Most Popular Web Sites:
The Best of the Net from a2z
by Katharine English
QUE/Lycos Press, ISBN 0-78987-0792-6
$39.99 USA, $56.95 CAN, $37.50 Net UK
24 House in Cyberspace: Painting on the
Walls of the Digital Cave
by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt
QUE Macmillan Publishing,ISBN 0-7897-0925-2
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Internet,
by Peter Kent
QUE Corporation, ISBN 0-7897-0862-0
$24.99 USA, $35.95 CAN, L23.49 Net UK
Kids do the Web:
Creating is more fun than browsing
by Cynthia Bix
$25 USA, $35.95 CAN, L22.95 Net UK
There is definitely something for everyone within these four new books. As the bookstore shelves groan with a profusion of volumes covering the
Internet, the decision of which book to purchase becomes more difficult, not easier. Let’s examine four different approaches to books about specific aspects of the Net.
Lycos Press makes a big splash with Most Popular Web Sites: the Best of the Net from a2z . Its Table of Contents is clear and inviting, using chapters, headings, and categories, such as:
•SPACE AND ASTRONOMY
Latin America/South America
Editor Katharine English chooses her words carefully, as we read in two
sentences from her Preface:
“With no signposts to guide the virtual traveler, the Web can be a bit like a library without a card catalog. We counted all the links to all the pages in the Lycos catalog and found the ones you liked the best (and linked the
This book and accompanying CD-ROM disk include 15,000 Web sites and links, presented with clarity and precision. Each chapter’s opening page has “The 25 Most Popular Sites,” with title and URL, for each of the dozens of subject areas, such as:
The 25 Most Popular Internet Sites
•Apple and the Internet
•World Wide Web FAQ (With Answers, of course)
On approximately every eighth page comes a featured, illustrated “Editor’s Choice” sidebar, such as “The NASA Homepage
•Dictionary of Computing
•World Wide Jazz Web
Helvetica-style sans-serif small type is usually difficult to decipher, but
a2z succeeds here also. The individual listing title is in bold type, as is
the URL (Uniform Resource Locater, or Internet address). The site description paragraph is clearly legible, in spite of its size and style. The pages are crammed with sites, yet feel sufficiently spacious. Nicely done!
Adam Engst and other writers have commented at length about the futility of publishing and reading Internet directories and catalogs, since information changes so rapidly on the Net. This reference a2z directory has the look and feel of a book that is meant to last. The high-quality paper stock is brilliant white, and the 1200+ pages are well-bound. There are 1116 pages of listings, with 20 per page in three columns. The three-column Index of Site Names itemizes everything in the book
alphabetically, by the name of the Website. For example, to demonstrate the depth of this directory, there are over 150 sites each beginning with “World Wide Web” and “National.”
Most of the Websites in this book are no-nonsense URLs, such as governmental, academic, institutional, and organizational. There are also plenty of entertainment and unusual sites mentioned. The writing style gets straight to the point, but attempts to inject as much levity as is appropriate:
•Official California Legislative Information
Is it legal to marry your fish? Who the heck is the California state
comptroller? Just how does a bill become a law? Find out answers to these
questions and more on California law, the legislative process and legislators at the Official California Legislative Information Home Page.
Proofreading such a tome is a daunting task, and an amusing typographical error is printed on page 97: “… did you know … that the average Web surfer spends 22.5 hours per day online?” Wow. Net-addiction must be even worse than we thought!
This book has its own site:
The much-heralded 24 Hours in Cyberspace is somewhat elusive to evaluate. Rick Smolan spearheaded the sensational Day In the Life of… series of regional documentary photography books, and he knows how to get it right the first time. His From Alice to Ocean CD-based travelogue was the first, and is still one of the best. Passage to Vietnam is superb. Consequently, coming from Rick, the content of 24 Hours is a bit of a disappointment.
Fortunately, the book is also a CD-ROM disk for both Mac and Windows. The result is a colorful, spirited series of international links from the book into the real world of its subjects. For this purpose, 24 Hours is
recommended. The CD’s insert reads:
WELCOME! This CD contains the complete 24 Hours in Cyberspace World Wide Web site, a “digital time capsule” which includes over 160 stories about how cyberspace has reached out and changed the lives of people all over the world. This CD also contains a 12-minute segment from ABC-TV’s “Nightline” which offers a glimpse at the making of 24 Hours in Cyberspace. Also included are some great offers, free software, and demonstrations of new technologies.
