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The Perl CD Bookshelf, Version 3.0
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
ISBN:0-596-00389-7
800 pages
£ 85.50
Published: Not known
reviewed by Joel Smith
   in the December 2002 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

O'Reilly have updated their Perl CD Bookshelf. In the first update from version 1.0 to 2.0, the Bookshelf shrank from six books to five. This time the number of books jumps from five to seven. Out go Advanced Perl Programming and Perl for System Administrators. In come Perl & XML, Perl & LWP, and Mastering Perl/Tk. These are all first editions, published in 2002. Programming Perl remains in its third edition published in 2000, and the Perl Cookbook is the venerable 1998 first edition. There is a welcome return for Learning Perl, updated to the third edition. This was published in June 2001, and just missed the May 2001 release of version 2.0 of the Bookshelf, as I mentioned in my last review.

As in all versions of the Perl CD Bookshelf, Perl in a Nutshell is provided on the CD and also as a bonus paperback book, but in this version it is updated to the 2002 second edition, which covers Perl 5.8.

I appreciate that O'Reilly drops books from the Bookshelf because they are becoming out of date, but as the CD uses only around 60 Mb, I wonder if they could include an ``unsupported'' archive of the older books which are not updated in the main product. It seems a shame that Perl for System Administration and Advanced Perl Programming are no longer available when they could easily have fitted on to the CD.

Enough of the books, and on to the CD itself, and in particular the usability of the search engine. This is the same engine as used on the last version (QuestAgent Pro version 4.0.9 from JObjects http://www.jobjects.com/). It uses a Java applet interface to query a pre-generated index of terms derived from the full text of all book pages on the CD-ROM.

Thankfully the bug on the last version of the Bookshelf has been corrected, and the search engine works fine under Unix and Windows. Unfortunately as it is the same version of the engine as before, there is still the problem with search terms involving special characters. Bearing in mind that this is a bookshelf on Perl, I should have been able to search on functions such as $arg, or ExtUtils::MakeMaker, or $_ etc. This is still not possible. To do a search on ExtUtils::MakeMaker, you would have to search on ExtUtils and MakeMaker, rather than the full module. There is also the master index on the CD which allows you to browse through a linked alphabetical index (exactly as you would find in the back of the books), and does have entries including the special characters.

I raised the search restrictions as an issue with O'Reilly back in 2001 when I wrote my last review. The response then was:

Since QuestAgent Pro is now on version 6.0.3, one questions how far they actually looked. If you install the files on your hard disk, there is nothing to stop you running ht://dig or your favourite indexing software on it yourself, and creating your own search engine. However, it should not be necessary to have to resort to such methods.

To sum up, it is very useful to be able to have an electronic version of these books. Even with the limitations above, the search engine works well, allowing you to search across all the different titles. With the increase in the number of books, the CD bookshelf is still good value, even though the cover price has been increased. It works out much cheaper than buying the books individually, and at least the updated bonus paperback Perl in a Nutshell can still be read in bed.

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