Jack Kenny casts a critical eye over the growing range of advice for the Internet
One of the criteria for making choices from the proliferation of expensive books which purport to navigate you along the superhighway has to be contemporaneity. The other question is: does it have a CD-Rom? If it does, and is packed with shareware and freeware, it means you do not have to go searching the globe and downloading software. There could be a real saving there.
Creating Your Own Netscape Web Pages (QUE, Pounds 27.99) shows exactly what I mean. Besides giving a thorough grounding in the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the book is helpful with tips for designing pages. As with desktop publishing, it should not be assumed that possessing the software will automatically mean you have the skills. The CD-Rom is particularly good, containing some very useful software including viewers for Net images and software for writing pages.
At the other end of the price scale is the succinct, 20-page pamphlet, The Internet for Schools (Scottish Council for Educational Technology, Pounds 5). It is aimed at Scottish schools and is good value since there is not a superfluous word. Teachers in other parts of the country would do well to purchase this publication.
A modem can be very intimidating to first-time users and Using Your Modem (QUE, Pounds 23.49) will guide novices through those first few weeks. This book is very American, and most of the services described are American. The CD-Rom contains useful software such as WinZip, a utility for decompressing files once you have acquired them, and the JASC Media Centre, which keeps track of multimedia files you have downloaded.
Graphics have become one of the great joys of the Internet. Much of the art of the future will be just a click away and artists will be painting with pixels and creating complex images.
There is already a lot of activity and many of the sites are introduced in Internet Graphics Gallery (QUE,Pounds 37.49). This will teach you how to acquire images and how to process them. The CD-Rom has links to all the sites mentioned in the book. All you have to do is to put the disk in your drive and you will be able to access the site by clicking on the link.
The SCET Net (Pounds 10) is a disc and that is all that you get. It is full of educational resources gathered from the Internet and if you have not got the Internet in your school, it can give you a taste of what is available. If you have the Internet this disk will show you how you can set up an internal network so that Internet resources can be used on computers unconnected to the outside world.
Using Netscape 2 (QUE, Pounds 46.99) is a feast of a book for the reasonably experienced and rich. It has just been launched, although it has been tested for months. The bookcovers the new features in Netscape and explains how to create your own pages.
The CD-Rom contains image maps, viewers for VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language), and even software for video, (VDOLive).
An example of how not to do it is Using HTML (QUE, Pounds 22.99). The book is off-putting to look at and does not come with a CD. It is, according to the blurb, a no-nonsense, non-technical approach to using the Hypertext Markup Language that underlies all pages on the World Wide Web. You will learn a lot but the book is not among the best even if it does propose to make you "a seasoned HTML slinger".
Easy Tutor: Get Connected (Pounds 39.99) is a CD-Rom produced by CRT Multimedia. It is designed to teach you how to use the Internet. However, the production is ponderous and pedestrian and there are far too many irrelevances on it.
If the disc taught me one thing it is that a book, even an expensive American one, is more flexible, has faster access and is ultimately more useful. One bright spot is that it comes with 100 hours free Internet use from Cityscape.
The best-looking of the books is Designing Web Graphics (New Riders, Pounds 46.99), which is reassuring when someone is purporting to teach design. But it makes the assumption that readers have some extremely powerful graphic tools like PhotoShop at your disposal.
The real artist or designer will profit from this book. The CD-Rom contains images, movies and sound, plus archives of icons, buttons and images.
* SCET, 74 Victoria Crescent Road, Glasgow G12 9JN. Tel: 0141 337 5000
* CRT Multimedia, Westway Centre, 78 Wood Lane, London W12 7RH.Tel: 0181 743 9900
* All other books are available from Computer Manuals, 205 Formans Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham B11 3AX. Tel: 0121 706 6000