This book/CD is nothing more, and nothing less, than terrific photos of
people living their lives to the fullest on February 8, 1996, with assistance
from Internet and computer technology. CD-ROM is the ideal format for presenting a complete version of the book. The CD includes:
* Free software (Two Kodak applications, several Adobe demos, AOL and Earthlink account setups; and then Netscape Navigator 2.02, Real Audio Player 2.01, Adobe Acrobat Reader 2.1, QuickTime 2.1, Sound Manager, and Macintosh Drag & Drop)
* “How It Was Done” in five Acrobat PDF (Portable Document Format) segments, full of illustrations, charts, and informative text
* Special offers for From Alice to Ocean and Passage to Vietnam (with a demo on the latter)
* ABC News “Making of 24 Hours” video (which crashed repeatedly,
unfortunately) and the main event, the 24 Hours Website. With much more than is covered in the book, the entire Website
The six major headings of the book are carried over into the CD:
* Human Touch (Reaching, Finding, Holding)
* Earthwatch (A New Life on the Planet)
* Sex, Lies, and Websites (Stranger to Stranger)
* Open for Business (No Paper, No Printing, No Postage)
* To the Rescue (911 at the Click of a Mouse)
* Into the Light (What Makes Us Human)
Each heading’s title page includes mini-photos as links to a specific
destination page. A few favorite sites include:
•Mann of Vision: MIT student uses Webcam to draw attention to privacy issues
•2020 Vision: Prime Minister wants Malaysia wired for the next millennium
•A Two-Hour Window: Bill Norton builds airplanes from kits, shares vital medical information, and stays in touch with loved ones thanks to a satellite that passes over his remote village in Tanzania once a day.
The integrated technology of the book is exciting, but many of the personal stories are not as remarkable as the presentation. This book/CD package is easy to locate in your local book emporium, so decide for yourself. If you like the book, you’ll love the CD-ROM.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Internet,
Third Edition, calls itself the “easiest and fastest
road to the Internet.” The CD-ROM disk included
with the book has three entire books in HTML format,
plus a bunch of Windows Internet software. For the
Mac, the CD includes Microsoft Internet Explorer 2.0.1.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide concept is QUE’s answer to IDG’s popular Dummies series. The style is similar: light, informative, and straightforward help for beginners. In Chapter 2, “What It’s All About,” author Peter Kent explains “The Difference Between the Internet and Online Services.” Then he asks “You Want Help Setting Up?” When we silently assent, Peter writes: “There are too many different systems to cover. So here’s my (very general) advice: if your service provider or online service can’t help you set up, find another one!”
Peter has an upbeat attitude, which is comforting to the Net newcomer. He warns, somewhat in jest, “Caution: e-mail Can Be Dangerous!” His advice is totally on-target, including “Don’t write something you will regret later; read before you send; be nice,” and many appropriate helpful hints. Sophisticated components of Internet Web-browser software are explained in plain language, such as “Putting the Cache to Work.” The cache concept is bewildering to many users, so each type of cache is covered individually. In “What is Reload,” we learn that Reload is a “cure” for the cache. Similarly, in “Is It Worth Saving?” the book patiently gives all the types of Save options available (using Microsoft Internet Explorer as the browser).
Continuing on the World Wide Web, we learn about Secure Sites and
Password-Protected Sites, Multimedia Plug-Ins. Then, in Chapter 8, entitled “Your Very Own Web Page,” there is “My Fill-in-the-Blanks Web Page” to help budding HTML (the language of the World Wide Web) authors get a flying start. Next, in “You and Your Service Provider,” we learn that: “If you actually want to publish on the Web, you have a two-step process to go through. First, you create the page. But then, you have to place it somewhere that is accessible to the Internet. It has to be put on a Web server.”
Usenet Newsgroups, Internet Mailing Lists (including how to unsubscribe), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), and Gopher come next, in Part 2’s “There’s Plenty More.” Peter holds our interest, without ever intimidating the reader. Each chapter ends with a summary, called “The Least You Need to Know.”
Chapter 15, “Yak, Yak, Yak: Chatting in Cyberspace,” compares the chat-room features of the online services, then shifts to “Internet Relay Chat – Productivity Sink Hole?” (Well advised, Peter.)
Part 3, “Getting Things Done,” introduces us to Web search engines and sites, such as Yahoo. Parental concerns are addressed in “Your Kid is Learning About Sex from Strangers.” Internet disorders come next with “You Logged on Last Night, and You’re Still Online This Morning.” (So true, so true.)
