Book Review: Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript

I recently accepted Packt Publishing's invitation to review Rami Sarieddine's book Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript. The Preface of the book describes the book as "a practical, hands-on guide that covers the basic and important features of a Windows Store app along with code examples that will show you how to develop these features." The Preface adds that the book is for "all developers who want to start creating apps for Windows 8" and for "everyone who wants to learn the basics of developing a Windows Store app."

Chapter 1: HTML5 Structure

Chapter 1 of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript introduces "HTML5 structural elements" (semantic elements, media elements, form elements, custom data attributes) supported in the Windows 8 environment.

The section on semantic elements covers elements such as <header>, <nav>, <article>, and <address>. The section on media elements provides detailed coverage of the <video> and <audio> elements.

The section on form elements discusses the "new values for the type attribute are introduced to the <input> element." A table is used to display the various types (examples include tel, email, and search) with descriptions. There is discussion on these input types along with how to add validation to the input types.

Most of this initial chapter of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript covers general HTML5 functionality, but there are a few references to items specific to Windows 8. For example, the last new material before the first chapter's Summary is on "using the Windows Library for JavaScript (WinJS) to achieve more advanced binding of data to HTML elements."

Chapter 2: Styling with CSS3

Like the first chapter, Chapter 2 focuses mostly on a general web concept, in this case Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Sarieddine states that CSS is responsible for "defining the layout, the positioning, and the styling" of HTML elements such as those covered in the first chapter.

In introducing CSS, the second chapter of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript provides an overview of four standard selectors (asterisk, ID, class, and element), attribute selectors (including prefix, suffix, substring [AKA contains], hyphen, and whitespace), combinator selectors (including descendant, child/direct, adjacent sibling, and general sibling), pseudo-class selectors, and pseudo-element selectors.

Chapter 2 does cover some Microsoft/Windows-specific items. Specifically, the chapter introduces the Grid layout and the Flexbox layout. The author explains that these have -ms prefixes because they are currently specific to Microsoft (Windows 8/Internet Explorer 10), but that they are moving through the W3C standardization process.

The second chapter of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript covers animation with CSS and introduces CSS transforms before concluding with brief discussion of CSS media queries.

Chapter 3: JavaScript for Windows Apps

Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript's third chapter covers "features provided by the Windows Library for JavaScript (the WinJS library) that has been introduced by Microsoft to provide access to Windows Runtime for the Windows Store apps using JavaScript." The delivered implication of this is that this is the first chapter of the book that is heavily focused on developing specifically Windows Store Apps.

Sarieddine covers use of Promise objects to implement asynchronous programming in JavaScript's single-threaded environment rather than using callback functions directly. The author also covers use of the WinJS.Utilities namespace wrappers of document.querySelector and querySelectorAll. Coverage of the WinJS.xhr function begins with the description of it being a wrapper to "calls to XMLHttpRequest in a Promise object."

Chapter 3 concludes with a discussion of "standard built-in HTML controls" as well as WinJS-provided controls "new and feature-rich controls designed for Windows Store apps using JavaScript." This discussion includes how WinJS-provided controls are handled differently in terms of code than standard HTML controls.

This third chapter is heavily WinJS-oriented. It also includes the first non-trivial discussion and illustrations related to use of Visual Studio, a subject receiving even more focus in the fourth chapter.

Chapter 4: Developing Apps with JavaScript

Chapter 4 of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript is intended to help the reader "get started with developing a Windows 8 app using JavaScript." It was early in this chapter that I learned that Windows Store apps run only on Windows 8. The chapter discusses two approaches for acquiring Windows 8 and downloading necessary development tools such as Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8 from Windows Dev Center. The chapter discusses how to obtain or renew a free developer license via Visual Studio.

The fourth chapter also discusses languages other than HTML5/CSS3 that can be used to develop Windows Store apps. It then moves onto covering development using Visual Studio templates. Several pages are devoted to discussion on using these standard templates and there are several illustrations of applying Visual Studio in this development.

Chapter 5: Binding Data to the App

The fifth chapter of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript discusses "how to implement data binding from different data sources to the elements in the app." As part of this discussion of data binding, the chapter covers the WinJS.Binding namespace ("Windows library for JavaScript binding") for binding styles and data to HTML elements. Examples in this section illustrate updating of HTML elements' values and styles.

Interestingly, it is in this fifth chapter that the author points out that "Windows 8 JavaScript has native support for JSON." The chapter's examples also discuss and illustrate use of Windows.Storage.

Chapter 5's coverage of formatting and displaying data introduces "the most famous controls" of ListView and FlipView and then focuses on ListView. This portion of the chapter then moves on to illustrate use of WinJS templates (WinJS.Binding.Template). The final topic of Chapter 5 is sorting and filtering data and more example code is used here for illustration.

Chapter 6: Making the App Responsive

Chapter 6 focuses on how to make a Windows 8 application "responsive so that it handles screen sizes and view state changes and responds to zooming in and out." The chapter begins by introducing view states: full screen landscape, full screen portrait, snapped view, and filled view. The chapter discusses snapping (required for apps to support) and rotation (recommended for apps to support). It then moves onto covering use of "CSS media queries" and "JavaScript layout change events."

