1 and 2 were less than stellar. It was so bad in fact that I urged the readers of my book to not use them. Well, without breaking any deals with my publisher I can tell you that my recommendation in the new book is quite different. Not only has the troll that was messing with the FTP been slaughtered but two all new publishing methods have been added to the list providing more secure transfers and options. The list of publishing options now features SFTP (Secure Shell File Transfer Protocol), FTPS/SSL (File Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer) as well as the original FTP, FrontPage Server Extensions, WebDAV and File System.
publishingBut that’s not all. Expression Web 3’s publishing option has been rebuilt from scratch and features a whole new range of functions including the ability to define multiple publishing locations for one site so you can push your files to a backup storage as well as publish them online, or publish them to multiple servers, or set up a testing server and a main server within the same project. This again is a seeminly minor but actual major improvement that makes life a lot easier for people like myself who do a lot of server testing and cross-publishing.

In-application Browser Previews with Snapshot

Expression Web 3 Snapshot panelIn addition to alterations and improvements to the old versions of the application, Expression Web 3 introduces some new features that are going to make your life as a designer/developer a hell of a lot easier. They are connected at the hip but I’d rather deal with them independently. The first one is the Snapshot panel. Like the name suggests, Snapshot takes a real-time browser shot of your current page and displays it in a panel inside your workspace. This means you now have a quick and easy way to see what your recent changes will look like in different browsers, including Internet Explorer 6 and 7 and Firefox, without having to actually run the page in a real browser.

Snapshot’s output is just that – a snapshot – and does not provide functional links and the like. But it does generate JavaScript, CSS, HTML, PHP and whatever else you want to throw at it and gives you a true representation of what your page looks like in the different browsers.Like the other panels you can undock the Snapshot panel and place it somewhere else, for instance on your second monitor.

SuperPreview – Browser Testing Made SuperSimple

Expression Web SuperPreviewI’ve written about SuperPreview before both here on DesignIsPhilosophy.com and in the official Microsoft Expression Newsletter but it can’t be repeated enough: Expression Web SuperPreview could one of the most important innovations in web development of the last several years. SuperPreview is the powerful big brother of Snapshot – a stand-alone application that lets you perform cross-browser testing that lets you compare true output from multiple different browsers with onion skinning and side-by-side preview. To identify incompatibilities, problems and even tiny shifts the application also features simultaneous box highlighting of individual elements and even provides full FireBug-like DOM trees to give you as much info as possible about what’s going on when things go wrong.

I’m not going to go into too much detail here – the application will be better served with a tutorial video that shows how it actually works in real-time – but I will say one thing: Even if I was still a DreamWeaver user, I would buy Expression Web 3 just to get the full version of SuperPreview. And that says a lot cuz’ I’m a cheap guy. With alligator arms.

For more info on Expression Web 3 microsoft just published Expression Web 3: An Overview on the official Microsoft Expression website.

For another take on the new version check out fellow Microsoft MVP Cheryl D. Wise’s blog.

Categories
Expression Web My Book

In rewrite mode: New version of my book on the way!

Since Amazon.com was kind enough to list my book months before it’s done and I’ve been Tweeting about it for weeks there really is no reason to pretend it’s a secret any more: I am currently in the process of revising my book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web in 24 Hours 3 for the upcoming release of Expression Web 3 which is slated for some time later this summer.

Needless to say writing a book about software that not only is not out yet but is not even finished yet is a bit of a challenge. And like last year (when I wrote the first version of the book) I will probably spend the next couple of months in constant revision mode making new screen grabs, changing tutorials to fit a not-yet-completed user interface and so on. But hey, I’m not complaining: Writing these books means I have to learn and understand every minute detail about the software. And knowing your tools inside out makes for a faster and more productive work routine.

The new book is more than just an update to fit the new user interface: Over the past year I’ve received countless emails from readers with questions and comments about everything from how to save files in Expression Web to how I got a book deal and I’ve taken all these comments, suggestions and criticisms along with my own experiences and thoughts to rewrite many of the chapters and add new and exciting content. And yes, my sentences are just as long in the book!

