Author: David A. Karp
Aimed at: Windows 7 users and programmers
Pros: A readable and useful account
Cons: Cannot solve all, or even many, of the problems
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead
Windows 7 is annoying, not quite as annoying as Vista but still annoying. So what could be better than a book that points out the annoying bits and makes them less annoying?
You can't help but like the author and have great hopes for the book when the first chapter starts:
"Window 7 is like a pumpkin: handsome and plump on the outside, but a big mess on the inside"
Every programmer who has ever had to delve inside knows that this is true for a fact and even users are exposed to many of the nasty ways that Windows has to work for reasons of history, politics and marketing.
The book starts from the beginning outlining the different versions of Windows and then goes into installation details including setting up a virtual installation.There are some interesting descriptions of why things are like they are and the generally critical tone continues - but there isn't too much in this part of the book that is actually going to be helpful. This is not so much "annoyances" more a "getting started with".
Chapter 2 is perhaps where it all gets going but with the title of "Shell Tweaks" it might leave some readers wondering what it's all about. After all not all beginners realise that Windows Explorer is also the Shell. It is explained on the first page but why not a more direct title like "Files,Folder and other stuff"?
Most of the tweaks are obvious and amount to enabling or disabling features that are easy to find. However, every now and again there is one that is worth the price of the book.
For example, I didn't notice that there was an option to run a new instance of Explorer for each folder you opened. Given that this allows any instance to crash without bringing the other down this is a good idea even if it does use more memory.
The section on using multiple monitors was also good - but this is also were I first began to think that there were too many suggestions for using third-party add-ons to solve problems. Third party add-ons generally mean third party annoyances and I tend to keep away from them.
Sadly this dependence on other people's software is not really the book's fault - there are many Windows 7 annoyances that cannot be solved simply by configuration. Of course if you are a programmer this is a good book to read to discover what sort of utilities you should be writing to fill a gap in Window's behavior.
The section "Fix Windows Search" had me particularly interested because it's one thing I would use more if it actually worked. Again, once we are over a few handy but fairly obvious hints, the solution offered is to install a third-party tool that replaces the built-in search - this time it's all free but, I'd still rather stick to what Windows has as native. Of course if you don't know about the strange way that Windows Search operates then many of the fixes will be useful. But the bottom line is that after they have all been applied the search facility is still fairly broken.
Chapter 3 deals with registry changes you can make and as with any attack on the registry it can lead to disaster so this one is for reasonably competent users only.
Chapter 4 is on video, audio and media and again the problem is that there really isn't a 100% fix for Windows' strange way of doing things. You are told about using external tools to check 4CC codes and to find and install the missing codecs - the only downside is that you need to know that you can try all of this and still not be able to play a video. Again this isn't the book's fault and I can suggest nothing more advanced that will solve the problem.
Chapter 5 is on performance and I can't resist quoting:
"Some of Windows 7's magic performance reversal is simply sleight of hand."
Yes indeed... The rest of the chapter is a fairly standard account of how to trim Windows 7's bloat but it is done well.
Chapter 6 is on Troubleshooting and doesn't claim to fix all problems. It deals with how to narrow down the cause - hardware problems. virus, malware and similar. Part of the problem with bringing any problem and putting it at Window's door is that there is always a possibility that it is being caused by some thing, like a virus, you have picked up or faulty hardware. This chapter is nothing new but it's all good advice and you should know about it and follow its suggestions.
The next chapter deals with networking and the Internet and this is a huge subject. The chapter explains how it all works, how to set things up and best practices. This isn't so much an annoyances section but more a "how-to-do-it". There are plenty of annoyances when it comes networking and the Internet but these are mostly to with IE crashing, cached passwords and problems with working with Linux-based devices. These topics are mostly ignored.
Chapter 8 is on Users and Security - another difficult subject made worse by the different versions of Windows that support different security models. The chapter mostly concentrates on Homegroups rather than domain-based security. It also deals with encryption, sharing files and devices and so on.
The final chapter is on the command prompt and writing batch files and Shell scripts. This is probably a chapter that could have been left out - it isn't deep enough for the expert and it isn't gentle enough for the beginner. A small group of users just on the point of getting to grips with command line and batch files might find it useful as a getting started guide.
This book isn't going to remove all of the annoyances from Windows 7 as only Microsoft could do this. As a free piece of advice I'd suggest that Microsoft gets lots of copies of this book and hands them out the the Windows 8 design team with the instructions - fix the complaints in this book. Then we might have an operating system that was just a little less annoying.
This is not a complete beginner's book - you have to know how to use Windows before much of this makes sense. Indeed you have to be annoyed by Windows before you would sympathise with the sentiments and solutions the book provides.
If you want to find out how to make best use of Windows 7 by fixing some of the things that are slowing you down then buy a copy of this book - it's very good!