Book Bytes – MyMac Magazine #50

The iMac for Dummies
by David Pogue
Dummies Press
ISBN 0-7645-0495-9, 357 pages
$19.99 U.S., $28.99 Canada, £18.99 U.K.

Here we have another iMac book, this time by our buddy David Pogue. I studied The iMac for Dummies carefully, because I expect Book Bytes readers to insist on a thorough comparison of same-subject titles. A fourth book on the iMac just plopped on my doorstep, to be reviewed next issue.

Who needs The iMac for Dummies? I would, if I were totally new to Macintosh, and wanted some helpful hand-holding from day one. Experienced Mac users should consider recommending this book to friends and family members who don’t know the difference between an application and the Apple Menu.

The author manages to cover everything a newbie needs to know to use an iMac, from basic knowledge through Internet essentials to troubleshooting techniques. This book is visually engaging, with loads of screen shots and sidebar tips. Pogue’s writing style is well-suited to the Dummies concept, because he makes new users feel smart and capable.

I was surprised by how much I “learned” while reading this book. Mac veterans always need continuing education. The Appendices are particularly valuable, including an extensive selection of recommended purchases in “The Ultimate iMac Buyer’s Guide,” plus a glossary, resource list, and setup guide.

The iMac has changed the Mac universe forever, and I urge iMac owners to have a third-party manual at arm’s length. Over time, we will see many more books on this revolutionary computer, but not too many of them will surpass The iMac for Dummies. RECOMMENDED.

Editor’s Note: John asked me to add the following update to his review of David Pogue’s book “The iMac for Dummies.” David Pogue responded to an inquiry from John regarding his book with the following:

You might want to note an important fact about the book that no reviewer ever seems to discover—as a quick look at Amazon for Publisher’s Weekly will tell you, “The iMac for Dummies” is far and away the best-selling iMac book (in fact, the best-selling Mac book). I don’t mention this for ego purposes—I mention it for the much more practical reason that the book must be reprinted every six weeks.

This is enormously important to your readers, because it means that every six weeks I can update the book to reflect changes in the iMac world. Mine is the only book, for example, that covers the 333-MHz iMac models, not to mention the fruit-flavored ones and even the “Rev B” models!

And that is important because with each new revision, the workings of the iMac change, and the software included with it changes. No other iMac books cover, for example, Adobe PageMill, which only started shipping with the iMac in the second or third revision. I haven’t seen any of the other books cover sending or receiving faxes, either. Each round, I make an enormous number of changes to ensure that the book on the shelves is current with the iMac on the computer store shelves.

Anyway—this iMac book thing is especially important, as you probably know, because the iMac doesn’t come with the manual at all. I’m glad to see that somebody is taking it seriously!

Thanks David.
Mac Programming for Dummies, 3rd Edition
by Dan Parks Sydow
Dummies Press
ISBN 0-7645-0544-0, 401 pages plus CD
$29.99 U.S., $42.99 Canada, £28.99 U.K.

I’m the perfect candidate for this book, being barely familiar with ResEdit or AppleScript. In his introduction, the author motivates similar readers to give programming a try. He explains that a software compiler is needed, and one is included on the CD: CodeWarrior Lite.

His goal is to teach readers “how to actually write a brand-new, never-before-seen-by-another-person Macintosh program,” without a bunch of mumbo-jumbo or unnecessary technical details. He recommends we study the book cover-to-cover, so as to get it right the first time off the starting block.

The initial chapters cover essential basic material, such as what is a GUI, how it works, and why the Mac interface is so exceptionally versatile, powerful, and flexible. Sydow pays special attention to iMac users, who will feel his warm and fuzzy hand guiding them through every process.

In Chapter Four, entitled “Removing the Fear, Part One: Don’t Let Mac Programing Scare You!” we learn how code, or text, becomes a program (application) with the help of a compiler. The entire Chapter Seven deals with ResEdit, including lots of screen shots, arrows, captions, and tips.

The heavy duty info is contained in Chapters 14 – 21, including:

• Drawing with C: Why Have a Mac If you Can’t Draw?