New features in the book

The new version of the book will, amongst other things, include:

  • a completely new project that the reader will build from the ground up. The new project has a better design, more flexibility and new choices for the designer to make the site her own. The idea behind the new project is that once the site is completed by the end of Hour 24, the reader can simply replace the content from the book with her own content and launch the site.
  • New menu tutorials showcasing vertical and horizontal CSS based menus as well as a CSS based drop-down menu.
  • A CSS layout tutorial explaining how you can use CSS to create multiple different layouts within one site without having to make separate style sheets.
  • An entire chapter on cross-browser testing using SuperPreview and the other accessibility and reporting tools built into Expression Web 3.

I am currently rewriting Hour 18 and, having skipped some chapters, still have about 10 to go (plus a couple of apendixes and a bonus chapter) so if you have comments, questions, concerns or anything else you want to say before I wrap this baby up, please feel free to put it in the comments below or send me an email. The book is written to help you so if you need help, speak up!

That said, go to Amazon.com and buy the book now. That way you know you’ll have it the minute it comes out!

Categories
My Book News

My book is featured in the Canadian User Experience Blog

One of the people responsible for my company switching to Microsoft Expression as our main web publishing platform is Qixing Zheng – a UX (User Experience) Advisor for Microsoft Canada. Qixing and her colleague Paul Laberge have been instrumental in both our transition to this new platform and also in getting me to the point where I was able to publish a book about Expression Web 2.

Today Qixing published a short article on the Canadian User Experience Blog about the book as well as my recent article in the Expression Newsletter. So here is a link back to the blog, a great place to get info, tips and tutorials on Microsoft and their products, customized for Canucks, “straight from the source” so to speak.

Categories
My Book News

Link Love where Link Love is due

In conjunction with the release of my book, the man whose support and help in no small regard put me on the track that eventually lead to the book deal with Sams, Paul LaBerge gave me a fair mention on his much read Canadian Developer Connection blog:

The second story I’d like to share with you is from Pink and Yellow Media, a design agency based out of Vancouver. This agency provides a number of design services for their customers, including the creation of dynamic e-commerce sites and skinning of blogs. Morten Rand-Hendriksen, co-CEO of the company, was introduced to Microsoft’s Expression Web product at the launch of the first version and decided to give it a try. The result was iZufall.com, a website for a customer that built the game called Zufall. With the exception of the photographs used on the site (which he used Adobe Photoshop to edit), the entire site was built using Expression Web and Expression Design. Morten has documented his entire journey on his blog (starting with the very first post!), including the good and the ugly with the first version of the tool. Since then, he has used Expression Web and Expression Design to create a number of other sites for his customers, including Nature’s Carpet (after the Flash intro page), a web store for all-natural carpeting and flooring, and several custom designs for blogs (mainly using WordPress as the back end engine). The truly interesting thing about this was Morten’s work in documenting his experience with the Expression tools online got him noticed by the Expression product team in Redmond who have asked him to write a book on Expression Web as a result. The book, Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 2 in 24 Hours, will be published soon.

In return, here’s a link back to you Paul! And I’ll make sure you get a copy!

Categories
Expression Web My Book WordPress as CMS

New WordPress based site: The Reader’s Companion

In conjunction with the release of my new book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 2 in 24 Hours I have created a Reader’s Companion site where the readers can download lesson files, dive deeper into the world of Expression Web through further reading, find relevant links and interact with other readers. The site is a custom WordPress installation with a highly customized theme designed from scratch using Expression Web 2.

In the coming weeks I’ll post a series of articles and tutorials demonstrating how you can customize this amazing CMS (yes, I don’t consider WordPress a mere “blogging platform” any more) to create advanced, attractive and easily manageable sites. For now, let’s just take a look at the highlights:

Valid XHTML and CSS

Valid XHTML 1.0 TransitionalThose of you who have (or will) read my book will know this: I put a lot of importance on the whole issue of valid code (yes yes, I know… this blog has more errors than a Sarah Palin interview but in my defence I haven’t had time to clean it up because I’ve been too busy writing a book and tutorials) and since the site is a bit of a showcase for what I teach in the book it better fit the bill. So even though it is a WordPress site with a lot of customization, it validates 100%.

