Subscription reviewed: 10 slot bookshelf (normally $14.99 per month)
- Historically, you buy
a set of O'Reilly Missing Manuals and love them. Then O'Reilly brings out new editions,
and you buy them as well. Repeat the process annually. Is there a way to break the
cycle, save some trees and some space in your home and avoid the problem discarding
out of date editions? Does O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf, "the premier electronic
reference library for programmers and IT professionals" provide the answer?
- How it Works
- The Safari Bookshelf
is setup such that you buy a virtual bookshelf of limited size - it can be as few
as 5 books, or much more - in return for a monthly or annual subscription. You are
then able to read every word of your chosen books online using a web browser. You
have access to each book for a period of 30 days. After the 30 days are up you can
keep a book or select a new one. The 30 day timer runs individually for each book.
As an added bonus you are able to text search the whole collection, currently over
two thousand books. You can also pay a higher subscription and get to download a
certain number of chapters each month.
That's how it works for one person. There are various corporate models which offer
volume discounts for groups of 5 or more people; at the high end all users have access
to the whole library.
- The pricing structure
is broken down into Safari Basic and Safari Max, where the Max subscription provides
the ability to download 5 chapters per month (and download credits rollover if you
don't use them).
- Basic Starter
- 5 slot Bookshelf, $9.99 per month, $109.99 per year
Small - 10 slot Bookshelf, $14.99 per month, $159.99 per year
Basic Medium - 20 slot Bookshelf, $24.99 per month, $269.99 per year
Basic Large - 30 slot Bookshelf, $29.99 per month, $329.99 per year
- Max Small - 10
slot Bookshelf $19.99 per month $219.99 per year
Max Medium - 20 slot Bookshelf $29.99 per month $329.99 per year
Max Large - 30 slot Bookshelf $34.99 per month $379.99 per year
NOTE: European Union customers are subject to VAT in addition to regular subscription
- What's In the Library
- Expecting to find every
book ever published by O'Reilly and nothing else, I was pleasantly surprised to find
a number of other publishers are involved - Addison Wesley, Adobe, Alpha, Cisco,
Prentice Hall, Macromedia, Microsoft, New Riders, Peachpit, Que, Sams, Sun and Syngress,
all members of the Pearson Technology Group.
I was quite disappointed, however, about the Missing Manuals. Out of the whole collection,
only Windows XP Pro, Mac OS X (both Jaguar and Panther) and Office X for Macintosh
are available. I don't think an OS manual is the best candidate for online access.
You may need the book to diagnose why your computer isn't working (hence, you cannot
get online to access the book). The Missing Manual books are popular gems, and need
to be made available to Safari. There is good coverage of other O'Reilly series such
as Animal, Nutshell, Cookbook and Hacks, including many Mac OS X titles.
I discovered that a book I regularly consult - "UML Distilled" by Martin
Fowler - was available in a third edition, while I was only aware of editions 1 and
2. It was great to see this book in Safari, and even better to find out that there
is a newer version than what I had been using. After this discovery, I decided to
look for other favorites that I either own or would like to own.
In the OO Patterns field, the original "Design Patterns" by Gamma is not
present, but "Design Patterns Explained" by Shalloway and Trott is available,
and so is "Applying UML and Patterns" by Craig Larman.
In the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) section, there are only 10 books, all but
one of them web-oriented, and nothing that I would call general HCI. The highly regarded
Polar Bear book, properly known as "Information Architecture for the World Wide
Web" by Morville and Rosenfeld, appeared in this section. Strangely "The
Humane Interface" by Jef Raskin is available in Safari, but not listed as an
Despite being published by New Riders, the web usability books by Jakob Nielsen and
Steve Krug are not available. Accessibility books are represented by Joe Clark's
"Building Accessible Websites" and "Maximum Usability" by Slatin
- Paper vs Electronic
- For people who have a
broadband connection and a comfortable surfing environment such as a wireless notebook
by the sofa, there are advantages to electronic books: you can text search instead
of relying on an index, there are hyperlinks so that you can navigate instantly instead
of turning and counting pages. You can copy and paste text out of the electronic
version in an instant. Do you like to write in your books or put bookmarks or stickies
between the pages? In Safari you can write public or private notes on a book section.
There are advantages also to paper books: we use our kinesthetic senses to handle
and navigate them, whereas this is impossible with an electronic book. When you buy
one you can keep it forever. You don't have to pay for it again a year later.
Safari misses some of the essentials of book personality. While you can see an image
of the cover and any figures and diagrams, the internal typography and layout is
identical for all books in the library. Even the page numbers are gone. In Safari,
you read the book a section at a time. The section may be less than a screenful or
several screenfuls, with a scroll bar. Next and previous buttons can be used to navigate
Safari does provide the
option to print using the web browser. By selecting the print option, it re-displays
the text in a printer-friendly format. The printed pages are far from book quality
format, and do not include page numbers, but they do make great reference material,
and you still have these printed pages after the book is no longer in your bookshelf.