• Menus That Drop and Windows That Move

• Where Do You Go From Here?

Throughout Mac Programming for Dummies, the writing is first-person, friendly, and inviting. If I had another few hours to spare every day to work with this book, I could be really dangerous. Don’t encourage me, please.

Book Bytes HIGHLY RECOMMENDS this title for all beginning Mac programmers. Whoever you are and however you approach programming, be patient with yourself, allow plenty of time, and get yourself a personal trainer, or a good book, available around the clock.
Teach Yourself Microsoft Windows 98
by Al Stevens with Brian Underdahl
IDG Books Worldwide
ISBN 1-55828-594-6, 407 pages
$19.99 U.S., $28.99 Canada, £18.99 U.K.

The publisher guarantees this “Teach Yourself” series in writing, providing phone numbers and a website for claiming a refund. I can easily recall several dozen previous computer books that were not worthwhile. How does this new Win98 book measure up?

With twenty chapters split into seven parts, the authors break the dreaded Windows operating system into a series of lessons, each covering a well-illustrated two-page spread. I have commented previously on the grey-green ink used by the series designer, and I still don’t like it. The numerous screen shots have numbered, bulleted lines, corresponding to the sequence of performing an action. The captions are excellent, but the screen shot graphics are difficult to study: too small, and wrong color, in my opinion.

Editor’s Note: As Book Bytes goes to press, John has received the revised printing of this book from the publisher, and he is now both pleased and impressed with the improved clarity and color of the text and graphics. Readers need to look for BLACK text, with BLUE accent graphics, not the original grey-green color scheme.

It has been a while since I have given any serious consideration either to Windows or to a book on the subject, so I’m looking at Teach Yourself Microsoft Windows 98 with a fresh perspective. This tutorial method of learning computer software is a personal favorite, because readers can either follow the lessons in sequence, jump around, or refer to specific areas on an as-needed basis.

Every chapter concludes with a Personal Workbook, containing a Q&A, a Visual Quiz, several Extra Practice lessons, and some Real-World Applications of what has just been covered. Windows 98 is complicated, and readers will benefit from this systematic approach.

Plunging back into the Book Bytes stacks, I glance at the previous recommended titles on Win98. Teach Yourself Microsoft Windows 98 fits in nicely as an addition, especially for new or intermediate users who enjoy learning one step at a time. The price is right, and the book is RECOMMENDED.
Mac Answers! Certified Tech Support
by Bob LeVitus
and Shelly Brisbin
ISBN 0-07-211919-5, 458 pages
$24.99 U.S., $34.99 Canada

When an author purchases a copy of his own question-and-answer book at Borders, mails it to my home, inscribes it “For John Nemo: Thanks again for your support. Hope you enjoy this one,” do you readers smell anything fishy?

How about the heading on the cover, stating that with this book you can “Get a Whole Book of Answers for Less Than the Price of One Support Call”? Are you a bit suspicious of such hyperbole?

Think again, on both counts. The only previous book addressing a multitude of tech support issues was David Pogue’s Mac FAQs, Pogue’s worst-selling book ever, in spite of its content. Is the Macintosh universe ready this time around? I hope so.

With four major parts, eighteen chapters, and a “Macintosh Resources on the Internet” appendix, users of Mac Answers! Certified Tech Support have a thorough help desk in their hands. What do you need to know right away? Networking perhaps, or configuring Internet software? Working with printers, scanners, and external drives? Hearty chapters address each of these areas, and many more.

I open the book at random, and find:

• (page 298) Can I send styled text with e-mail? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but it’s a question that all of us have to deal with.

• (page 84) I’ve heard that Macs aren’t as susceptible to viruses as PCs or other computers. Is that true? Sound familiar? It sure is.

• (page 360) Should I upgrade a PowerBook myself, or go to an authorized Apple dealer? The authors recommend “you leave it to a trained professional if you’re the least bit intimidated.”

