Have you ever wished someone could explain Windows 7 in small steps so that you could be sure you grasped one concept before moving on to the next? Would you like to have a book that serves as both a tutorial and a reference to Windows 7? Microsoft Press has just the book for you. It is called ‘Windows 7 Step by Step’ and in this article I am going to review it.
The Title Says it All
It’s always helpful to the reader if a book title means what it says and says what it means (with apologies to Horton the elephant, and Dr. Seuss). If you want a guide that will walk you through just about everything necessary for a good, basic understanding of Windows 7, this book is for you. It comes with a CD full of files that will help you practice using a wide range of commands and documents, without installing anything permanently or endangering a new Windows 7 installation. For those of us who learn best by practicing, the CD is a definite bonus.
One, Two, Three
After an introduction that walks the reader through system requirements, the ways Windows 7 can be installed, and the various conventions used in the book, Windows 7 Step by Step moves on to a chapter full of information designed for the absolute beginner, who might not have much (or any) experience using a mouse or computer keyboard, and who might not yet be familiar with the way Windows works. Since the graphical interface of Windows 7 is different from its predecessors, people who are coming to Windows 7 from Windows XP may appreciate the description of the Windows 7 icons and command buttons, which look different from what XP users might have been accustomed to. And then the book is off and running. Each of the chapters within the three following sections (Getting Started with Windows 7, Experiencing the World Wide Web, and Managing Your Computer) begins with a one-page, graphical “chapter at a glance” that illustrates what the chapter will cover, with pointers that list page numbers for further information.
This can be very helpful if you’re staring at a screen and have no idea what to click next. Each section starts out with the basics first, and then moves on to more advanced operations. It explains the processes simply and clearly for novices. More advanced users can easily skip the beginner level information and move along to the explanations of how Windows 7 does things–which might be noticeably different from what they’re used to, if they’re coming to Windows 7 from Windows XP. Each chapter then ends with a point-by-point overview of what was covered.
The first chapter in this section starts (logically enough) with the Start menu and gives a clear and thorough explanation of how it works. Windows Vista users will already be familiar with most of it, but new users and Windows XP users will appreciate the attention to detail. From there, the chapter covers keyboard shortcuts, the taskbar, and the Control Panel, with the same careful attention to detail. The next section talks about Windows Update, and makes it quite clear how the process works and why it’s important to keep updates current. And then, just as logically, the book explains the various ways you can shut your computer down. The next chapter covers user accounts, with an explanation of what they are and why they are necessary, and explains the types of accounts and how to create them. It then goes into detail about User Account Control, first introduced in Windows Vista, and made a lot more user friendly in Windows 7. This leads naturally into a discussion of account security, and computer security in general. There’s even a chart of the game-rating letters that Windows 7 will recognize, so parental controls can be set accordingly (good luck to the grade-schooler who wants to play his older sister’s alien-blaster game, if the grade-schooler’s parents have set up the parental controls properly on his account). And then, on to networking. Windows 7 Step by Step explains network connections (with a good, detailed reference section on network settings and security), homegroups and how to create and work with them, and how to share libraries, files and folders on the network. As with the other sections, there are plenty of clear illustrations of what you’ll see on your screen at each step. And then, appropriately, there is a good, solid troubleshooting section, covering the most common network problems and what to do when those problems arise. That in itself makes this book a valuable reference to keep on hand. The fourth and fifth chapters explain files, folders, and libraries, and how to find your way around your computer. If this were my book, I would have put these chapters ahead of the network connection chapters, because I think many people are going to spend more time working with their own computer’s contents than the contents of other computers on their home network, and this information would have a higher priority. Still, it’s easy enough to skip to these chapters first if that works better. Again, these chapters start out with basic information for beginners, and move on to more complex tasks, with plenty of illustrations to show the way.
