|Creating Applications with Mozilla|
|author||David Boswell, Brian King, Ian Oeschger, Pete Collins & Eric Murphy|
|summary||How to use the Mozilla APIs to do anything.|
On the first and most obvious level, the book is just the typical, thorough treatment of the important APIs that we've come to expect from O'Reilly. There are chapters addressing all of the important layers of the Mozilla platform and plenty of examples that show you how to customize the platform. Some may want to change the icons and others may want to add more robust features. The range of possibilities is surprising and coders are creating one-to-one communications enhancements, add-on widgets, and even games. There are certainly some things missing, and some areas that could use more detail or more complicated examples, but the book is already 454 pages long.
On another level, this book is also one of the first finished documents that explains what the Mozilla group has really been up to for the past five years. Some have abandoned the project, and others have attacked it as fundamentally misguided. This book shows why it took so long by demonstrating all of the cool features added during the long march to a new, thoroughly extensible architecture.
Are the results enough to justify the time and the effort? Some note that the features may be a bit overhyped, because building your own browser with the Mozilla API is like making a pizza with $15 and a telephone. While there's a large part of the book devoted to the work you can do to change the look and feel of the buttons on your browser, the book and the project offer much more. The Mozilla project is one of the biggest threats to simple tools like Visual Basic to come down the pike in some time. The various layers offer many ways to provide good, customizable interfaces to databases, the web, and much more. I can see how many corporate development shops may want to start making Mozilla the platform for a license-free front-end, simply because it's a straightforward tool without extra costs or restrictions.
This relentless customizability embodies one of the deepest reasons for the success of open source. Technology is inherently complicated and the only way we can use it is if we can look under the hood. You can say all you want about CVS trees and bazaars filled with competing code, but opening up the interface is one of the most powerful themes of open source. It's not about teaching people to build their own VCR or PVR from scratch, getting the VCRs for free or even debugging the VCR's source code -- it's just about making them easy enough to program.
The book illustrates how Mozilla opens up the API to create a relatively easy language for people to use. The real open source is not the C in the tar ball, but the XML interface spelled out in the book. Many people feel that the most important thing that the first browser designers did was make it easy for people to see the HTML tags marking up the document in front of them. The new Mozilla takes this transparency to a new high.
If you look at the book at all of these levels, you can see that this is one of the most important documents to emerge from the open source community in some time. At first glance, it's just another set of APIs for us to wiggle. I realize it's not fair to credit the Mozilla team or the book authors with creating the browser or XML ex nihilio -- they just jumped on some of the most popular bitwagons propagating across the Net. But the result is a stunning completion of a very important and cohesive vision. The book doesn't crackle with bleeding-edge novelty, but shines with the certainty of a job well-done.
Peter Wayner is the author of Translucent Databases , Disappearing Cryptography , and a number of other books. You can purchase Creating Applications with Mozilla from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.