Book Review - Windows 8 Inside Out, by Tony Northrup
The Inside Out series of books has a well-deserved reputation for quality. When these books tackle a subject, they give the reader the details on just about everything essential to the subject, in a readable, well-illustrated and easy to follow format. Thus, I had high expectations for Windows 8 Inside Out, which is certainly long enough to cover nearly everything anyone would want to know about working with Windows 8. Did the book live up to my expectations? Let's find out.
NOTE: I'm reviewing the e-book version. Since the e-book version has a wealth of clickable links to helpful videos, I think it's well worth the purchase (see our links below). You can always type in the video URLs yourself if you buy the printed version.
Windows 8 Inside Out - Off to a good start
Since Windows 8 is a radical redesign of the familiar Windows interface, a lot of people are going to need a good explanation of how it works, so that they will feel as confident about using this version as they did about previous versions. Windows 8 Inside Out does a great job of walking the reader through the new interface from the beginning. Instead of giving an exhaustive review of every single feature, it focuses on the features people will want to use most often, an approach I applaud.
The book starts with an overview of what is new in Windows 8, and then goes on to give detailed instructions for buying and installing it, including the upgrade process from previous versions of Windows. Since upgrading from Windows XP isn't quite as simple as putting a disk in the drive and letting the installation take its course, the section that describes this process is especially useful. All the possible problems are covered. It's good to know up front that Windows 8 is unlike its predecessors in demanding a product key right from the get-go, for example. The process of migrating from one computer to another is also described in detail. My own experience with Easy Transfer was smooth enough, but I would have appreciated having these instructions just to give me confidence in what I was doing. There are even instructions for uninstalling Windows 8 and going back to a previous version, although the author does encourage the reader to consider that not liking the Windows 8 interface is not necessarily a reason to get rid of it immediately. I found this approach very refreshing.
Customizing the Windows 8 interface
I'm not sure why Microsoft reduced the options for creating a custom interface in Windows 8. As someone who likes to tinker with just about every aspect of the screens I see every day, I must admit to having been somewhat annoyed at the lack of built-in choices, on the Lock and Start screen. Windows 8 Inside Out acknowledges these limitations and does its best to show that there are still choices available. I especially liked the instructions for adding shutdown and restart to the Start screen, and for starting with the Desktop instead. Of course, if you are a regular 7 Tutorials reader, you already have these things at hand. :)
I also liked the instructions for displaying detailed notifications from apps on the Lock screen. The author notes that this may save you from having to log into your computer just to check some favorite app that you look at frequently, which is very useful. There are also great instructions for making the Desktop look more like the Windows 7 interface. The author feels that people will get more used to the tiled interface over time and will prefer that to the Desktop. I feel he's entitled to his opinion and it's not going to work that way. :)
Getting to the Windows 8 apps
Since technical books can be read in any order, I would suggest skipping to the chapter on setting up your network connection before you tackle the chapter on adding apps. After all, unless your internet connection is working properly, you're not going to be able to get anything from the Store. The section that covers networking is very thorough and detailed and includes troubleshooting instructions that should solve most common problems. Once your network connection is set up, it's time to skip back to the chapter called "Adding, removing and managing apps", which should give just about anyone confidence to find and install any kind of app from the Store. One minor quibble with this chapter: I don't think the author makes it clear enough that the term Windows 8 apps means exactly what it says—apps that can only be found in the Store and only used with Windows 8. There is a lot of technical detail about apps in this chapter that may not be of interest to everyone.
Still, it's useful to have for reference should you ever need more information.
Doing things the new way, explained
I don't think I'm alone in not realizing at first that Windows 8 has been so totally redesigned that it uses an entirely different approach to most of the things we're familiar with from its predecessors. Windows 8 Inside Out explains these changes in a way I hadn't seen before, and it made everything a lot more clear. Which was a good thing, because I had no real understanding of the app-based versus file-based approach and had been using File Explorer the way I'd used Windows Explorer and therefore (according to the book) not doing things in the most efficient way. A lot of the concepts will be familiar to anyone who's ever used Windows, but the philosophy behind it all is radically different. And one of the things that really surprised and delighted me was the instructions for using a Linux disk to get at your files if Windows 8 is messed up. You'll learn where to find the author's favorite distribution (Puppy Linux) and how to create a live CD, and how to get at your unreachable files. An excellent addition.
The section that deals with media applications explains things just as thoroughly. I think anyone who pays attention to Windows 8 Inside Out will have no problems whatsoever with music, video, TV and movies. And the explanation of streaming is also well done. Despite the fact that I have used computers since they filled rooms and ate punch cards, I am a relative newcomer to the media uses for home computers, and after reading this book I feel I've gotten my feet a little more firmly on the ground so it will be easier to do more with things other than just plain old files and apps.
Security, safety, and the new technology
Most of the discussion of security was not new, and anyone who has not already been using these techniques (Windows Firewall, Windows Defender and so forth) doesn't care much about security. However, since Windows 8 was designed with touch screens in mind, it was good to see a section on security from the point of view of a touch-screen user. A lot of people are new to touch screens and might not yet have discovered some of these things. For example, the discussion of picture passwords thoroughly deals with the advantages and disadvantages of using them. Many of us have already been told that the smudges on a smartphone screen can provide a clue to a touch-oriented password, but may not think about the same problem when it comes to a computer. The book gives a thorough overview of picture passwords and then comes to the conclusion that people who really care about security should not use them. Rather a surprising conclusion after such an in-depth overview, but right on the money as far as I'm concerned.
There is also a section that describes creating a virtual machine with Hyper-V, but since that's only available to users of Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise, it may not be useful information for most people.
Maintenance, the Windows 8 way
The section that deals with maintenance and troubleshooting starts with a thorough discussion of Windows Update. Updates are something that many people don't think of when they think of maintaining their computers—either they just accept the automatic download and installation, or they get annoyed by required restarts while they're trying to work and they shut the whole thing down. There are plenty of other approaches to updates, and the section begins with how important these updates are and why it's necessary to allow them. But you don't have to accept Windows 8's defaults, and this is explained in satisfying detail.
The Windows Experience Index is a very useful tool that people might not know about (although readers of 7 Tutorials surely will ). Windows 8 Inside Out discusses this in satisfying detail. It also talks about some third-party benchmarking tools that might be of interest. And as someone who's been a regular user of Task Manager for as long as I've been using Windows, I liked how well this was explained. It's one of the most useful troubleshooting apps there is, and this will help more people feel at ease with it. We have talked about Task Manager in quite some detail, but this serves as an additional useful reference. There's also an excellent final section that should help the reader figure out and fix startup problems and crashes, with an extensive index that can take the reader directly to the solution to any given problem.
I think this section by itself is worth the price of the book.
I think you can tell that I really liked this book. It was well written, went into a satisfying amount of detail, and took a fresh look at Windows 8 that I had not encountered before. It's not just a good book, it's an education. :) The illustrations are colorful and well chosen, and the explanations make sense. I think anyone who wants to get their feet on the ground with Windows 8 will find this a valuable resource.
I really don't think you can go wrong buying Windows 8 Inside Out, in either the print or e-book format. The e-book does have the advantage of instantly clickable links to videos that illustrate all the book's concepts, which should help most people grasp what's being explained. The author clearly knows his stuff and knows how to write about it so that it's easy to read and understand. It will help a new user get up to speed quickly and will then be an excellent addition to a good reference collection.