Have you ever walked through a bookstore or a public library and wondered why there are so many books that try to explain software and hardware? There’s definitely a reason for that. The printed manual is, for the most part, extinct. And people still want to know how things work. Years ago, Microsoft put out some of the best user manuals in the business. Paradoxically, as their software grew and included more and more features, the manuals dwindled away, until today you’re lucky to get a Quick Start Guide. O’Reilly Media’s ‘Windows 7, The Missing Manual’ helps fill the gap between what Microsoft supplies with Windows 7 and what people really need to know.
The Manuals are Missing
The book starts off by reassuring those who are moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 that there will be plenty of help available (and there is). There’s a quick rundown of the various versions of Windows 7, and a section that notes what’s been added to Windows 7 and which applications from previous versions have been deleted. And then it’s off to explore Windows 7, through seven parts, myriad sections and four appendices.
The book lays it out
Each part of ‘Windows 7, The Missing Manual’ clearly describes what has changed in the transition from Windows XP and Windows Vista, and each section heading notes the versions of Windows 7 to which the information applies. There are plenty of sidebars throughout the book – from short explanations of terms that people might not know (“up to speed,”) to the note about great features that people might not yet be familiar with (“gem in the rough,”). Other sidebars help people who liked the way things used to be get some of the classic features back (“nostalgia corner”) or answer frequently asked questions. As with many technical books, the sidebars are something the reader can skip over, but nearly every one contains something of interest, so they are well worth reading.
The many parts of a Missing Manual
Part One is Desktop. Its sections are “Getting Started, Desktop and Start Menu,” “Explorer, Windows and the Taskbar,” “Searching and Organizing Your Files,” “Interior Decorating Windows,” and “Getting Help.” Part Two is Windows 7 Software. Its sections are “Programs, Documents & Gadgets,” “The Freebie Apps,” and “The Control Panel.” Part Three is Windows 7 Online. Its sections are “Hooking Up to the Internet,” “Internet Security,” “Internet Explorer 8,” “Windows Live Mail,” and “Windows Live Services.” Part Four is Pictures, Music and TV. Its sections are “Windows Live Photo Gallery,” “Windows Media Player,” and “Windows Media Center.” Part Five is Hardware & Peripherals. Its sections are “Print, Fax & Scan,” “Hardware,” and “Laptops, Tablets & Touchscreens.” Part Six is PC Health. Its sections are “Maintenance & Speed Tweaks,”The Disk Chapter,” and “Backups, System Restore & Troubleshooting.” Part Seven is Networking & Homegroups. Its sections are “Accounts & Logging On,” “Setting Up a Workgroup,” “Network Domains,” “Sharing Files on the Network,” and “Windows by Remote Control.” The Appendices are “Installing & Upgrading to Windows 7,”Fun with the Registry,” “Where’d It Go?” and “The Master Keyboard Shortcut List.” As you can see, there’s a staggering amount of information in this book. To go through it section by section would make this review nearly as long as its subject. So I will talk in general terms about ‘Windows 7, The Missing Manual’, its pluses and minuses.
On the plus side
The major plus, of course, is that it was written by all-around expert David Pogue. Mr. Pogue is a clear and entertaining writer, and he definitely knows his subject inside and out. He created the Missing Manuals series precisely because he knows how much is not supplied with software these days. Since ‘Windows 7, The Missing Manual’ contains the information that once would have been in a big fat printed manual included with the operating system, no feature or command is overlooked. Each section contains screen shots to show the reader what’s under discussion. The help offered to people upgrading from Windows XP is extensive, and the changes Microsoft has made between previous versions of Windows and Windows 7 are explained in detail. Each section contains enough information to educate the beginner and satisfy the expert. People like me who sometimes prefer the way previous versions of Windows did things aren’t slighted. The sidebars draw attention to a lot of really useful information. As a relative newcomer to Windows 7 who’s used just about every previous Microsoft operating system, I learned something new in just about every section and I’m definitely more at ease with the new features of Windows 7 after reading the book. The book is laid out logically and describes Windows 7 one step at a time, in the way many people would progress from their first view of it to the finer points of networking and troubleshooting, so it’s easy to follow along.
On the minus side
That said, however, this is an 850-page book with an index that is 30 pages long. For many people, this may well be Too Much Information. While Mr. Pogue’s writing style is clear and entertaining, many times it seemed that he focused on entertainment rather than information. I think the book could easily have been edited down by a third without losing anything in the process. ‘Windows 7, The Missing Manual’ is an excellent reference, but in trying to explain everything and accommodate all skill levels it may not be wholly satisfying to anyone. Perhaps it could have been split into two books, one for beginner-to-intermediate users and another one for intermediate-to-advanced users.
This is definitely a case where “try before you buy” is warranted. Since the book is fairly expensive and the e-book edition doesn’t cost much less, it makes sense to check this book out at your local public library and go through it to see if it’s a reference you want to keep on hand. If you want a book that goes into detail about every single feature of Windows 7, then ‘Windows 7, The Missing Manual’ deserves a space on your bookshelf.