The Little Mac Book, Fifth Edition
by Robin Williams
ISBN 0-201-69673-8, 369 pages
$19.95 U.S., $27.95 Canada
I am perplexed and confounded, year after year, by the limited knowledge most Macintosh users have of the basics of their computers’ operation. From my first day with a Mac, I read the manuals and purchased supplementary “bibles.” In chronological order, I plowed through Encyclopedia Macintosh, then The Mac Almanac, several editions each of Mac Secrets and The Macintosh Bible, plus additional heavyweight tomes. They’re all still here, on my bulging bookshelf, awaiting my next summons.
I never paid much attention to The Little Mac Book, because it seemed, well, too little. You know. Not substantial enough. Wrong, John!
This is an order: if you are new to Macintosh, or if you never really learned about the Mac OS from the inside out, quit fooling yourself and go buy AND READ this book. Additionally, if you know someone, who falls into this category, and I expect you do, tell him or her to put down the TV remote and spend some quality time with Robin Williams, the author.
I consider myself fairly knowledgeable with respect to Macintosh basics, but Robin knocked me out in the first round. The Little Mac Book, Fifth Edition, is open now, next to my mouse pad, and is not departing for the bookshelf until I have mastered everything in it. That is the real kicker: she writes with a sparkle that urges readers along.
In my avocation as a half-baked part-time Mac consultant, my “customers” (friends, neighbors, and user group members) would have saved themselves many hundreds of dollars merely by having Robin, and not me, hold their hands. Next time I’ll charge them a $20 finder’s fee and throw in this book at no charge.
COMPLAINT: The cute, skimpy font, ITC Humana Sans, is not hefty enough for primary text.
COMPLIMENTS: A quiz at the end of every chapter; outside columns dedicated to subject headings and special tips; adorable graphics and artwork; bazillion screen shots, with target areas circled in bold; excellent intro to OS 8 and its Internet features; troubleshooting guide; and tons more.
Quit monkeying around. Get smart. Get The Little Mac Book, Fifth Edition.
The AltaVista Search Revolution, Second Edition
by Eric J. Ray and Deborah S. Ray
and Richard Seltzer
ISBN 0-07-882435-4, 395 pages
$24.99 U.S., $34.99 Canada
Can you imagine an *entire* book devoted to one search engine? I applaud Osborne and the authors for providing a full-service manual for one of the most powerful, useful, fast, and free Web-based tools.
I can hear you muttering, “Hey, John, what’s the big deal? I figured out how to use AltaVista in about ten seconds, and it has an online help area if I get stuck, which has never happened. Get serious, man.” Fortunately, the world is a big enough place that a bunch of readers will definitely benefit from this new book. Stick around for a few paragraphs.
How much is your time worth? How many hours have you spent browsing aimlessly, following worthless links, or feeling frustrated with inadequate Web searches? Plenty, I expect. Help is here. I quote, “The purpose of this book is to help you take full advantage of AltaVista’s services and how to operate in the new and changing Internet environment.” Bingo. Sign me up.
STRENGTHS: The AltaVista Search Revolution is best when it is most specific, such as explaining the range of options available in Simple Search, which is the best method for most inquiries. AltaVista (http://altavista.digital.com) functions by maximizing content based on UNCOMMON words. The Refine feature turns Simple Search into a dedicated workhorse. An Advanced Search can focus your query in very specific directions. The massive Chapter Nine features an A-to-Z Reference of real-world successful search examples and procedures.
WEAKNESSES: The book is a bit too padded with self-praise for AltaVista, couched in various forms. AltaVista is certainly magnificent, but most Web-heads consider it just one of many search sites. I believe The AltaVista Search Revolution would reach a wider audience if it was smaller, less expensive, and contained a comprehensive “cheat sheet” of useful techniques and tips.
I do RECOMMEND the book for readers who want to get the absolute most from their searching. The writers know their stuff, and present it clearly. The AltaVista Search Revolution is already at work, dramatically helping me improve my Web searches. This book is a Book Bytes “keeper.”
Creating Stores on the Web
by Joe Cataudella
Ben Sawyer and Dave Greely
ISBN 0-201-69681-9, 544 pages
$32.95 U.S., $46.95 Canada
This unusual book begins with “Let’s cut to the chase. If you’re like most people, you have questions, and it’s likely that some of them are answered right here,” followed by twenty pages of plain-speaking basic info to help readers get a flying start. Bravo.
