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To JavaScript or Not to JavaScript?
Published
1998, March (February 23, 2007)
By Michael Uhl, President of the Carolina Chapter

As I prepared for the February 21st JavaScript workshop that I led, I tried to justify the effort of learning to use JavaScript given its limited scope. If learning HTML was the equivalent of kindergarten-level work, then JavaScript is high school stuff. (Java itself is college.)

In other words, beyond copying extremely simple JavaScript code, you have some significant learning to do. First, you must understand basic object-oriented programming principles. Then you must familiarize yourself with the JavaScript syntax. If you are an experienced programmer, you are well on your way to writing JavaScript applications.

As for me, I have a limited amount of programming experience, and it was crucial in getting beyond merely copying other people's code. If you have no programming experience, you'll need to learn basic programming concepts, such as decision trees, data types, and looping.

Before any of you JavaScript programmer wannabes get bummed out, let me tell you this: learning basic JavaScript programming is worth the effort.

First and foremost, JavaScript gives the technical communicator a straightforward way to learn some basic object-oriented programming principles and at the same time justify the effort by applying it to Web pages. (Technically, JavaScript is "object-based" rather than "object-oriented," but the distinction is irrelevant to the beginning programmer.) It is useful for technical communicators in the computing industries to understand some of what's behind the JavaScript (and Java) craze. Furthermore, JavaScript will play an important role in managing style sheets and Dynamic HTML for Web pages.

Older browsers do have a lot of trouble with JavaScript. But, with Netscape?s hold on the browser market holding steady, Netscape 4.0x is the browser of the future. Given this, I look at JavaScript as an investment for the future, which in the world of the Web is always getting here sooner than you planned.

I have some advice to those of you getting started with JavaScript. Get your hands on plenty of documentation. Start at Netscape's Web site: http://developer.netscape.com/library/documentation/index.html and be sure to look at code samples at http://developer.netscape.com/library/examples/index.html. Buy at least two third-party books. As you work through different topics, read what each text has to say about it. I'm using three texts:
  • Arman Danesh, JavaScript Interactive Course (Corte Madera, CA: The Waite Group, Inc, 1997)
  • Peter Kent, et al, Netscape JavaScript 1.2 Book (RTP, NC: Ventana Communications Group, 1997)
  • Danny Goodman, Danny Goodman's JavaScript Handbook (Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1996)

The February 21 JavaScript workshop is sold out. We are in the process of setting up a second, and most likely a third, workshop on JavaScript. Please let Dick Evans know if you're interested in attending one and we'll see what we can arrange.

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