Not everyone learns best in the same way. Some people like to see demonstrations. Some people like to have someone else explain new concepts. Some people like to read instructions and see everything laid out in illustrations. Since I’m in that last group, I’ve always been a fan of the Visual QuickStart Guide series of books from Peachpit Press. I was delighted to discover that Wiley Publishing has a series of Visual Quick Tips books, including the subject of this week’s review, Windows 7 Visual Quick Tips. Was this book a welcome addition to my "visual quick" library? Let’s find out.
Learning by seeing
The author says that this book is designed for people who want to learn the basics about Windows 7, and for people who want to learn helpful shortcuts, tips, and tricks. I disagree with him about the intended audience for this book. I don’t think it is for the absolute beginner, someone who is encountering Windows 7 for the very first time. It is not a "here’s how you use a keyboard and a mouse" instruction book, and it appears to be based on the assumption that the reader already has basic knowledge and skills and wants to learn more. Each page, or two-page spread, is devoted to a single topic, and each topic has clear, step-by-step directions with numbers that match up to full-color illustrations on the same page. There are boxes at the bottom of every odd-numbered page that point out more options, things to try, things to be wary about and things the reader might not know. The eleven chapters each focus on a different area, such as the Start Menu, configuration, customization, security, and so forth. Some of the topics are things I’d consider fairly advanced, especially in the "Getting More out of Files and Folders" chapter (more on that below).
Since the book itself is fairly small, both in number of pages and in page size, the illustrations and instructions are sized proportionally. With relatively small illustrations, the clear red numbers that match up to the numbered steps in the texts are a definite plus. I have always been a big fan of software manuals with illustrations that tell me in advance what I’ll be looking for on the screen as I work. It helps me know I’m on the right track. The illustrations in Windows 7 Visual Quick Tips are, as you might expect from a "visual" book, very good for that, even in a small size. (Although every now and then I found myself wishing they’d included a full page magnifier in the book.)
Do you know you want to do this?
Most computer help books can be read in any order, and this one can be as well. However, one thing the reader needs to keep in mind is that this is a tips book. It is full of "you know the basics, now here are some cool and useful things you might not have known how to do" information. So if you are a beginner, you might not be able to tell from the Table of Contents whether what’s in the book would be of any interest. I found it really helped to read each chapter in its entirety because every chapter had something in it that I did not yet know about Windows 7
As I mentioned, the "Getting More out of Files and Folders" chapter contains a lot of information about useful changes that a beginner might not even know were available to make. Here’s a list of the topics:
- Turn On File Extensions
- Specify a Different Program When Opening a File
- Restore a Previous Version of a File
- Protect a File by Making It Read-Only
- Save Time by Saving and Reusing a Search
- Select Files Using Check Boxes
- Add a Folder to the Favorites List
- Display All Folders in the Navigation Pane
- Add Destinations to Your Send To Menu
- Make Files Easier to Find by Adding Metadata
- Remove Personal Metadata from a File
- Assign a Different Letter to a Disk Drive
- Hide Disk Drive Letters
- Split a Hard Drive into Two Partitions
None of that sounds like beginner-level work to me. This is not a criticism of the book’s contents, mind you--I read this chapter with great interest because I hadn’t yet learned how to do some of those things, like changing or removing metadata. But I do think that the reader needs to have some experience with Windows 7 and to feel at ease with using it before tackling some of those topics.
Onward and Upward
Other chapters, like "Maximizing Windows 7 Performance" and "Enhancing Internet Security and Privacy," contain a wealth of useful information for just about anyone. "Enriching Your Windows 7 Media Experience" is for people who already have the basic skills involved in image editing and disk burning. I thought the inclusion of "Add Sounds to Windows 7 Events" in this chapter was a nice touch, although I hadn’t thought of those sounds as a "multimedia experience" before. "Getting More Out of Your Notebook PC" provided very good basic information on power management settings that should be immediately useful to beginner and experienced user alike. The tips on presentations would be more of interest to the experienced user. There’s also a few pages devoted to the tablet or touch interface, but someone using that kind of computer would undoubtedly like more tips than what appear here.
To learn or not to learn
I found this book well worth reading. It fits the way I learn best, through explanation and illustration. There were topics in every chapter that taught me something completely new. But I must say that I am not looking at Windows 7 Visual Quick Tips from the point of view of a beginner. I am relatively new to Windows 7, so I have a lot still to learn, and everything that I found here was worthwhile—but I think someone just starting out might not yet have the confidence to put all these tips to good use.
Wait a minute! Since I liked this book so much, why am I not telling you to go right out and get it? It goes along with what I said at the beginning. Different people learn in different ways, and this type of book is geared toward people who are visual learners. It is not necessarily for everyone. This is why I’m suggesting that you take a good look at it before you buy it. If you are not an absolute beginner, if you want plenty of useful information about enhancing and personalizing Windows 7, and if you find the "visual quick" approach works for you, this book is a keeper. Every chapter contains hints and tips that greatly enhance the ease of use and versatility of Windows 7. It’s easy to read, the instructions are clear, and the full color illustrations are a plus. It is certainly a welcome addition to my library and I think a lot of other people will feel the same. But it would be a good idea to try before you buy, to make sure the book works for you as well as it does for me. To try it out, check this free sample chapter, provided by the publisher in the PDF format.