This book will make you smarter and more productive. If you are a prolific bathroom reader, pick up an extra copy of Mac Answers! Certified Tech Support, so you can have one for the office and one for the throne room. Drawback: your friends and colleagues will start bugging you relentlessly for answers to their troubleshooting questions, because they are probably too lazy to get this book for themselves. It is well worth the price of admission. Don’t leave it laying around unguarded. RECOMMENDED.

Bob LeVitus adds, via email, in a comment to our Book Bytes readers:

“This may be the most useful book I’ve written. I hope you’ll buy a copy. Furthermore, I hope you’ll let me know if we forgot anything so we can make the next edition even better. You can contact me care of: <>.”
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to PalmPilot and Palm III
by Preston Gralla
Alpha Books/Que/Macmillan
ISBN 0-7897-1967-3, 335 pages plus CD
$16.99 U.S., $25.95 Canada, £15.99 U.K.

Yep, it’s the fourth book on the Palm platform reviewed here at Book Bytes. Just like the iMac, the Palm generates title after title, competing fiercely for a valuable, expanding user base.

A handy tear-out card with all the Graffiti characters greets readers at the beginning of the book. Chapters end with reminders of “The Least You Need to Know” from the preceding material, such as: You can recover email you’ve deleted by going into the Deleted folder and undeleting individual messages, but only if you haven’t HotSynced recently.

This book is physically well-designed, taking the orange color of the cover into a between-the-covers thematic series of bold orange terms and headings on every page, plus orange-shaded sidebar boxes and tips. It sounds corny, but is visually appealing. The tips and screenshots are plentiful, although computer images come from the Windows platform.

The CD included with this book has a decent selection of hand-picked software, including 40 applications divided into categories such as “Organizing Your Life,” “Games,” and “Travel.”

I approve of the author’s writing style, mixing personal commentary with lessons and extensive knowledge. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to PalmPilot and Palm III is worth considering, especially with such a friendly price tag, but first compare it to the books reviewed previously, so you can determine which one best suits your personal learning style. I am comfortable giving this book a RECOMMENDATION.
UNIX Visual QuickStart Guide
by Deborah S. Ray and Eric J. Ray
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35395-4, 354 pages
$17.99 U.S., $26.95 Canada

UNIX is the motor oil of the information technology world. Underlying all industrial-strength computing is the UNIX operating system, keeping everything running at capacity. UNIX is growing in popularity with personal computer users, as Linux, the “consumer” version of UNIX, achieves widespread usage.

In fact, the authors told me, via email:

The content of this book is completely applicable to Linux systems (and was mostly developed and tested on Linux), but we’ve found that some are unaware that Linux is, essentially, free UNIX.

At some point early in the study of this book, readers will need access to a UNIX system. Soon afterward, they will be introduced to the commands for performing basic functions. This subject is covered in “Getting Started with UNIX.” From there we proceed to working with files, “Working with Your Shell,” and much more necessary info.

A mono-spaced terminal font is used in the book to distinguish code from instructional text, and red text refers to user actions or new input. In a clever design, at the bottom of many pages are boxed Code Listings, referenced in the lessons and tips printed above. Excuse me for complaining, but I see too much blank white space on page after page. Am I being too picky?

Deborah and Eric explain, in a personal note to our readers:

The white space and screenshot issues are a design feature of the entire Visual QuickStart series, not just this book. You imply, John, that the white space could have been better used to provide additional content. Just so you know, we were given a free hand by Peachpit to write precisely the content we thought was most appropriate for this audience, and the book length was determined purely by that criteria.

Special sidebar boxes of tables and supplemental text are particularly helpful, such as “Environment variables you can mess with.” The authors often use this chatty persona to make difficult new material more accessible. Chapter Fifteen, “Using Handy Utilities,” is lively and helpful, especially the part on “Calendaring with cal.”

The screenshots are a bit too tiny for my taste. I accept the limitations of a 6 cm column, but still prefer substantial graphics, especially with all that unused adjacent white space. Perhaps a new design format can be used next time.