Internet commerce, free speech online, obtaining software on the Net, and
finding a service provider bring the book to a snappy conclusion. As a bonus, the Appendix has over 50 pages from “The Lycos Top 50 Yellow Pages.”
Our recommendation is to purchase this book as a gift for a friend or
relative who is new to the Internet and who uses Windows 95. Read the book yourself first, take careful notes, then gift wrap it.
Kids do the Web is a valiant attempt to encourage
“kids, teens, parents, and teachers” to take the plunge,
since “Creating is more fun than browsing.” The design
and layout of this slim volume are either appealing or
annoying, depending upon the reader’s age and attitude.
In “Safe traveling on the Web: a note for kids and parents,” the authors
explain that “The Web is a mirror of the world we live in. As such, it is
full of all kinds of people – some you want to know, and some you should
avoid.” Common-sense caution is conveyed in a helpful tone of voice. Throughout the book, 21 “Tips and Tricks” topics are mixed-in with examples of innovative Web sites from 28 schools, individuals, and organizations throughout the world. Surprisingly, these helpful pages are not visually stimulating.
The most imaginative of the kids’ sites are:
Being an Adobe Press book, Adobe software is emphasized. Accordingly, this book feels at times like an “info-mercial” for the mighty Adobe software empire. Perhaps this symptom is a necessary evil; Adobe picked up the tab, and therefore gets top billing.
Cynthia Bix explains:
“The original idea behind Kids Do the Web was simply to get kids excited about being creative on the Web by showing them what’s “out there” and suggesting ways they can join in the fun. If they find Adobe software useful, well and good. We wanted to give them a few hints about techniques in case they saw something they were eager to try. We hope students, their parents, and teachers will find ever more interesting and educational opportunities on the Web, and that they will create many of those fascinating opportunities themselves!
At $25 (and much more in Canada, UK, and elsewhere), this book is
overpriced. Adobe would have been better served by pricing Kids do the Web at $10, selling truckloads of books and coming out a hero.
This book’s brief Appendix is extremely helpful, covering: Copyright
questions, Tips for Web searching, Additional sites for kids, and a basic
Glossary. The conclusion, “Kids and Web reality,” focuses on NetDay96
“Money, expertise, and volunteer time – that is what the kids of the world
need. Please volunteer your services to your local school or community
organization. If you are Web-savvy, volunteer. Or donate a modern computer. Work with your company or corporation on local community grants. Organize a parental action committee to work with teachers and educators.”
ISKM-4: The Long and the Short of It
Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, Fourth Edition
by Adam C Engst
$39.99 USA, $56.95 Canada, L37.50 UK
Here is the world’s shortest book review: BUY THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY AND READ EVERY WORD!
Now, here is a slightly longer discussion of the book:
Adam Engst has achieved the impossible. In a mere 858 pages he reveals every significant aspect of the mighty, elusive Internet. Writing in an upbeat, chatty style, Adam teaches us precisely what we need to know in order to confront the ‘Net on solid ground. He uses a personal approach to coaching, with stories and anecdotes that anchor his concepts in a solid, practical foundation. The book is more than text, though, which doubles or triples its actual value. All essential software for successful Internet technique is included on a CD-ROM disk, which is now standard for “how-to” books of this caliber.
In addition, Adam has created a dedicated location on the Internet for both software and text updates to the book and disk. One thing I find quite useful is the Author’s Bookmarks (in tons of formats). With almost 700 bookmarks in there, it’s a great way to link the book to the World Wide Web.
For the purpose of this review, I presume you have at least a rudimentary
understanding of what constitutes the Internet. If this is a problem for you, a trip to your local library or bookstore will yield a straightforward
explanation. Better yet, purchase Adam’s book, and find out from the man himself.
Book jacket blurbs are notoriously fatuous, so I quote from the rear cover to demonstrate that:
“Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh gets you online and cruising the Net quicker than any other book. Using a conversational style and clear
step-by-step directions, this book guides you through the process of finding an Internet provider, connecting with the software on the Internet Starter Kit CD-ROM, learning essential concepts of the Internet, and using the various Internet services, such as the World Wide Web, FTP, and e-mail.”
It’s all true, and more! The CD-ROM disk additionally includes a bonus 250 MB of helpful, hand-picked software, all of which is clearly described within the appropriate sections of the book.
