Sunday, March 18, 2007

Windows Vista for Starters: The Missing Manual

Did you know that "Mork and Mindy" was a spinoff from the hit TV show "Happy Days". While Mork only appeared in one episode, that was enough to make it a hit. Sometimes spinoffs are great. "Mork and Mindy" was hilarious. Then you have other spinoffs that are pale imitations of the original. Does anyone remember Joanie Loves Chachi? Probably not. Windows Vista for Starters is a spin-off from the highly respected "Missing Manual" series. Unfortunately, it's more of a "Joanie Loves Chachi" of the computer book world. Skip this spinoff book and head straight for the original : "Windows Vista, The Missing Manual.

First off, there was an extremely funny error that hopefully will be corrected later on. On page 11 in the book, under "Mouse and Keyboard Essentials" you find the opening statement of "This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use the Mac's Mouse." Unfortunately, this was an early warning sign about the quality of the book (though "Windows Vista the Missing Manua"l has another funny Mac reference).

The most annoying problem with the book is the spacing of screen shots and their explanations. Most of the time, I found the screen shot a page before an explanation which made it extremely difficult to read the explanation and see what is being talked about because I had to flip pages back and forth. While it was a welcome breeze to have that page flipping, it was a waste of time and a example of poor editing.

In addition, while the Missing Manual clearly states which version of Vista has which features, this book gave no such indication as to whether the feature being explained would work in a particular version of Vista. While the book appears to assume you have Vista Premium, it mentions features that only the business versions include such as faxing. A novice user would be quite frustrated reading this book and wondering why they can't find a feature. I can't fathom why O'Reilly would include the version designations in the Missing Manual, but pull them from this version.

Another confusing aspect of the book were the "sidebar" type tips. While these tips were sometimes interesting, the placement often had no clear connection to the text being discussed. For example, while discussing the "Start Menu and Recent items" in Chapter 2 there is a "side bar" about the User Folder file structure. The side bars uses specifications and references explanations found in chapters 15-17. I think a novice user would quickly put the book down after being introduced to a concept that won't be further explained for another 300 pages.

If one ignores the layout and flow of the book, the actual text of the book is helpful. The explanations that don't reference screen shots are easy to understand and straightforward. Someone new to using Vista would have a firm grasp of the concepts and new features after reading the book (and figuring out on their own which version of Vista has those features). However, having read the Missing Manual version of the book, For Starters usually copies the explanation from the Missing Manual version.

O'Reilly really missed the mark in creating Windows Vista For Starters. My Business 101 class skills tell me they were trying to create a smaller and less expensive Windows Vista book to compete with the "Dummy" series. Unfortunately, they "dummied" the book to much and Windows Vista for Starters needs to repeat a grade or two before it deserves space on your bookshelf. Spend the extra $15 and get the Missing Manual version of the book.

Pros: Gives the reader a base level understanding of Vista

Cons: Extremely confusing for novice readers. Poor layout adds to the confusion. Could this be a subtle attempt to increase Mac sales by frustrating new Vista users?