Disasters in your stride

18th October 1996 at 01:00
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Windows 95 Que, Pounds 18.49 Available from Computer Manuals: 0121 706 6000

It doesn't seem right that anyone should need to write a book like this. There are no idiot's guides to washing machines or televisions or trouser presses, so why should someone buying a PC be expected to shell out a further Pounds 18.49 on a book just to find out how it works? It isn't as if those of us new to Windows 95 feel deprived of reading matter - the application comes complete with megabytes of on-screen help which we can summon in time of need. But that sort of help is the equivalent of the foreign phrase book - fine for emergencies, but not a patch on a comprehensive language course.

This book is the works. In 380 pages there is more than anybody - even Bill Gates - could possibly want to know about Windows 95. Paul McFedries works systematically - and with remarkable thoroughness - through everything from how to handle a mouse to sending mail via the fax modem.

He is one of those technology writers who belives that a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down, and has gone to inordinate lengths to cram his text with quips, quiddities and jocular asides. Desperate to come across as a regular guy, and not a stuffy college professor, he resorts to folksy colloquialisms, snippets of biography and the inevitable jibes about the nerds and geeks who have given computers such a bad name. This style might not appeal to everyone, but there are others (including this reviewer) who appreciate a bold attempt to turn what could have been a boring text book into a relatively pleasant read.

Because Windows 95 is packed with so much, Mr McFedries' book is, in effect, a useful introduction to the wide range of opportunities offered by the PC. So, those who are completely new to word processing will find that the pages devoted to WordPad (one of the Windows utilities) will teach them about fonts, editing text, find-and-replace, and suchlike. Similarly, there are chapters on the paint program, creating multimedia, using networks and exploring the Internet.

Yet he knows what is engraved on every computer user's heart: If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will. The chapter entitled "A Smorgasbord of Windows Woes" offers a chilling tale of "memory mishaps, mouse maladies, keyboard kinks, printer problems and video vexations". It is to Mr McFedries' credit, that readers will be convinced that they'll be able to take such disasters in their stride.

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