The print feature is really useful for grabbing specific reference pages out of a
book that you need to reference on a regular basis.
- Can you effectively use
a book online? Yes, definitely, though there's something a bit depersonalized about
it, perhaps like the difference between phoning someone and meeting them. In one
case, I preferred to see the real version of a book I particularly liked.
I believe the key to being able to read an online document is a hierarchical navigation
structure. This is certainly available in Safari, but there are two different versions
You can view the whole table of contents for a book as a list of hyperlinks (without
page numbers). This is displayed with chapter numbers and lower level section numbers
if any. The hierarchical indentation in this view is barely noticeable, so it can
be hard to get the big picture.
Alternatively, while you are in a book, the content structure is also shown in a
sidebar on the left above the library navigation hierarchy. Here, surprisingly, there
are no chapter numbers. I find this hard to deal with as I find it easier to memorize
the chapter numbers rather than the titles. Adding chapter numbers to this view would
be a big improvement. Also, you may need to widen your browser, because in some instances
the titles were extending over the boundaries (got a bit messy).
If your bookshelf is full and you have an urgent need for a book not in your bookshelf,
you either have to wait until one of your current selections is 30 days old or increase
your subscription. You cannot turn in a book early to get another book. With 10 slots
at my disposal, I found myself initially keeping one bookshelf slot free in case
I needed a book immediately. Some books take up two slots, so if the book I wanted
was one of these, I'd still have to wait until another slot freed up.
Another big advantage of online access I discovered by accident. At work I received
a 15 minute reminder for a lunchtime book club teleconference, but I had left the
book at home. Using Safari, I was able to add the book to my bookshelf and access
it online. Safari saved the day.
- Since website accessibility
is such an important topic nowadays, I wondered if O'Reilly had taken this into account
in the design of the website. O'Reilly told me that they do have customers with disabilities
who in general are able to use the website, and they are willing to make special
arrangements where necessary. Safari could be particularly useful for blind people
using screen readers or people with motor disabilities that prevent them from using
- Safari vs Amazon
- Amazon.com originally
started out as an online bookstore, and I've used it extensively for looking up books.
While using Safari, I was struck by the contrast with Amazon. When Amazon shows you
the interior of a book, you see an image of the page as printed with the proper layout
and typography. Zoom buttons change the size of both text and diagrams. You navigate
by turning pages. If you resize the window, the text does not flow to fit. Of course
you can't see a whole book in Amazon (these are just previews to encourage you to
purchase the books).
As previously mentioned, Safari does not show page boundaries or typography. To change
the text size you have to use the browser's text controls, which have no effect on
diagrams. If you make your browser window tall and narrow, the text flows to fit,
which could be useful if you need to consult the book in conjunction with another
Safari only offers you a couple of thousand books rather than the myriad contents
of Amazon. On the other hand, Amazon does not instantly deliver the books you buy
to your computer screen as Safari does. I'm grateful that Safari never distracts
you with observations that other people who bought the book you are looking at also
bought the latest Eric Clapton album, never tempts you with gold boxes full of kitchen
utensils and hand tools, and hasn't yet turned into a mail order clothing catalog.
Nevertheless, it would be spectacular if you could access the whole Amazon library
- Mac Guild Grade
Work: A (Outstanding)
Home: B (Really Good)
Safari is an online bookshelf of technology books that you can read from any location
where you have access to the internet. It includes hundreds of books, but not all
the books you might expect to be available. In particular, Safari failed to meet
my initial expectations for a cost-effective, tree-friendly solution for keeping
my Missing Manual collection up to date. These are the books I use frequently at
home. Their absence in Safari means that I must continue to purchase the paper books.
As I further explored Safari, I did discover that it provided access to a number
of books that are essential to my day job. Furthermore, it's quite delightful that
I don't have to worry whether to keep these heavy volumes at home where I have more
time to read them or at work where I have more need to consult them.
While there are pros and cons to electronic versus paper versions of books, the face
value of Safari can easily be worked out by asking yourself a few questions: How
many books are in your Amazon wish list? How many books did you buy last year? How
many of your books are out of date editions that you would like to replace ? Additionally,
for developers, text searching the whole library to solve an urgent problem could
be worth a year's membership compared to the number of hours spent solving the problem.
On the whole, I find Safari a great resource for work, but less so for home. In focusing
on "programmers and IT professionals", O'Reilly may be neglecting their
customers' need for information about their digital hobbies.
- text search all books
in the library
- hyperlinks in books
- print sections for offline
- access from anywhere
(no worries about forgetting to bring book)
- doesn't have all books
by each publisher
- original pagination and
graphics of books are not shown
- different inconsistent
views of table of contents
- cannot exchange book
before the end of 30 days
4 out of 5 Mice