There's a saying that goes something like "To err is human. To really mess things up requires a computer." I think just about anyone who's ever used a computer has occasionally felt like, well, a dummy—especially when confronted with something that only makes sense to computer programmers or high-level hardware geeks. And that's why the For Dummies series of books is so popular. These books exist for one very good reason: to explain things in a way nearly anyone can understand, without talking down to the reader or going overboard with high-level tech stuff that's outside the scope of the average user. Windows 7 for Dummies does exactly that, using the same lighthearted formula that's become a standard for the series. To find out more about this book, read the rest of this review.
We all Know it's Not Really for Dummies
After the standard first section that explains the For Dummies book series conventions, Windows 7 for Dummies gets off to a good start by asking "What is Windows 7 and why are you using it?" and answering "If you're like most people, you didn't have much choice." One might think that with a beginning like this, Windows 7 for Dummies would spend time putting Windows 7 down, but in fact, it does exactly the opposite. There are very good reasons to be impressed with Windows 7, and this book starts right off by explaining them, and the specific reasons that Windows Vista and Windows XP users will be happy they made the switch.
I'm a relative newcomer to Windows 7 myself, and was delighted to find a helpful suggestion for improving the performance on my wheezy old desktop computer as early as page 16. I loved the tongue-in-cheek section title Windows 7 Stuff Everybody Thinks You Already Know. "This part explains how Windows 7 has changed things for the better," it says by way of introduction, "and it warns you when Windows 7 has messed things up completely."
Like most all-about-something books, Windows 7 for Dummies can be read in any order, and you can, if you wish, just read the parts that explain what you need to know. However, the book is designed for newcomers to Windows 7, and it's structured in what I think is the logical way for a newcomer. Each section starts with the basics and moves on to more advanced topics, and every chapter is loaded with practical advice and helpful hints and tips. Since Windows 7 is noticeably different from its predecessors, the author makes sure that each new feature is described in detail, and compared to the way things were in previous versions. This shows off both the advantages of Windows 7 and the features that Microsoft, for whatever reason, chose to leave out. (I still wonder why they omitted Outlook!) I have never much cared for Microsoft's default setup, going all the way back to Windows for Workgroups, and I appreciated the clear instructions for such things as customizing the Start Menu. Being able to put things in places that make sense to you goes a long way toward making a new interface familiar even though it's definitely not what you're used to. The lighthearted For Dummies series writing style goes a long way toward making things easier as well. The book is filled with serious information, but it doesn't take itself seriously. Nor does the author spend more time trying to be clever than in explaining things so the reader can understand them, which has been a problem in some other similar books I've read recently. I liked the diagrams that explained what all the new icons mean, and the clear screenshots that showed me exactly what each screen would look like, with all the various components labeled so I could easily tell what was what. I'm working on a netbook screen now, and being able to see what's what on a clearly labeled diagram in a book is a big plus. (And it saves me from having to buy stronger computer glasses, but that's another story!)
The Internet, Simplified
The section called "Getting Things Done on the Internet" is the largest one, and quite rightly so. A lot of people spend a goodly portion of their time in front of a computer using the Internet in one way or another, and Windows 7 for Dummies takes a very thorough approach to setting up your computer for web surfing, email, and security. Since Windows 7 does not have a built-in email program, there are clear instructions for downloading and installing Windows Live Mail, including a box that explains what all the other components of Windows Live Essentials are (and a note that says you don't have to install any of them that you don't want). There are also instructions for using Windows Live Mail with web-based email providers (Gmail, AOL, Yahoo! Mail Plus) but oddly enough, Microsoft's Hotmail is omitted.
Customizing and Much, Much More
As I mentioned, I like to tinker with the Windows interface, and for me, the section called "Customizing and Upgrading Windows 7" was the most interesting. It's more than what the section title would lead you to believe—it covers program installation and removal, making your computer accessible for people with disabilities, and basic common-sense measures such as setting restore points and making backups. There's an extensive and easy-to-understand discussion of user accounts and file sharing. Networking gets its own chapter in the "Customizing and Upgrading Windows 7" section, with instructions that should make what is often the most frustrating part of using a computer a lot easier.
Help Where it's Needed
It's well worth buying the book just for the section titled "Help!" I haven't seen such a good list of common error messages, Windows 7 problems and solutions anywhere else. This section will walk you through dealing with just about anything that might come up, and its reassuring tone of voice and thorough instructions should have just about any problem solved in short order. Each problem is illustrated with the messages you're likely to see, which makes it easy to tell you're looking at the correct instructions for fixing the problem. And, since the book is aimed at new Windows 7 users, there's a section that walks you through moving information from your old computer to a new Windows 7 computer. I wish I'd had this when I installed Windows 7 on my old desktop.
But Wait, There's More!
The "Part of Tens" chapter at the end is kind of like frosting on the cake, wrapping up a lot of good information on Windows 7 annoyances and helpful hints for laptop users, in short, straightforward segments. The people who set up the format for the For Dummies series clearly knew what they were doing.
I'm a long-time fan of the For Dummies series, because—despite the name—they don't assume anyone who reads those books is dumb. The whole idea is to show the readers how smart and capable they actually are, once they've read the directions. They explain everything step by step, and do it with a dash of good humor and plenty of illustrations. If you want a good guide to Windows 7 that explains everything the average user wants to know, offers practical solutions to common annoyances, and puts a smile on your face as you read, Windows 7 for Dummies is definitely the book for you.