When A Book Still Trumps Online Search

Search engines have revolutionized the way many people including myself learn new things. Before the days of the Internet, working on a specific programming problem sometimes meant reading manuals and trying out a lot of different things before getting things working. These days a quick search on the Internet usually reveals several solutions to chose from. While this works well especially for 'smalls scale' problems I still feel much more comfortable reading a book when things get more complex.

Take my recent adventures with Apache, PHP and MySQL for example. I am sure I could have learnt a lot by just using online resources and 'googeling' my way through it but there are quite a number of things that have to fall into place at the beginning, e.g. setting up the Eclipse development environment, installing XAMPP, getting the PHP debugger up and running, to learn how PHP applies the concepts of functional and object oriented PHP programming, to learn how to work with SQL databases in this environment, etc. etc. As the combination of these things go far beyond what a single online search could return I decided to pick up a book that shows me how to do these things step by step instead of trying to piece things together on my own.

For this particular adventure I decided to go for the 'PHP any MySQL 24 Hour Trainer' book by Andrea Tarr. While already written back in 2011, it's about Apache, PHP and MySQL basics and these haven't changed very much since then. The book is available in both print and ebook edition and while I went for the printed edition I think the ebook version would have worked equally well for me. In other words, book vs. online search is not about offline vs. online, it's more about having all information required in a single place.

It's interesting to observe that at some point a cutover occurs in the learning process: Once the basic things are in place and the problem space becomes narrow enough it becomes easier to use an online search engine to find answers to topics rather then to explore the topic in a book. A perfect symbiosis I would say.