Issue #44

Last Update March 2, 2006

Technology CD Bookshelf by David Katz O'Reilly, a leading publisher of technical and computer books, has created a series of "CD Bookshelf" offerings, in which a CD containing a seven books on a given topic is packaged with the In a Nutshell paperback volume on that topic. Given that poor e-book sales bear out the impression that most people prefer to read a real book, rather than viewing one on a computer screen, is this a good idea? For technical books and manuals, at least, the answer may well be a resounding “yes”.

The Perl CD Bookshelf (Version 3.0) consists of Perl In a Nutshell, 2nd Edition, and a CD containing that book, Programming Perl, 3rd Edition, Perl and XML, Learning Perl, 3rd Edition, Perl Cookbook, Perl and LWP, and Mastering Perl/Tk. While not a complete roster of the O’Reilly publications on the Perl programming language (missing are the books on Perl and various database packages, Perl for bioinformatics, and several other titles), the Perl CD Bookshelf provides all that is needed for basic instruction and more advanced reference for Perl programmers. Similarly, the XML CD Bookshelf, consisting of XML in a Nutshell and a CD containing that book, XSLT, XML Schema, Java and XML, 2nd Edition, Java and XSLT, Perl and XML, and SAX2, gives those who want to become knowledgeable about Extensible Markup Language (gaining popularity in business and finance as a way of establishing standards of data interchange) a fairly comprehensive library to work from.

One advantage of this format is immediately apparent: a tremendous amount of shelf space is saved by using CDs. Just these two packages alone save about a foot and a half of precious space. The more important question, though, is how easy and comfortable is this format to use? 

While a real paper book is easier to read than a computer screen, digital versions (the CD contains books and indexes in HTML format, the format used to create web pages) allow the use of hypertext links. Just as clicking on a web page link jumps you to another page or web site, clicking on a Bookshelf link jumps you to a further reference in another part of the book, allowing you to follow a topic across chapters. Since the books are viewed using your web browser, you can bookmark pages, allowing you to pick up where you left off, or return to an interesting section. Being digital also allows the books to be searched with a search engine that O’Reilly supplies on the CD. Typing in a word or phrase causes the search engine to search any given book, or all books in the set, and return a list of references satisfying the search. Being able to search all the books at the same time is really handy if, like me, you often remember that there was a description of something you need, but you can’t remember what book you saw it in. Strangely, since O’Reilly is a major publisher of Unix and Linux books, the search engine only works with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but not with common Unix and Linux browsers such a Mozilla, Opera, or even versions of Netscape.

At home or at the office, where you have bookcases full of paper books, the CD version might not be used as often, despite these advantages, but where they really triumph is when you travel or have to work outside of your regular location. Being able to carry a complete reference library on a topic in the form of a CD is a big winner. The HTML format means that no special program (other than a commonly available web browser) is needed to read these books, so you can read them on anybody’s computer simply by inserting the CD. Of course, if you are traveling with a laptop, you can easily load the CD’s contents onto the laptop.

As a supreme test of portability, I loaded both CD Bookshelf CDs onto the compact flash module in my Sharp Zaurus PDA. (Together, the Perl and XML Bookshelves took up about 100 megabytes.) Except for the search engine, I had complete functionality and excellent readability when viewing the books with the built-in Opera browser. Being able to carry a complete 14 book technical reference library in your pocket, and use it with ease, is a real winner.

New York Stringer is published by For all communications, contact David Katz, Editor and Publisher, at

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