Good technical support manuals give the computer user greater confidence and independence. Hugh John looks at the range available
We've all had those moments. Your new software is installed and running. And then, within hours of the 90-day support period ending, bang! The machine crashes. Who you gonna call? Bugbusters?
Technical support, even when it's "free", is a hit-and-miss affair. When you're hanging on a telephone line at premium rates, it is no longer an attractive option. You could, if the computer rebooted and you had an Internet connection, get online and scroll through the software company's FAQ (frequently asked questions) web-pages. Or you could, in the time-honoured advice given by exasperated helpline assistants, RTFM: read the I er I manual - you know, that huge volume that never made it out of the packaging.
The continuing success of computer manuals suggests there's a real need for well written, accessible books for both novice and professional. They can be expensive, but are often cost-effective in productivity and reduced downtime. Students and teachers looking for technical information won't go far wrong with four of the biggest and most influential computer publishing houses.
No one has popularised technology books more than IDG, whose "For Dummies" series sold millions of copies worldwide. With their contrived goofiness, zany chapter headings, dumbed-down text and icon-loaded margins, the Dummies books encompass most aspects of computing. It's a style that some readers find intensely irritating; it's also one which has helped many others overcome technophobia. IDG has a large number of titles on PC and Apple Macintosh products, including the exhaustive Mac Secrets. IDG's more technical Mamp;T publications focus on titles for computer professionals.
Peachpit Press has an enviable reputation in the Macintosh community. Mac beginners could do no better than start with The Little Mac Book, which sets out the workings and basic principles of the Macintosh system in simple, clear terms. The Macintosh Bible, now in its sixth edition, is one of the most authoritative books on Apple hardware and software.
Peachpit also has a comprehensive range on what has always been perceived as the Mac's strength - graphics and design. There are excellent manuals on QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat and Pagemaker.
Macmillan Computer Press is the umbrella firm for Que and Sams publications, two of whose most recent titles are Peter Norton's excellent Complete Guide to Windows 95 and Teach Yourself the Internet in 24 Hours.
With 130 million Windows users, it was inevitable that Microsoft should develop a publishing division, though it's a surprisingly low-key operation. The titles cover a wide selection of Microsoft applications and cater for a broad range of aptitudes and interests, from the At a Glance and Step By Step series, to the Resource Kits for computer professionals and students working towards Microsoft Certified Professional qualifications. PCs For Beginners, for instance, comes with a CD-Rom containing 20 lessons presented in multimedia form.
Microsoft Press titles may lack the racy style of some competitors, but their clarity and accuracy makes them excellent reference and tutorial aids.
HE Internet and browser technology have driven the biggest changes in the look and feel of computer operating systems since Apple popularised the GUI (graphical user interface). With Windows 98 set for an early summer release, users will soon need to familiarise themselves with a host of new features. Reference books have improved enormously in recent years and the best tutorials now include CD-Rom multimedia lessons which make for better and more stimulating learning.
The Web is also poised to alter our shopping habits. Buying books online can often be cheaper and easier than ordering by post, and Amazon is probably the best-known outfit. There couldn't be a better time to surf on down to your local bookstore!
IDG Books http:www.idgbooks.com
Microsoft Press http:www.microsoft.comproductsbooks.htm
MAIL ORDER (UK)
Transworld Publishers 0181 579 2652
Computer Manuals: 0121 706 6000