Is it just me? Please, publishers, stop using sans-serif fonts. Sure, they look great in the design studio, but they are difficult to read. End of sermon.
Creating Stores on the Web includes the true-life saga of the lessons that author Joe Cataudella learned in his Tronix business. Major commercial retail sites, such as <http://www.llbean.com> and <http://www.subpop.com>, are examined in detail, to illustrate their buyer-friendly features.
Technical background analysis of the demographics of Web commerce is explained in a readable style. I kept forgetting to take notes, and found myself enjoying such stimulating topics as “Narrow Interest Aggregation” and “Sales Lead Generators.” Never a dull moment here at Book Bytes.
Whether or not you are already in business, you will feel the momentum pick up in Part Two, “Building Your Store.” These guys know their facts, with substantial Web and business experience. The book is loaded with sidebars of personal advice and tips.
Creating Stores on the Web is primarily text, with charts and screen shots used sparingly. The wealth of details is overwhelming. Did you ever consider how international merchants go about translating their Web pages into foreign languages, not to mention establishing secure encryption and certification? A lengthy directory of software for every possible facet of online commerce wraps up the book.
I RECOMMEND Creating Stores on the Web. If you are already doing business on the Web, this book will help you fine-tune your operation. If you are considering or planning to open shop, buy this book today and thank me tomorrow.
Claris Home Page 3 for Windows & Macintosh
by Richard Fenno
ISBN 0-201-69647-9, 203 pages
$16.95 U.S., $23.95 Canada
Claris Home Page “helps you build simple to sophisticated Web pages without having to know HTML, lets your learn HTML along the way, and provides comprehensive site-publishing tools.” So begins this guide to CHP (no, not the California Highway Patrol). As usual, I am prepared to praise the Visual QuickStart series, especially when such a user-friendly application is the topic. Does this book deliver?
The author initially has readers install, launch, and learn the basics of CHP3. Slowly and steadily, users go from entering, editing, and styling text in basic templates, to graphics and multimedia placement. In his thorough Chapter Four, Fenno advises “Images: Make ‘em or Take ‘em,” covering all the bases both for artists and non-artists.
Links and anchors come next, followed by tables. I am very much a novice on Web page creation, and I became more excited as my knowledge grew during the reading of Claris Home Page 3. The second half of the book proceeds “Beyond Basic Training” into frames, site management, forms, and, finally “Connecting to FileMaker Pro.” (Please read the following review, which focuses exclusively on using FMP as a Web site database.)
Ah, I love appendices when they enhance a book’s content. Claris Home Page 3 has the following:
• Appendix A: Application Options/Preferences, in which every single one is addressed, systematically;
• Appendix B: Shortcuts, in which specific actions are in one column, and the appropriate shortcuts are adjacent;
• Appendix C: HTML Code Reference, with five pages of practical links, tags, and descriptions of “what it does”; plus …
• Appendix D: Object and Link Editors, describing the powerful editing tools built into Claris Home Page.
The writing is informative, the screen shots and tips are just dandy, the price is right, and the book is a winner. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Database Publishing with FileMaker Pro
on the Web
by Maria Langer
ISBN 0-201-69665-7, 419 pages
$29.95 U.S., $41.95 Canada
Don’t even start to think I will have anything negative to say about Maria Langer. Who else would begin a book with “If you’re ever in Wickenburg, Arizona, look me up. I’ll show you my motorcycles and, if you’re up to it, take you for a ride that you’ll never forget”? She and her books are amazing, in my opinion. But is this latest one up to snuff? Let’s find out.
Database Publishing with FileMaker Pro on the Web is a serious book about static (HTML-only) and dynamic publishing (utilizing both HTML and CDML—Claris Dynamic Markup Language—commands), with emphasis on the latter. FMP4 contains a component called Instant Web Publishing, “to create Web pages on the fly” via the Web Companion plug-in. FileMaker also has a new Custom Web Publishing feature, and the author provides the database examples from the book to readers via her website. Nice touch, Maria.
Each chapter is densely packed with graphics and screen shots, all precisely pertinent to the adjacent text. She recommends Claris HomePage 3 or later as a WYSIWYG authoring tool, plus Blue World Communications’ Lasso product line. Numerous other applications are mentioned and described in detail.
