When you have the words 'definitive' and 'ultimate' on the cover, and when a book begins with 'Everything you need to know about Windows 7 is right here', it's quite normal to start the reading session with very high expectations. Now, let's see if Windows 7 The Definitive Guide, by William R. Stanek, matches your high hopes.
How the book is structured
The book titles itself as 'The Essential Resource for Professionals and Power Users' and, just by browsing the table of contents, you tend to believe that. The book contains five parts, which sum up to 25 chapters… which, in turn, sum up to 992 pages. You can't get more 'definitive' than that! The author clears things from the start and writes in the preface that this in not, by any means, a 'lightweight beginner book'. Then again, don't despair! He also says that 'If you know what the Start button is and what Internet Explorer is, you're in good shape—please read on!' The book starts with the basics, like Setting Up, Customizing and Tuning Windows 7, continues with Mastering your Data and Digital Media, Connecting and Networking, and Managing and Supporting Windows 7, to end with Advanced Tips and Techniques, a section which will make the technology freak in you clap with excitement.
From the start, there is a small problem. The book is complete, yes, but it doesn't have a target audience. Even if the author tries to set the audience in the beginning, the book still tries to please everyone, and any public relations guide teaches that all audiences cannot be happy at the same time. This guide tries to answer both entry-level users and professionals, but the risk is that beginners will lose the very useful information among the many advanced features, while the professionals will get tired of reading stuff they consider simplistic.
Let me give you an example: In the first part of the book, there is a section that explains the differences between the various editions of Windows 7: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. It tells you, step by step, how to open Control Panel and determine which version of Windows 7 you are currently using, giving you snapshots and a lot of indications, just to give you a huge unfriendly table on the next page, about Using upgrade copies of Windows 7. The list of examples can go on. In Chapter 6, Exploring and Searching Your Computer, the book tells you what an address bar is, and where exactly it is located, to end with a table like the one below.
It's fair to say, therefore, that both beginners and advanced users are invited to read this book, but both will get the feeling that it wasn't meant for them.
What the book offers
Aside from this issue, the information is abundant. For the entry-level features, there are images and snapshots to guide the reader along the way. The first part takes you through the basics of getting started, optimizing your Windows 7 interface, fine-tuning the appearance, configuring software and customizing hardware devices. The second part continues by teaching you how to explore and search your computer, navigate the Web using Internet Explorer 8, create media libraries, capture data from external devices, secure data and set-up printers, scanners, and fax machines. The third part of the book focuses on network settings, while the fourth part is mainly about managing user accounts, disks and drives, handling routine maintenance and getting help and support. Now that it's pretty clear that your knowledge about the Start button alone won't make your life with this book very easy, let's get to the final part of the guide: Advanced Tips and Techniques. This part contains four chapters: Installing and Running Windows 7, Exploring the Windows Boot Environment, Using Group Policy with Windows 7 and Mastering Windows Media Center. If you don't speak code, this is the point where the book ends. If you're not scared of constant-width chunks of text, this is the place where you'll feel at home and you won't be annoyed by what you might consider redundant information.
Geeks will love this book. It actually answers every question they might have on this operating system. Also, the book is very well written and takes the time to explain every feature there is. It's so comprehensible, that I almost recommended it for grandma. But here lies the problem. In almost 1000 pages of very well written information, grandma would have to slalom through advanced features that she will never use, to get to the basics. Buy it for her if only if she's very patient. If you love to know everything there is about Windows 7, this is it. If you're not so curious, there must be a simpler guide for you out there.