The first ten percent of Adam’s Starter Kit consists of capsule introductions to the main event to follow. We initially become acquainted with protocols (the way our computers conduct themselves on the Internet: TCP/IP and Open Transport), installation procedure of the CD-ROM disk, and how to set-up and configure a modem. Following the details of the installation and the contents of the disk, Adam escorts us through the extended family of Internet applications. Open Transport, Free PPP, Internet Config, Eudora Light, Anarchie, Bookmarks, News Watcher, and Microsoft Internet Explorer quickly become our allies. With Adam’s careful guidance, we emerge from ignorance and darkness into illuminated knowledge.
Chapter Five, “Things that Go Bump in the Net,” is devoted to lucid
trouble-shooting solutions to common problems. The presentation is in a
question-and-answer format that works surprisingly well, given the complexity and range of the topics covered. Adam peppers his tutorial with well-seasoned opinions. In Part II, the chapter on “Internet Essentials” contains a remarkable common-sense section entitled “Information Overload.” In ice-water-on-the-neck truth, he writes:
“An unimaginable amount of new information appears on the Internet every day, and those of us who like to think that we can or should somehow keep up with a specific field are being torn apart by this influx of data. I think it’s safe to say that more information appears on the Internet in a single day than anyone could hope to absorb in a year of full-time work.”
Page 155’s realistic solutions to “overloaditis” should be taped in 72-point
type to the wall of every ‘Netter’s office or den.
Chapters 11 – 19 comprise the entire Part III, “Using the Internet,” in which each application is explained in thorough, patient detail. Let me pause here to emphasize two points. First, this is a BOOK, and it deserves to be read in its entirety. The online universe tends to foster speed-at-the-expense-of-knowledge, so you will be well served by studying Adam’s book before taking the plunge. Second, once you are successfully using the Internet, these chapters serve as an encyclopedic reference for making of the most of your Internetting. I find myself referring to Part III daily, to make sure I really “have it right, just in case.” Adam, you’re a hero!
Adam Engst emphasizes that e-mail is the single most essential aspect of the Internet, the one which each of us uses practically daily. He writes in
detail on just about every imaginable facet of e-mail. Chapter 13, “All About e-mail,” is 70 pages, including: “How Does e-mail Work?,” “Using e-mail Programs,” and “e-mail Program Reviews: Eudora and Claris e-mailer.” Being new to Eudora myself, and being a hard-core daily e-mail correspondent, I still find this chapter to be tremendously beneficial.
The fun begins in Chapter 20, “Finding Things on the Internet.” We learn
about Search Engines for locating software and people, and about Mailing
Lists and Newsgroups for entering the flow of information and opinion. Then Adam provides ten lighthearted real-life examples of using the ‘Net to dig up answers to proto-typical questions, such as: “What type of stone was used in the construction of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house built over a waterfall?,” “What eight foods cause 90 percent of all food allergic reactions?,” and “Which species of penguin shares its name with a type of pasta?” Silly? In the daily activity of a fully-functioning user of the ‘Net, these questions are quite practical. You’ll see for yourself soon enough. Chapter 21, “Macintosh Internet Resources,” is a masterpiece.
Chapter 22 is a book in itself! Tonya Engst, Adam’s wife and collaborator, writes, in 88 packed pages, how to “Create Your Own Web Site. ” My MacSense interview with Tonya, featured in our March, 1996 issue (available in the MacSense CD-ROM archive and in the Features section of our World Wide Web page), refers to her book on this topic. Well, the book has been updated and included here, in the Internet Starter Kit. The pleasures and perils of HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) and other Web-page-creation tools are here, complete with the appropriate software included on the CD-ROM disk. This is really valuable, Adam and Tonya.
Commercial services, such as America Online (AOL) and CompuServe, are covered at length, which is totally appropriate for a volume of this scope. The book concludes with a massive Appendix section, featuring listings for many Internet Providers throughout the world, and then a compressive glossary of every possible term used throughout the text.
Whether you are a ‘Net newbie or a WWW-wise Internut, this book and disk will be the best purchase you make all year. Hurry!
Using America Online: Third Edition
by Gene Steinberg
$24.99 USA, $35.95 CAN, L22.99 Net UK
I have mixed feelings about America Online (AOL). Consequently, I jumped at the opportunity to review this third edition of Gene Steinberg’s Using America Online. My questions were: (1) Does the book *really* cover the new AOL 3.0 software, and (2) is this book *really* worth $25?
Since I am very familiar with America Online and have read several other books about it, I decided to emphasize the best new features of AOL 3.0 in this review, especially the items that are both new and potentially
worthwhile to me. I use AOL every day, and applaud the latest software and pricing options. How will this book bring me up to speed, and then take me to the next plateau?
