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Mike Riley

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Head First C#, 2nd Edition Book Review

May 27, 2010

I always look forward to new releases in the Head First series of books. The approach used in these titles remind me of high school textbooks presented in a much more energized, engaging way. This updated edition of Head First C# features the .NET 4.0 framework and the Visual Studio 2010 IDE. I didn't read the first edition, so I can't comment on what has changed, but the material related to the latest .NET and Visual Studio features is relevant and well represented.Head First C# follows the progression one would expect in an introductory programming text, but not quite in the style Head First employs. Building a Windows Form-based application connecting to a contact database has never been presented quite this way before. Copious screenshots, sketches, hand-written notes and illustrations punctuate the material, especially with code listings. There are even crossword puzzles concluding some of the chapters to help emphasize the concepts being taught! Some may find this style distracting, but I enjoyed seeing this detail presented in this new, information-rich way. Debugging, object oriented methodologies, types, references, ensue, collections, exceptions, events and delegates are each given space to help readers get comfortable with how C# uses these aspects and why they are so powerful. The 15th and final chapter on LINQ is one of the best I've seen in terms of helping readers grasp as quickly as possible the power of this remarkable and potent technology.

Three lab exercises ("A Day at the Races", "The Quest" and "Invaders") help readers assemble real-world applications leveraging what was learned in the sections preceding these labs. They do a super job of showing how the foundational aspects of what C# provides can be put into gratifying use.

Co-authors Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene effectively use a potpourri of images, callouts, gags and highlights to maintain readers interest and understanding of the topics covered in the book. While these may be too distracting to more serious readers, I found them helpful and yes, a bit corny at times. But they kept my attention and helped reinforce the less obvious aspects of C# in action. For those seeking a more serious but very effective large trim size book, I recommend holding out for Mike Murach & Associates treatment on the new release, as I found their C# 2008 book an excellent, straight-talking guide to learning the language.

Like most new book titles I review these days, I read the electronic edition of Head First C#. I prefer to read EPUB versions due to the fact that they are based on industry standard, open technologies like XHTML and CSS. As such, they are better optimized for text reflow and presentation on electronic reading devices like Sony's E-Reader and Apple's iPad. There is also a more personal reason for my format preference since I worked on the predecessor to the EPUB specification, known as the Open eBook Publication Structure. Unfortunately, for a book like Head First C# with its highly graphical presentation and need to maintain fixed positioning of these images for print-centric output, converting such a title to EPUB would take a considerable amount of effort and cost. As such, O'Reilly only offers the title in PDF format. I used GoodReader on the iPad to read the book, and while GoodReader is a super application for rendering PDF and Microsoft Office-formatted documents, it still can't compare to the less constrained reading experience that EPUB-rendering apps like Apple's iBooks provides. Even with the iPad's 768x1024 portrait screen resolution, I had to occasionally resize, scroll, reset, rinse-cycle-repeat, to adequately read the book and its smaller font call-outs. In the larger paper book edition, these page design choices work. However, in the PDF, they are a big pain. Consequently, I would advise those interested in reading this book to obtain the print edition rather than struggle through the electronic formatted version. Another bone of contention regarding the PDF is that O'Reilly resampled the images (except for the first two pages - the cover) for black and white reproduction only. This makes sense for the print version to keep costs low, but the electronic edition could have greatly benefited from the color imagery, especially with color-highlighted code listings, application screen shots and even the call-out photos. With the cost of the PDF edition only a few dollars less than the print version, there are really no other advantages to the electronic edition of the book.

My electronic publishing rant aside, the content of Head Start C# is solid and entertaining. Seasoned developers need not apply, as the Head First series best caters to the younger, less experienced crowd who are interested in learning new technologies in a fun, approachable way.

Title: Head First C#, Second Edition Author: Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene Publisher: O'Reilly Media ISBN: 978-1-4493-8036-6 Pages: 848 Price: $49.99 US

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