TIP: Amazon.com links don’t validate!

Not surprisingly the site contains a couple of direct links to the Amazon.com page for the book so people can buy it straight from the site. Unfortunately the crazy Amazon.com links do not validate. To ensure that the site would validate anyway I therefore used a redirect service called TinyURL to create a small (and valid) URL directly to the page. TinyURL even offers the ability to create custom URLs so instead of the long and cumbersome Amazon.com link the book on the left hand side of the page points to http://tinyurl.com/styexpressionweb2.

Fancy Sliding Doors Header Buttons with Invisible Text

The original idea for the site was to provide a place where people could download the lesson files for the book. For this reason the button leading to the lesson files should be large, prominent and working properly across all platforms and browsers including text-only browsers. At the same time I didn’t want standard HTML text to ruin the appearance of the site.

The standard solution to this problem would be to create an image-based button. But I don’t like image-based buttons. Fortunately there is an alternate (and in my view much cleaner and more attractive) solution: A Sliding Doors CSS button with invisible text.

Sliding Doors for Dummies

If you are not familiar with the Sliding Doors principle, here is a short explanation: Sliding Doors refers to the use of one background image containing two or more button states that slide in and out of view depending on user interaction. You can read more about Sliding Doors and how to use them at A List Apart.

The problem with CSS buttons is that they depend on pure HTML text to work. But as always there is a way around it through some clever abuse of the text-indent attribute: By setting the position of the button to absolute and the text-indent to some very high negative number (for example -9999), the browser moves the text so far off to the left of the screen that it will never be visible. And since the text is hidden with CSS, any text-only browser will still display the text where it is supposed to be.

There are two such buttons on the site: The home button on the left and the lesson files button on the right. They both work in exactly the same way.

Current Page Menu Highlighting

If you use the correct classes you can make WordPress highlight the current page menu items through CSS. If you let WordPress handle the main menu (or any menu for that matter) it assigns two types of classes to the items depending on where you are on the site: Each menu item is given a number through the page_item class and the current_ page_item class is also applied to the current page (you can also set this up manually through php if you don’t want WordPress to manage your menus). On the Reader’s Companion site it looks like this:

As a result, to highlight the current page in the menu all you have to do is create a dedicated style class called .current_page_item.

Custom Page Templates

Another great feature of WordPress is the ability to create custom page templates that are assigned to different pages. In the Reader’s Companion site you see this in effect in the difference between the front page and the other pages. The front page template includes a left hand bar that displays the date of each post while the other template fills the entire left hand area with the page body itself.

Creating a custom page template is a fairly simple operation: All you have to do is find the template you wish to base the new one on, make any changes you need and then insert the following block of code at the top of the page:

/*

Template Name: Page with no Sidebar

*/

When the new template php file is uploaded to the relevant theme directory, it automatically shows up in the page write panel under the heading Page Template. From here you can choose your template from a drop-down menu.

Tutorials Coming – Questions Welcome

Like I said earlier I am working on a series of tutorials to demostrate exactly how these different elements come together and how you too can create advanced custom WordPress themes with Expression Web 2. In the meantime take a closer look at the site, read over the CSS and if you have any questions or comments drop me a line in the comments below.

Categories
Expression Web My Book News

My book is finally here!

So I’m sitting in my couch tweaking the new web site I’ve created to supplment my upcoming book when the phone rings. FedEx is downstairs with something for me. When I get down to the lobby the guy is standing there with two huge boxes complaining about how heavy they are. It took me a few seconds to connect the dots but the Pearson Publishing sticker on the side made it all clear: The two boxes contained the 25 complimentary copies of my upcoming book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 2 in 24 Hours. I was under the impression that the boxes wouldn’t arrive until after the book had hit shelves but it’s quite obvious now I was wrong.

Above are some nice cheezy photos of me and the book. And since Kenny the Squeeze Toy is heavily featured in the book itself I figured it would be appropriate to show that he is actually real.

So I guess there’s no doubt any more: The book is real and feels nice and solid. And since I have so many I’ll probably give some away so stay tuned!