John Suda writes "It's been over five years in the making and its nearly perfect. No,
Im not referring to Microsoft's vast new operating system named Windows
Vista, but to the reference book Windows Vista: the Missing Manual,
by author David Pogue. The book is the latest, and perhaps best, in the Missing
Manual series published by Pogue Press / O'Reilly Media, Inc. The Missing
Manual series is the benchmark of quality for computer manuals. Unless youre
a system administrator, programmer, or uber-geek, this is probably the only reference
source you'll need to learn Microsofts Vista." Read below for the rest of John's review.
Vista is the long-awaited successor to Windows XP and it is a major overhaul and upgrade of that operating system. It was designed primarily to address long-standing security issues with XP and its predecessors, but it also has a vastly new look and feel graphically and in operating features. It comes with a large number of new programs and features and its innards have been significantly beefed up, as it is a 64 bit operating system, focused on the intermediate future of computing hardware and software.
There are so many changes in Vista that it would take perhaps a dozen pages just to provide a bare-bones description of everything. You dont get any written material from Microsoft when you buy Vista. There are digital support and help resources built in and available elsewhere for Vista, but they are not convenient to use and they are relatively limited in scope and depth. Vista, the Missing Manual, provides the information Microsoft doesnt. It covers all five North American versions of Vista. Page 6 has a handy comparison chart of each version. The beginning of every content section refers to which version of Vista the discussion applies.
This Missing Manual uses every bit of 827 pages (including index) to provide similar descriptive and informational material as the built-in Vista sources, but provides much, much more:
Beyond mere description of features and functions, the book explains and evaluates all of the major (and many of the minor) changes from Windows XP to the new Vista. The introductory chapter itemizes all of the most important changes providing perspective on what Microsoft has done with the new operating system. It also highlights some of the more significant interface changes the new search tool, the revised Start Menu, and the new ribbon bar.
The author notes, at every point relevant, the options a user has in either using a new Vista feature, or in reconfiguring the operating experience to return to pre-existing features and the aesthetic elements of Windows XP and earlier versions of the operating system.
Pogue provides an expert users perspective on the value of the changes and new features in Vista. Some things are improvements and upgrades; others are rated as inferior to what was before. If you dont like the new or changed feature, Pogue guides you how to revert to previous iterations of the featuress, or otherwise provides workarounds.
Pogue is great at providing an expert users perspective on working with the operating system efficiently and pragmatically. He doesnt just describe a feature or function but includes tips and guides on how to be more efficient and practical with it and provides reference to other resources available for additional information or guidance. The Manual is written so that one almost feels that they are getting a one-on-one, hands-on lesson, in using Windows Vista. He represents the Alpha-geek relative you might have to help you out when you cant figure out how to do or fix something.
Beyond all of the information, guidance and perspectives, Pogue has a great writing style. The writing is sprinkled with wit, sarcasm, and good-natured humor, extremely rare for a computer related book. Microsoft gets more than a few slams for its many foibles, all well earned. WordPad, for example, no longer opens Word files!
The author writes for multiple levels of need and understanding. He details the basics of Windows Vista for beginners, provides richer material in breadth and depth for intermediate users, and a good amount of material useful for power users, both informationally and in advanced tips. There are many sidebars sprinkled throughout called Power Users Clinic which offer more technical tips, shortcuts, and information to PC veterans.
There is a lot new to Vista. The most important, if not the most noticeable, are the security enhancements. Microsoft now has a user account control which limits installation of new applications to a user who has administrative permissions. By default, the operating system generates accounts for simple users, without the ability to allow installation of new programs. There is a full page of FAQs just regarding the user account control.
A major security upgrade is service hardening which prevents access to the all-important system files by outsiders or unauthorized users. Other new security elements are the Windows Defender program designed to prevent spyware installs, a phishing filter in Internet Explorer, parental controls, protected mode, drive encryption, address space randomization, and much more. That list doesnt even include a new backup program to help protect users from nonfeasance in basic computer operations (although the author recommends third-party software.)
What is most noticeable is the appearance of the desktop, windows, icons, system font (Sergoe UI), and interface features. These are all redesigned to take advantage the vastly enhanced graphic capabilities of Vista referred to as Aero. The Start Menu has been redesigned to be easier to use. The conventional menu bar for the desktop and most application windows has been replaced with a content-based ribbon bar.
