Learning and Brushing Up On Web Programming.

December 2008 Browser Usage
December 2008 Browser Usage (Photo credit: Elliott P)

There are a bazillion options out there for learning web programming. One I recommend (and still use) is W3Schools. No, you won’t learn everything by using

W3Schools, but you can learn a lot and its more systematic than googling for articles piecemeal as you go along. I also find W3Schools a useful reference tool when I need to refresh my mind on some technique or language I haven’t used in a while.

They have tutorials available on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AJAX, SQL, PHP, ASP.NET Web Forms, XML, and a bunch of other technologies I didn’t mention. If you are brand new to web programming start with the HTML tutorials then move on to CSS followed by JavaScript. It is also likely that you’ll need to do database work at some point, so learn SQL and then you can choose what sort of language you want to program interactive applications in – two of the most popular are ASP.NET and PHP.

Safari InformIT – For the IT Crowd.

Safari Books Online
Image by iogi via Flickr

One of my long-term favorite services that I’ve subscribed to as a paying member on-again, off-again is Safari Books Online. Safari offers access to a vast library of hundreds of IT related books for online reading.

If you work in the IT realm, its well worth the subscription cost – especially if you can get your employer to foot the bill for you. IT books are such a niche volume and oftentimes so massive in size that they frequently run $50-$100 for a single volume. Safari offers a relatively inexpensive alternative – while also preventing the proliferation of the dreaded stacks of outdated IT books that seem to crop up around us as technology changes at a blistering pace.

The price used to be $10/mo. for their basic subscription – but that was years ago and it is now a much steeper $23/mo. – but still well worth the price.

Oftentimes when we find online subscription services the best and the brightest are not among the selection – this is not the case with Safari. You’ll find numerous volumes from a variety of the best technical publishers including O’Reilly Media, Microsoft Press, Sams, Apress, Cisco Press, Packt Publishing, Que, and McGraw-Hill.

Perhaps a little insiders peek at what I’ve been reading (or at least perusing) over the last year or two on Safari will help provide some idea of the range and depth of the collection:

  • Martin WP Reid’s Pro Access 2007.
  • Ross Mistry and co.’s Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Management and Administration.
  • Michele E. Davis and Jon A. Phillips’ Learning PHP and MySQL 2nd Edition.
  • Luke Welling and Laura Thomson’s PHP and MySQL Web Development.
  • Andrew and Paul Hudson’s Ubuntu Unleashed 2008 Edition.
  • Karen S. Fredricks’ SugarCRM for Dummies.
  • John Paul Mueller LINQ for Dummies.
  • Dino Esposito’s Programming Microsoft ASP.NET 3.5.
  • Scott Driza’s Word 2007 Document Automation with VBA and VSTO.
  • Kirk Haselden’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Integration Services Unleashed.
  • Larry Tenny and Zeeshan Hirani’s Entity Framework 4.0 Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach.
  • Alex Mackey’s Introducing .NET 4.0: with Visual Studio 2010.
  • Michael Lisin and co.’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services Unleashed.
  • Brian Larson’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Reporting Services.
  • Laurent Bugnion’s Silverlight 4 Unleashed.
  • Michael W. Picher’s Building Enterprise-Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0.

Along with extensive collections of books on development (web, java, .net, php), database (mssql, mysql, oracle), server/workstation administration (windows/linux), and network administration there are titles on digital media, engineering, math and science, personal and professional development, and so on.

Did I mention you get discounts on books (significant ones) if you purchase them while having a subscription? Sweet.

No, I’m not getting paid by Safari for this post. 😛

Microsoft’s Free Development Tools.

Image representing Microsoft
Image via CrunchBase

I remember as a teenager programming for years in QBASIC – a free, lite version of QuickBasic Microsoftbundled with DOS and early versions of Windows. It was great fun – but I yearned to get my hands on the full QuickBasic so I could compile my applications and give them to others without giving away all my source code (okay, OSS was barely known back then).

Later I would save for months to purchase Visual Basic 5. $100+ is a lot of money for a teenager – but I wanted to program so bad that I scraped and saved.

After that there was the ASP.NET Web Matrix – a predecessor to the great tools Microsoft now offers for free. Unfortunately, its development was abandoned and for a long period of time I was left in a painful lurch….but then Microsoft started the trend that has made me extremely happy – free lite development tools.

These development tools include Visual Basic 2008 (for desktop applications), Visual C# 2008 (also for desktop applications, but in C#), Visual C++ (just like the last two), and Visual Web Developer (for web applications) – all in the Express line. Additionally they’ve thrown out there SQL Server Express (database back-end) and SQL Server Studio Management Studio Express (for writing SQL and managing databases).

While these applications are noted as “express” that doesn’t suggest that they are majorly crippled – rather they are extremely full functioning applications which can be used to create many impressive applications. For the new, hobbyist, or small business developer many times the Express Editions will be all that you ever need.

This was a smart move on Microsoft’s part – it gets people hooked on Microsoft development young – and it works great for us as well – because we get free development tools. By the time Microsoft expects us to shell out cash – well, we are probably making some from our now decent development skills. Go grab yourself some free development applications: http://www.microsoft.com/express/.