On To The Web
The second section covers internet and website connections. Since it’s a Microsoft publication, it naturally assumes you’re going to be using Internet Explorer, so it includes a brief explanation of how to set that up. (No other browsers are mentioned.) And then it goes into complete detail about how to use Internet Explorer’s features, including tabs, pages, favorites (bookmarks), and the ins and outs of internet navigation. Navigation is illustrated by a guided tour through parts of the Microsoft web site. The next chapter moves along to more advanced internet use, again focused on the tools available in Internet Explorer. Each tool is illustrated with appropriate screen shots. The chapter then covers RSS feeds, newsreaders, web slices, favorites (bookmarks) and search engines. Again, the emphasis is on Microsoft’s products here (Bing, MSN, and so forth). And then there is a full chapter on Managing Internet Explorer, which goes into a lot more detail about the advanced commands and features available in Microsoft’s browser. There’s a valuable section on the essentials of internet security and the security features built into Internet Explorer, and a good explanation of how to set it up to restrict access to objectionable sites. As with the rest of the book, the dialog boxes are clearly illustrated and there are step-by-step instructions for everything. Again, this makes it a very valuable resource both for people who use Internet Explorer and for people who ordinarily use other browsers.
The final section explains how to personalize your computer with themes, backgrounds, and color schemes, and how to display as much or as little of the graphical elements as you want. Since Windows 7 comes with an outstanding collection of backgrounds, and since just about everything on your screen can be modified to suit your preferences, this is a very valuable chapter indeed. Not all computers can use all of the Aero features–a lot depends on your computer’s processor and available memory–but Windows 7 is intelligent enough not to try to display anything that your computer can’t handle. So if you can see it, you can change it to your heart’s content, and Windows 7 Step by Step provides all the instructions you’ll need to make your desktop environment unique. The next chapter explains how to modify the Start menu and taskbar, change the date and time settings, change the computer’s name and change power options. Not all readers will want to change the defaults on these elements, but it’s useful to have complete illustrated instructions at hand if you do.
Windows 7 Step by Step saves the best for last. The final two chapters give a detailed explanation of how to actually use your computer–explore the programs that come built in, install other software and hardware, modify the desktop gadgets, and explore Windows Live. It also explains how Windows 7 can help you help it work more smoothly. Chapter 11 explains how to install and remove software, start programs automatically and set up your defaults for things like email, browser, media player, graphics display, photo viewer and text editor. This is especially valuable information for people who chose not to use the Windows defaults, even though the Windows defaults are used for examples. Chapter 12 gets down to the basics of hardware–installing devices, working with your printer, using multiple screens (an especially valuable explanation for those of us who find Microsoft’s Display settings somewhat confusing as is), and setting up your sound devices (if any). Then it moves along to the information I would have placed first–modifying the way your mouse and keyboard behave. Without those two working properly, the rest doesn’t follow easily. The final part of Chapter 12 talks about hardware ratings. This is something that many people who have moved to Windows 7 from previous versions of Windows might not know about (I am speaking from experience here!) Windows 7 will check your hardware, compare it to a database, and make helpful suggestions for performance enhancing changes. Since so much of Windows 7’s visual appeal depends on the hardware it runs on, and since so many different things can be tweaked, having clear instructions at hand will take the uncertainty out of the process and will result in a far better experience with Windows 7 for just about everyone. That said, I do think the order in which the subjects are discussed could be better, and more in line with the order in which a newcomer would want to explore. And, while this is a Microsoft Press book and the emphasis on Microsoft products is a given, a list of equivalent software from other sources would be a good idea. Microsoft might be wary of appearing to endorse other people’s products, but I think it’d be easy enough for them to craft a disclaimer for that.
Windows 7 Step by Step is clearly written, thoroughly illustrated, and comprehensive. It’s a tutorial for beginners and a valuable reference for more experienced users without going over the heads of beginners or talking down to people who have more skill. It does not take the reader up to “expert” level, but that wasn’t its purpose–there are other books that take care of that. There’s something in here for just about everyone. Well worth buying.