Gene dives right in with his praise for the “big advancements,” such as (with my opinions in parentheses):
* New interface (not a big deal)
* Smart art (a winner, with new online artwork downloaded in the background)
* Downloadable software updates (should be useful)
* New World Wide Web browser (has to be a zillion times better than the
clunky AOL 2.7 browser)
* Adjustable artwork storage (finally, we don’t need 10 MB of AOL art hogging hard drive space)
* Buddy list (remains to be seen if it’s just a gimmick)
* Favorite places listing (should be another keeper)
* Personal filing cabinet (most useful for folks who use AOL as their primary Internet file source; I don’t)
*Toolbar (definitely long-awaited)
* New e-mail form and spell checker (hallelujah!)
* New address book (has to be better than the original one)
Well, the verdict is not yet in, but I certainly like several of the new gizmos.
Time will tell, of course, how much enjoyment and efficiency are derived from them. In the past, extra features made AOL extra slow. We all need an increase in speed, not the opposite.
Gene is considerate, providing a “A quick and easy modem setup guide,”
followed by “How to fine tune your AOL software.” The screen shot of “My AOL” gives the reader a clear visual idea of what the page offers: Set-up AOL Now, Preferences, Flash Sessions, and quite a bit more. (Hmmm. Why does “My AOL” somehow remind me of the “My Computer” concept provided on that *other* platform?)
I like the idea of a toolbar. I am accustomed to using palettes and
shortcuts. The toolbar is long overdue as a standard part of the interface in many Mac applications. The AOL 3.0 toolbar, reading from left to right, has:
Check Mail, Compose Mail, AOL’s Channels (by category), What’s Hot, People Connection, File Search, Stocks and Portfolios, Today’s News, World Wide Web, The Marketplace, My AOL – Personal Choices, Online Clock, Print Document, Personal File Cabinet, Favorite Places, Member Services (Help channel), Find (Files, Members, Places, and more), and Keywords.
Whew – it’s about time, right?
The Favorite Places feature is going to be popular, I expect. Gene explains:
“If you see a little heart-shaped icon at the right side of an area’s title
bar, you can quickly add that area to your list of Favorite Places. To add an area, simply click that tiny heart icon, and you’ll receive an acknowledgment message that’s now a part of your Favorite Places listings. Not all areas, by the way, have these little icons, so don’t be shocked if you don’t see one.”
I have noticed this little heart on Windows AOL screens for quite some time now. Hey, AOL, we Mac people deserve *top* billing. Got it?!!
(Gene Steinberg reminds me, via e-mail, that: “You’ll find as you navigate through AOL that there is no platform discrimination with regard to placement of those little heart-shaped screens. You can get to just about all of your favorite Mac forums via that route. Mac users are definitely not getting slighted.”)
How do you spell relief? It’s now called “…progressive rendering (or
artwork on demand).” In “… let’s look beneath the daily fix icon,” Gene
“The artwork will be upgraded in the background, and you’ll see those AOL generic icons become fancy, colorful pictures within seconds, one by one. If you decide to leave the area before the artwork ends, the download stops (till you come back to that area, if the artwork download failed to complete the first time). It remembers. Gee, thanks.
A large chunk of this 400+ page book is devoted to Gene Steinberg’s
recommended AOL Keywords. Each Keyword takes you directly to a specific area within America Online. A few familiar names are among my personal favorite Keywords: macworld, macuser, machome, and mactoday. (Editor’s Note: Since John wrote this review, AOL and MacUser and MacHome Journal have had a parting of the ways and these two Mac-oriented magazines are no longer available through AOL.) Other Macintosh-specific Keywords are machelp, mhw (hardware), mos (operating system), and mut (utilities). In addition, I plan to look into certain Keywords that Gene suggests: digitalcity, reference, eun (Electronic University Network), library, npr (National Public Radio), weather, consumer reports, auto, and another dozen or so.
I don’t know how Gene did it, but this book actually applies both to Mac and Windows versions of AOL 3.0, and neither side is slighted. Gene Steinberg in real life is a Macintosh Forum Leader for American Online, so he is definitely aware of the Mac in all its distinction.
Does the book make me comfortable with the new AOL 3.0? Yes. I’m ready! Is it worth $25 US? Yes, again. I expect that several different publishers will publish comparable guides to the new America Online software and features, and that many of these books will be good. Take your pick, read the darn thing, and let me know your experience. See you on AOL!
My Mac thanks the authors, editors, and publishers of these fine books for their cooperation in preparing this review.