Author: David Pogue
Publisher: Pogue Press
Aimed at: Novice or inexperienced users of Windows 7
Pros: Good to dip into
Cons: Cannot soelve every problem
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead
Windows 7 is a sophisticated operating system but what do you get by way of instruction when you buy a copy - not a lot. Back in the early days of Windows Microsoft did supply a couple of printed books along with the OS to explain how to do things like click and drag and open a document. Back then these ideas were as new as the mouse and "clicking" wasn't obvious.
So today are we all good at operating systems and their arcane interfaces? Well no, not really. Most users simply "pick up" how to use Windows often with the help of a friend. Even if you have been using Windows for a while there is always the sneaking suspicion that you might have missed something important or that there might be some easier way of doing something. This feeling becomes especially strong when you move from one OS version to another and ask, "What have they added?"
This particular book is an attempt to give you the facts about Windows and it really does attempt to be the manual that Microsoft never bothered to produce. The attempt at completeness is both its downfall and its value. It starts off assuming that you have Windows 7 up and running - after all most users will get Windows 7 on a brand new machine rather than via an upgrade.
I attempted to read the book from cover-to-cover as if it was a novel and at first this approach worked. The style is readable with just enough humour to keep things light even when discussing some technical ideas. The problem is that slowly but surely you start to get lost in a haze of fairly random information. The book does its best to present things logically but all it really succeeds in doing is proving that Windows is no longer logical, if it ever was.The book mostly assumes that you will have used another version of Windows and is very heavy on telling you how Windows 7 differs from older versions.
The book is divided into eight parts - The Desktop, Software, Online, Pictures,music & TV, Hardware and Peripherals, PC Health, Networking and homegroups and a collection of Appendixes - installing Windows 7, the registry etc. .. Each topic is introduced gradually, working its way up to the more esoteric aspects. The coverage rarely gets that advanced however and as a result the book suits the beginner rather than the advanced or power user. A nice touch is the way that each topic indicates which version of Windows it works with.
The alternative way to use the book is to look things up when a question arises in use. In this mode the book failed miserably. Just about everything I looked up to try and solve a problem was covered at a level that left me unable to make progress. It is probably unreasonable to expect a book to solve even common Windows problems, but I was surprised at the number of times it came up empty handed. The problem is that to solve problems with Windows 7 you need the knowledge of a network admin and more because many problems are simply due to Windows not doing what it is supposed to.
For example, Windows 7 recently refused to let me delete a file saying I needed admin privileges to do the job - even though I was logged on as administrator and owned the file. No amount of delving into the book revealed anything particular useful, but then no amount of delving into the Windows security system helped either. Twenty minutes later the system allowed me to delete the file without a further comment and without any reason.
This is the sort of problem no book is going to help you with and probably the reason that there is no manual supplied with Windows.
I finally found a way of reading the missing manual. Dip in to it when you have a question but when you don't read the various sections as if they were magazine articles. This means you learn something about some topic without getting confused about how it relates to other topics - it usually doesn't.
This is a good book and you will be pleased that you bought it if you conform to a few simple conditions. The first is that you have to be a beginner to at most an intermediate user of Windows 7. A power user or systems admin is simply going to find very little of interest. The second is that you can't expect it to solve all of your Windows 7 problems - this too difficult a task for anyone. Finally don't read it from end-to-end like a novel, instead dip into it and find nuggets of information - in this mode it's an easy read.