HTML code, along with Maria’s comments, occupies much of the last fourth of the book. I readily admit that this subject is way over my head, and requires more brainpower than I am able to devote this month, but if you are planning to do any Database Publishing with FileMaker Pro on the Web, then definitely obtain and devour this book.
The book’s appendices encourage readers to study the 30 pages of boldly-printed CDML action tags, plus visit Maria’s companion Web site. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know, and I know that I definitely RECOMMEND this book for everyone doing database publishing on the Web. Please visit Maria Langer’s website at <http://www.gilesrd.com> for additional information.
Teach Yourself Internet Explorer 4
in 10 Minutes
by Joe Lowery
ISBN 0-672-31319-7, 206 pages
$12.99 U.S., $18.95 Canada, £11.99 U.K.
These cute little tutorial-style books from Sams are growing on me. They are concise and informative, without any fluff whatsoever. I’ll pretend I never heard of Explorer 4.0, and see if Teach Yourself Internet Explorer 4 in 10 Minutes fulfills its promise.
Oh, nuts. Another Windows-only book. Bad start.
Wait. The Web is multi-platform, right? Good. I’ll ignore the references to Windows, and see if the instructions apply to accessing the Internet on a Macintosh.
I first learn about Favorite Places (known as Bookmarks elsewhere), search engines, and the History feature. Next come downloading files, making a new home page, and browsing Web sites offline. Not bad for the first few minutes.
Without a pause, Teach Yourself Internet Explorer 4 in 10 Minutes briefly explains sending and receiving email, and participating in Newsgroups. Oooh, so tempting, but is the short-and-sweet approach sufficient for true newbies? Plug-ins and ActiveX controls are the final topics, before I swiftly learn how to create and post my own home page.
I’ll go on record here by stating that this book is fine if readers want the basics, and no more. For independent-types who require a jump-start, or absolute newcomers, Teach Yourself Internet Explorer 4 in 10 Minutes is worth a good look.
Internet Explorer 4 One Step At A Time
by Craig Witherspoon and Barbara Kasser
IDG Books Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-3104-2, 363 pages
$29.99 U.S., $42.99 Canada, £28.99 U.K.
For starters, this book benefits from unusual design. It is wider than it is tall, which is peculiar, but allows for spacious pages and generous screen shots. The typography is an attractive font, which is quite easy to read. Strangest of all is the ink. The entire book is printed with a greyish blue-green ink (sorry; I’m not a color-guy) that is soothing to the eye. Nice work, IDG and authors.
Once again, I won’t bemoan how Internet Explorer 4 One Step At A Time ignores the Mac platform, because most of the book can apply to our favorite system.
Each page is a numbered lesson, with bullets, arrows, and tips galore. Every feature of Explorer is covered systematically, with clarity and precision. Yes, it’s all here: History, Favorites, searching, email, chatting; you know the features by now. Chapters end with troubleshooting guides and wrap ups, plus valuable Skills Challenge topics.
If I were stuck on a Windows-only desert island, Internet Explorer 4 One Step At A Time would be my trusty companion. In real life, it’s a darn good book, but I’m still waiting for a book on Explorer 4 that treats the Mac as an equal. Stay tuned.
Using Microsoft Outlook 98
by Gordon Padwick
ISBN 0-7897-1516-3, 634 pages
$29.99 U.S., $42.95 Canada, 27.49 U.K.
Macintosh users know Outlook as a free email client and information manager application from Microsoft. For several reasons, Outlook is not yet popular with the Mac crowd. I predict that gradually this powerful and versatile software will attain a respectable percentage of usage on the Mac platform, but the growth will be incremental at first.
This book is aimed at all levels of Outlookers for Windows, and offers a serious attempt to be comprehensive. The writing and graphics are so well-presented that regular Mac users of the software should consider obtaining Using Microsoft Outlook 98 in order to achieve power-user status.
Outlook itself has abundant built-in and online assistance available, but some people learn much better from a book. I am such a person. If you fit into this category, Using Microsoft Outlook 98 may make a substantial contribution to your computing experience.
The new season of computer book publishing is here, and boxes from Peachpit, Macmillan, IDG, Osborne, and other publishers are piling up here in Book Bytes headquarters. Come back next month, and every month, for candid reviews covering every aspect of the Macintosh and Internet universe.