UNIX Visual QuickStart Guide has sixteen chapters, and concludes with “Sensational UNIX tricks,” followed by extensive and thorough appendices. If you have access to an UNIX system and want some well-considered guidance, I can RECOMMEND this book to get you started. The authors provide an email address for reader response and questions.
Java for the World Wide Web, Visual QuickStart Guide
by Dori Smith
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35340-7, 221 pages
$17.99 U.S., $26.95 Canada

This introductory book on Java programming language takes it “slow and easy, with lots of examples that build on previous examples.” Readers can then proceed to more advanced texts, according to the author. Her attitude is that Java is alive and well, and “it’s a great programming language: very small, useful, and cross-platform. And it’s not just for the Web.”

Chapter One, “What is Java?” answered more questions on the subject than I knew needed asking. Java has been hyped and de-hyped for years now, and readers of Java for the World Wide Web will be able to start their programming journey with a clean pair of sneakers after reading this important first chapter.

Background information permeates the next six chapters, including:

• Java Basics

• Using Java on Your Pages

• Your First Applets

and quite a bit more. Did you know how to find applets on the Internet? How about using simple applets to play a game on your computer?

Red text is used to distinguish fresh code from previous examples, and screenshots display the graphical appearance of the in-progress lessons. As with several recent Visual QuickStart Guides, I encountered blank white space on occasional pages. Is there a way to insert some straightforward graphics into these sections?

Four appendices cover Java resources on the Internet and in print, plus some excellent reference and technical material. The companion website contains all the HTML and Java files from the book, plus future corrections and updaters.

With no immediate personal need to learn Java, I’m not competent to evaluate the practical value of Java for the World Wide Web, but I feel able to RECOMMEND it for beginners to Java or readers who want to learn more before taking the plunge.

Dori Smith tells Book Bytes, in an email message:

The only other point that might be worth making is that the book has also been useful to non-programmers, too. I’ve had good feedback from people who used the book not so much to learn Java, but to be able to talk intelligently (and not get snowed!) by Java programmers. It explained the buzzwords to them in clear enough English that they could actually understand what their programmers were talking about.
Macromedia Director 7 and Lingo Authorized
by Phil Gross
Peachpit Press and Macromedia Press
ISBN 0-201-35416-0, 771 pages plus CD
$49.99 U.S., $74.95 Canada

Users of this impressive new title should begin doing their exercises immediately. I mean fitness workout exercises, because this book is big and heavy. Macromedia Director 7 and Lingo Authorized is itself a 50-hour curriculum of 30 comprehensive exercises, dedicated to creating animations, developing scripts and behaviors, learning authoring and Shockwave tips, plus quite a bit more.

The book is designed to take anyone with a basic knowledge of computers through the steps necessary to begin working with Director 7. It assumes no previous programming knowledge, and should put you miles ahead of trying to master Director’s capabilities on your own.

“Macromedia Director 7 is the best-selling multimedia authoring program and the leading tool for creating interactive media for the World Wide Web, CD-ROM, information kiosks, presentations, and interactive TV. Director’s easy-to-use interface lets you combine graphics, sound, video, and other media in any sequence and then add interactive features with Lingo, the program’s powerful scripting language.”

Sounds serious, don’t you think?

The author patiently takes readers through the many steps to perform each chapter’s project, including everything from the basics to “Reversing Animations” or “Synchronizing with Digital Video.” The book’s production quality is high, incorporating well-printed screenshots, and plenty of room in the margins for reader scribbling.

I admit to being totally out of my depth on the application itself, but I am comfortable with the way Gross escorts users into and through the specific projects. The CD contains all necessary lessons and multimedia files to utilize the workbook. Bravo.

Before I dig myself into a deeper hole, I’ll leave with positive comments on Macromedia Director 7 and Lingo Authorized. If you plan to do even one project with Director 7, examine this new book and see if you agree it is worthy of a Book Bytes RECOMMENDATION.

Author Phil Gross emphasizes, via email:

The book really is designed for anyone who is willing to spend the 50 hours. I remember when I first took on Director and how hard it was without a book like this one. Director has a very complicated interface, and having to learn it on your own can make you wonder if it’s all worth it.
•John Nemerovski• <>


Leave a Reply