Book Review - Windows 7 Up and Running
Are you just starting out with Windows 7, after having used another version of Windows? Would you like a compact book that's bigger on the inside than on the outside, and explains just about everything someone encountering Windows 7 for the first time needs to know, without talking down to you? Do you like books that go into just enough detail about all the basics and illustrate everything they're showing you? If the answer is yes to all those questions, than this book is for you.
Up, Up and Away
Disclosure: I didn't think I was going to like this book. I prefer computer books that explain things to me in detail with plenty of illustrations so I know what I'm going to see before I take a whack at it myself, and I didn't think a book this compact would be able to do the job. I'm happy to report that my first assumption was dead wrong. Windows 7: Up and Running focuses on the essentials and provides clear illustrations for every step
The author assumes that the reader has experience with previous versions of Windows, primarily Windows XP or Windows Vista, and doesn't spend time explaining things like "this is your mouse, this is your keyboard," and the like. The book starts by detailing the differences between the versions of Windows 7, and the system requirements for successful installation. It provides a clear and useful guide for people upgrading from Windows XP using Microsoft's Easy Transfer utility. Although Easy Transfer definitely lives up to its name, I would have been happy to have such clearly illustrated instructions in front of me while I was installing Windows 7 on my computer that ran Windows XP. Unfortunately I did not have this book when I was doing the installation.
The next section explains how to install Windows 7 if you've got a brand new computer, or if you're upgrading from Windows Vista, since the procedure is much the same. However, I think it might be a bit too easy to miss the instructions for upgrading from Windows Vista - that you have to run the Windows 7 installer from within Windows Vista if you want your current data to be preserved. That information should have come first. The author gives the instructions for a clean install, with just one sentence noting the different procedure for Windows Vista, and then comes back to the Windows Vista installation process at the end of the section. I think it's more likely that the reader would be upgrading from Windows Vista rather than installing Windows 7 on a new hard drive, so the warning to run the installer from within Windows Vista and not boot from the disk should have been front and center instead of two pages later.
Oh look, it's new!
Next up is a description of all the new features in Windows 7, designed to show people who've been using Windows XP or Windows Vista the kinds of things they'll find most useful after the upgrade, starting with the taskbar and moving on to a well-illustrated explanation of Aero and all its variations. (A fuller explanation of the taskbar and Aero comes in the next chapter.) Then the book talks briefly about Desktop Gadgets (much improved from the ones in Windows Vista) and the newly revised editions of such venerable Windows built-in applications as Paint, WordPad, and the Calculator. The author assumes people already know how to use those applications.
Navigation and more
Windows 7's taskbar has been substantially upgraded from that of its predecessors, and the new features deserve a full explanation - which they get. I definitely appreciated the illustrations of Aero Peek, since my computer is too old to take full advantage of Aero. And the explanation of how to pin applications to the taskbar was very useful as well. Years ago, I used a program called Geoworks that let you pin any menu, and I always thought Windows shortchanged people by not letting them do something like that. Well, now Windows development has caught up, and it makes the interface much more user friendly. The explanation of Jump Lists was equally valuable.
A trip to the Library
Windows 7: Up and Running explains the concept of Libraries clearly, with plenty of illustrations. This is another new feature that Microsoft created to help Windows 7 users keep track of their information more efficiently. According to the book, most people didn't use the "My Documents" type folders but created their own. I found this rather surprising. I thought it was just vintage computer users like me who created their own folders instead of using the ones Microsoft built in (I am still using pretty much the same directory structure I had on my very first PC back in the late 1980s). The Library lets people have the best of both worlds - their own preferred folders plus a structure that makes it easy to keep track of what you've put where. I really appreciated the clear illustrations and the explanation of how the Library system works. I will be creating my own Library structure right away.
Go Go Gadget
I must say that I am not a fan of desktop "stuff." I keep only a few icons on mine, preferring to use sub-menus off the Start Menu to get where I want to go. The Sidebar on my Windows Vista computer drove me nuts and I turned it off pretty quickly after I first encountered it. Windows 7: Up and Running lists the available Windows 7 Desktop Gadgets, and explains that they're not confined to the Sidebar any more. This gave me an indication that they might be useful after all. For people who are not as picky about desktop contents as I am, the Gadgets would definitely be useful and the explanation makes using them easy. I'm going to try out a few myself, now that I can place them where I want. For those of you curious about giving them a try, check out our list of Top 7 Desktop Gadgets.
Share and Share Alike
The next section of the book is dedicated to file sharing and the HomeGroup. Starting with a clear explanation of what a HomeGroup is and how to create one that works for you and the others on your network, Windows 7: Up and Running goes into the specifics of sharing files, protecting your data, and controlling who has access to what. Each step comes with a clear illustration of what you'll see on your screen. For the first time, sharing a USB-connected printer is simple, and sharing music between computers in the same HomeGroup is easy as well. As I read through this section, I was only too aware that our household so far contains only one Windows 7 computer - the rest use Windows XP or Mac OS X - so I would not be able to take advantage of all the Windows 7 improvements in networking and file sharing. Then I spotted the sections that deal specifically with sharing files with those other operating systems and I was a happy camper. I like to move files back and forth between computers and had not been entirely successful in integrating the Windows 7 computer into our home network. Now I know how it's done. I think this section alone would have been worth buying the book for.