Chapter 6 also introduces semantic zoom, described on the Guidelines for Semantic Zoom page as "a touch-optimized technique used by Windows Store apps in Windows 8 for presenting and navigating large sets of related data or content within a single view." Sarieddine describes semantic zoom as a technique "used by Windows Store apps for presenting—in a single view—two levels of detail for large sets of related content while providing quicker navigation." There are several pages of code illustrations and explanatory text on incorporating semantic zoom in the Windows 8 application.

Chapter 7: Making the App Live with Tiles and Notifications

The seventh chapter of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript introduces the concept of Windows 8 tiles. The chapter discusses the app tile ("a core part of your app") and live tiles ("shows the best of what's happening inside the app"). Windows 8 Badges and Notifications are also covered in this chapter.

Chapter 8: Signing Users In

Chapter 8 is focused on authentication in a Windows 8 app. The chapter discusses use of the Windows 8 SDK and "a set of APIs" that "allow Windows Store apps to enable single sign on with Microsoft accounts and to integrate with info in Microsoft SkyDrive, Outlook.com, and Windows Live Messenger."

The eighth chapter's coverage includes discussion of open standards supported by Live Connect: OAuth 2.0, REST, and JSON. The chapter also covers reserving an app name on the Windows store, working with Visual Studio 2012 for Windows 8, and working with Live SDK downloads.

Chapter 9: Adding Menus and Commands

Chapter 9 of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript focuses on adding menus and commands to the app bar. This coverage includes discussion on where to place the app bar and how the UX guidelines recommend placing the app bar on the bottom because the navigation bar goes on top of a Windows 8 app.

Chapter 10: Packaging and Publishing

Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript's tenth chapter introduces the Windows Store and likens it to "a huge shopping mall" in which the reader's new app would be like "a small shop in that mall." The author states that the Windows Store Dashboard is "the place where you submit the app, pave its way to the market, and monitor how it is doing there."

The first step in the process of submitting a Windows app to the Windows Store for certification was covered in the chapter on authentication (Chapter 8) and this chapter picks up where that left off. Steps covered in this chapter include providing the application name, setting the "selling details," adding services, setting age and rating certifications, specifying cryptography and encryption used by the app, uploading app packages generated with Visual Studio, adding app description and other metadata about the app, and notes to testers evaluating app for Windows Store.

The chapter moves from coverage of the Windows App submission process using Windows Store Dashboard to using Visual Studio's embedded Windows Store support. Of particular interest in this section is coverage of how to use Visual Studio to package a Windows 8 app so that the "package is consistent with all the app-specific and developer-specific details that the Store requires."

The majority of this chapter's examples depend on having a Windows Store developer account. The chapter also includes a reference to a page on avoiding common certification failures.

Chapter 11: Developing Apps with XAML

All of the earlier chapters of Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript focused on developing Windows Store apps with traditional web development technologies HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but the final chapter looks at using different platforms for creating Windows Store Apps. Although most of this chapter looks at developing Windows Store apps using the alternate development platform of XAML/C#, there is brief discussion of more general considerations when using alternate platforms for developing Windows Store apps. The chapter specifically mentions multiple approaches using C++ and C# to develop Windows Store apps.

Using Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) for developing Windows 8 applications is described similar to the approach used for JavaScript as discussed earlier in this book. One of the examples demonstrates using Visual Studio standard Windows Store App templates such as Blank App (XAML), Grid App (XAML), and Split App (XAML). The chapter dives into basics of developing an XAML-based Windows Store app and introduces XAML based on HTML and XML concepts and differences.

The final chapter has a "Summary" section, but the final paragraph of that chapter is actually a summary of the entire book. A potential purchaser of this book could read this final paragraph on page 158 to get a quick overview of what the book covers.

Targeted Audience

Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript is well-titled in terms of describing what the book is about. The book clearly fulfills its objective of demonstrating how to use HTML5 and JavaScript to develop Windows Store Apps. Although the book does briefly discuss other technologies and platforms for building Windows Store Apps, these discussions are very brief and and mostly references rather than detailed descriptions.

The reader most likely to benefit from this book is a developer interested in applying HTML, JavaScript, and CSS to develop Windows Store apps. The book does provide introductory material on these technologies for those not familiar with them, but at least some minor HTML/CSS/JavaScript experience would be a benefit for the reader.

This book would obviously not be a good fit for someone wishing to learn how to develop apps for any environment other than the Windows Store and it would only be of marginal benefit to readers wanting to develop Windows Store apps with technologies other than HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

Conclusion

Developing Windows Store Apps with HTML5 and JavaScript delivers on what its title advertises. It provides a comprehensive introduction to developing and deploying Windows Store apps using JavaScript and HTML. Packt Publishing provided me a PDF for this review and one of the advantages of the electronic form is the numerous screen snapshots of Windows 8 apps and Visual Studio are in full color.

Additional Information

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