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Safari Books Online:
The Mother of All Online Databases
by Jim Richardson, jim@jimrichardson.com

Photo by Rosemary Caruso, Associated Press

How many times have you packed up your laptop for a trip, then looked wistfully back at your pile of computer books . . . which is now high enough to make a cord of firewood? I know you are dying to take 'em all along. Why? For easy reference, so you can keep working on that complex project. Duh!

What's the matter, Pal of Mine? Don't you want to drag a steamship trunk full of books across the SFO airline terminal with machine-gun toting security guards hot on your heels?

Enter the answer to your dilemma: Safari Books Online.

No, not affiliated with that fab new web browser Steve's been hawking since SF MacWorld.

Safari Books Online predates. How do I know? Couple of years ago, when I dropped by O'Reilly HQ in Sebastopol and bought an armful of books, they offered me several choices for a gift t-shirt. I wanted the black one with ... guess what? ... the lounging jaguar on it!

If this is all too ironic for you Unbelievers, go ahead: look at the photo.


Safari Books Online is now a seasoned service which gives users instant access to new, recent and 2-3 year old computer books published by O'Reilly, Addison Wesley, Alpha, Cisco Press, New Riders, Peachpit Press, Adobe Press, Macromedia Press, Prentice Hall, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, QUE and SAMS.

Still slithering around in that ancient snake-infested OS 9 jungle? Not to worry: Safari has got hundreds of books for you, too.

Those who are fans of George Bernard Shaw's comedy "Too True to Be Good"  may be asking yourself: What's the catch?

Even suspicious minds like ours can compel this invaluable service to prove itself. How? Take advantage of Safari's 14-day free trial at:
http://www.safaribooksonline.com/

Have you ever found a great tip in a book, then gone back a couple of weeks later to find it? What happens every time? Yes: you cannot find even a hint of its location in either the terribly teasing table of contents or the infuriatingly incomplete index! Many a time I have sat there, shaking the block of wood, shouting, "Why didn't you people make this thing searchable?!?"

Not only can you find that elusive passage in a particular book. But now, you can do a string search and find similar passages in all books throughout their db for compare/contrast, the ultimate learning process. Way cool!

And there is a special option for looking through all the books in their database for a code fragment, a dream functionality devised especially for programmers.

You can also Browse by Category.

And, for the very literal-minded folks, like this reviewer, you can View All Titles in their massive db; hey, it only took me 3 hours to view 1,300-plus titles.

Picture our befuddled President W struggling to understand the OS X terminal's command line so he can run those 3 am daily, weekly and monthly tasks "at a time of our choosing." Just go to Category Shortcuts and click on "Mac/OS X" and scan the 20 titles that come up. Now, you can get multiple explanations for accomplishing the same task without having to buy $50 x 20 = $1,000 worth of textbooks. Such a deal!

And if you're as primitive as I am and still want to grasp the block of wood with your meat hooks, Safari links you back to the publisher's shopping cart. (Of course, you've never heard of discount web sites like amazon.com, buy.com, etc.--right?)

Devil in the details: free 14-day trial period. Then, commit to the "Bookshelf" size you want which ranges from 5 to 30 "slots"/ month from $9.99-29.99/month with an additional 10% off for buying a year's subscription in advance.

Catch is: in search mode, you can only see the table of content and index, plus some sample paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Of course, we do get the obligatory and ever-popular User Reviews of said tomes. Also, some books are rated only "half" a slot while some bigger volumes count for more than one slot.

The only Rub: once you put a book in one of your Bookshelf "slots," you cannot replace it with another book for a month. Exception: if you accidentally put the wrong book up on your Bookshelf, you can email Safari and get it taken off and the slot will be re-opened for free. My advice: keep a slot or two available for late month problem-solving.

As you would expect, Safari Books Online adds new books each month and emails you the now-availables. Plus, executing that fabulous search function, you can see when a particular edition of the book was published. Now, are you surfing through the latest edition of the book? Inquiring minds are prompted to check out the publisher's web site for the answer to that crucial question.

After all, if:
   "Curiosity killed the cat
   But information brought him back"

then being able to find instant computer guidance on any topic makes for an exciting trip through Safari Books Online.

Do it. Do it today. Do it now.
With speed of a jaguar, OS X 10.2 or no.
You will be glad you did.

Look at me:
   I may be wearing black,
   But I'm grinning like the Cheshire Cat!

# # #

For a printer-friendly version of this article, please click here and scroll down to page 13:
http://www.ncmug.org/newsletter/2003/april.pdf


Jim interviewed by Profit Magazine 11-21-02 | Video clips
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