Safe and Secure
No book about any version of Windows could be complete without a good section on security. Windows 7: Up and Running approaches this essential issue with a fairly long chapter that covers quite a broad spectrum of topics, some of which aren't really related to each other, although they still fall under the category of "security." This isn't as confusing as it might sound, because each security element is clearly explained, but the chapter itself is somewhat choppy and some topics might not seem to have anything to do with security at first glance. For example, the book includes the Action Center, since Action Center deals with system and security messages. It explains how the Action Center did away with a lot of Windows Vista's visual clutter and how to customize it, or even shut it off if you wish. The next topic is one that people who have been using Windows Vista will be all too familiar with, and not necessarily in a good way. Microsoft listened to users' complaints about Windows Vista's supremely annoying User Account Control and did away with the worst of the irritations, making Windows 7 much more inviting than its predecessor. Windows 7: Up and Running does full justice to the User Account Control's new, more user-friendly interface. Each possible level of security is clearly explained.
Continuing with other security-related built-in applications, the book notes that Windows Vista introduced the Credential Manager, a safe and secure place to store your logins, passwords, and certificates. Windows 7 makes it easier to use, and Windows 7: Up and Running offers a detailed explanation of how it works and how to customize it to suit your needs. Windows Vista also introduced BitLocker, a drive encryption application that could make the contents of your drive much more resistant to prying. Windows 7 introduces BitLocker to Go, which allows you to encrypt removable drives. (It's not available in all versions of Windows 7.) If you're interested in drive security, this section will be very useful. Windows 7: Up and Running also clearly explains how to encrypt individual files and folders with NTFS Encryption (also not available in all versions of Windows 7). The book goes into a lot of very useful detail about Certificates, which I had not seen explained so clearly before. There is a brief explanation of Windows Defender and Windows Firewall. Given how necessary these kinds of defenses are, nowadays, this section could have been a bit more detailed. There is no discussion about the default settings or whether the user might wish to change them, nor an explanation of what a firewall is. Granted, the author assumes experience with some previous version of Windows, but with today's emphasis on security, these two built-in applications should have been discussed in more detail.
Are These Essential?
The next section is devoted to "essential applications." Unfortunately, this title refers to the components of Windows Live Essentials, which may or may not really be essential. Windows Live Essentials is not, for some unknown reason, included with Windows 7, but it's available for free download from the Microsoft web site. It includes Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Writer, Family Safety, and Movie Maker. Each component is briefly described and illustrated. Not to disparage these very useful applications, but I don't think any of them really makes the grade as "essential," and apparently Microsoft feels the same, since they're not built into Windows 7.
Windows 7 does include several really useful applications that come closer to being "essentials." There is the Snipping Tool (screen capture), Sound Recorder, Windows PowerShell (a scripting language and command-line application for expert users), Photo Viewer, Disc Image Burner, Media Center (not available in all versions), Math Input Panel (which lets you "write" math problems), XPS Viewer (for creating and signing your documents with digital signatures--another application for experts), Sticky Notes, Calculator, WordPad, Paint, and Media Player. Windows 7: Up and Running offers brief, illustrated instructions for these applications, but anyone who wants to make full use of them will want a book that goes into a lot more detail. Still, it's very useful to see what you've got on hand, without having to look for third-party software.
Exploring Internet Explorer
The chapter on Internet Explorer 8 goes into detail about that browser's many features, and illustrates them all clearly. Microsoft listened to its users (and paid close attention to what the other browser programmers were doing) and made Internet Explorer 8 much more versatile than previous editions. Here you can learn about the Smart Address bar, Enhanced tabbed browsing and grouping, Compatibility View, Find on Page, Improved search, Web Slices, Accelerators, InPrivate Browsing, InPrivate Filtering, Suggested Sites, Domain highlighting and SmartScreen Filter. Since many of those features are new to Internet Explorer 8, or are a vast improvement over their predecessors, Windows 7: Up and Running is a very useful reference for anyone who uses Internet Explorer.
Make New Friends, Keep the Old
One reason many individuals and businesses were reluctant to upgrade to Windows Vista was its lack of compatibility with their essential software. Some versions of Windows 7 (Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise) include Windows XP Mode, which is Microsoft's acknowledgement that not everyone can afford all new software to go with an all new operating system. Windows XP Mode may require downloading and installing Windows Virtual PC, which could be more complicated than the average user is willing to attempt. With the illustrated instructions in Windows 7: Up and Running, this is not quite as daunting as it might appear at first. The book takes the reader step by step through the download, installation and use of Windows XP Mode. The author also talks about possible errors one might encounter while using a virtual machine, and what can be done to get past them. And one other use of the Windows Virtual PC is to install other operating systems. Ubuntu Linux is used as a demonstration. Anyone interested in exploring the uses of Windows Virtual PC will want a much more detailed book than this, but Windows 7: Up and Running will give the reader a good beginning.
Tips and Tricks
The book concludes with a selection of useful tips and tricks that focus on customizing the Windows 7 interface, troubleshooting, using keyboard shortcuts, burning disk images and installing Windows 7 on removable media such as thumb drives. There's also a brief but useful section that explains how to set up your computer to dual-boot Windows 7 and Windows XP. Some of the tips contained in this section are definitely not for the new Windows 7 user and I'm not sure why they were included. After focusing on the basics, it seems odd to see a section that includes a lot of command-line work.
As I said in the beginning, I found this book extremely useful, since it explains things the way I learn best: straightforward talk and lots of pictures. I do think that the arrangement of some sections, especially the installation section, could have been better, and not all chapters will be useful to all people. But those are minor quibbles, and for me, the book's a keeper. Windows 7: Up and Running is an excellent resource for someone who is already familiar with Windows and doesn't need "this is your mouse" hand-holding. It explains Windows 7 concisely and with plenty of illustrations. While it is indeed designed to get the reader "up and running," it could certainly find its place on a bookshelf for reference, as the user gains more experience and wants to explore all the great new features in Windows 7.