There is a lengthy list of new applications, most significantly Windows response to Apple Macintoshs iLife suite of media applications. In Vista, these are the Photo Gallery, Calendar, DVD Maker, Media Player 11, and DVD Maker. It adds to that group, Meeting Space, which is a collaboration program for local network users.
The Windows Sidebar is modeled after Apples Dashboard, which allows customized applets to be displayed and used. A useful cautionary note mentions that the Sidebar gadgets dont save data or configurations when closed. You must start all over again.
Mr. Pogue is an accomplished writer and computer expert having authored over 40 books, including 17 of the Missing Manual series. Hes well regarded as the weekly technology columnist for the New York Times and a correspondent for CBSs News Sunday Morning. Hes been assisted here by four other experts who contributed chapters or parts of chapters to this manual. The writing is clear, concise, and jargon free. The book provides a fair evaluation of Microsofts latest operating system and gives it good grades overall. Pogue routinely points out the areas that Microsoft has unashamedly copied from Apple Macintosh, and notes it as a good thing.
The book is organized into eight parts including a set of appendices. These include the Desktop (or user workspace), the Vista software, Online and Internet connection matters, the new Pictures, Movie, and Media applications, hardware and peripherals, PC health and maintenance, and networking with Vista. The page layout is clean. The book is filled with hundreds of screenshots and numerous step-by-step instructions on nearly all of Vistas elements. The discussion is comprehensive and deep.
Part One explains the Desktop and whats new, including the Welcome Center, Start Menu, and the greatly enhanced search tool which graces every window and the desktop itself. It now offers natural language searching for the first time. For those using older hardware which may not be up to par for Aeros graphic demands, Pogue provides a handful of suggested speed tweaks. A full 10 pages is devoted to Microsofts improved speech recognition system, including a large handful of insights from an experienced user of such software. The author is a fan of Dragon s Naturally Speaking program, but gives good reviews to Vistas capabilities.
Part Two contains most of the material on the new programs and the improved programs Internet Explorer and its new RSS capability, tabs, and search bar, Mail (the Outlook replacement), and the Control Panel, which now contains at least 50 icons for mini-applications, wizards, links, and folders. Chapter 8 provides an applet by applet description. Dealing with the Internet with Internet Explorer and Mail comprises most of Part Three. There is a comprehensive section on connecting to the Internet with the growing number of methods-cable, DSL, dial-up, WiFi, cell, etc.
The media applications are covered in detail in Part Four including comparisons of Microsofts media applications to iTunes and Zune. The discussion of Media Center includes tips on managing recorded TV and setting up media hardware. Part Five deals with the fax, print, and scan functions and hardware related matters. Especially interesting are the printer tricks and the section on laptops, tablets, palm tops and hand-recognition software.
For maintenance, troubleshooting, and problem solving, there is a trio of chapters in Part Six covering disk maintenance and repair, the new dynamic discs feature, compression and encryption, and backups. Geeks may be interested in knowing how to uncover the hidden controls for the new improved firewall. Pogue even provides material on energy conservation and how to configure Vista to work most efficiently for the user.
Part Seven covers the basics of accounts and networks. There is a lot new in Vista, especially in regard to its separate users architecture. The difference between workgroup and domain networks is explained clearly. Sharing and collaboration functions are explained and there is a comprehensive and deep section on remote control using a multitude of methods.
The appendices are great. Appendix A. discusses the installation of Vista in a comprehensive, systematic manner, from pre-purchase and installation considerations, to making decisions about upgrades or clean installs, to dual booting. He describes the new Welcome Center which aggregates many of the initial configurations for a user, or for multiple users.
Appendix B. is cheekily titled Fun with the Registry and is an introduction, with examples, to the notorious registry which is carried over from XP and predecessors. Most authors writing for this level of reader tend to avoid discussion of the registry, but Pogue provides just enough material to intrigue the intermediate user.
Appendix C. is a short itemization of whats missing in Vista from previous Windows operating systems. It makes it easy to figure out why something youve used before cant be located and used. Appendix D. is a master list of keyboard shortcuts for both the operating system and its major applications, like Internet Explorer 7, and the new Windows Mail.
There is no wasted space or text in this book. Its worth every cent of its $34.95 price. As a small bonus, copies of shareware programs mentioned in the book are conveniently available for download at www.missingmanual.com.
You can purchase Microsoft's Vista: the Missing Manual from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.