Instant Multimedia for Windows

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, May 14, 1993

Review of:
by Kris Jamsa
390 page book w. 2 floppy disks
1993, John Wiley & Sons
$29.95 (US), about $37 CDN

All you need is this book/disk set and Windows 3.1! Bring the magic
of Multimedia to the masses!

Or so says the cover. They really like exclamation points. Anyway, a
relatively affordable introduction to the nebulous world of
Multimedia. And no sound card required for the 'special-effect
sounds'... how could I resist?

Kris Jamsa is a well known computer writer and columnist. He's
written books on hard drives, and written the utilities included
with them. He even wrote some of the Windows programs included on
the disks that accompany this book.

The book takes you, step by step, through what you can do,
Multimedia-wise, using what you've already got on your desktop, if
you've installed Windows 3.1. If you don't already have a sound
card, you start off by installing a driver so you can play sounds
through your internal PC speaker. (You don't need to buy the book to
do this... the same driver is widely available on public BBS's). You
learn how to assign sounds to Windows events using Control Panel.
Already you may notice that the book tends to devote whole pages to
screen shots of Windows dialogue boxes, with a line or two of text.
It's a quick way to fill 300-plus pages.

You then get to install Kris's screen savers in place of the one
included with Windows 3.1 (or any other you may use). His are nice,
but nothing special. He shows you how to create a Program Manager
group for his ScrnSave program. Again, lots of big pictures of
dialogue boxes, and minimal content. A brief explanation of the
physics of sound, then "Having Fun with Multimedia Excuses". This
time, our custom utility is a box with a list of sounds... if you're
talking on the phone, saying you can't hand in the paper because
your dog ate it, you can click on the description "dog barking" and
play a sound of (you guessed it)... a dog barking. This is what you
bought a computer for?

After looking at a few more dialogue boxes to set up the speaker
driver configuration, you get the next custom program "Experiencing
history through Multimedia". Here, we get a choice of US presidents,
from Kennedy through Bush. For each, you get a fuzzy bitmap picture,
and a brief digitized sound sample. Richard Nixon says "We have won
the war in VietNam". Multimedia irony.

We move on to a promo for MPC-- the Multimedia PC Council, and their
logo, and then a relatively clear discussion of setting up a sound
board, and avoiding IRQ and DMA conflicts. Given the sorry state of
so much hardware documentation, this could be useful for some users
wondering why their new sound board doesn't seem to work. Following
this, we're back to the dialogue box screen shots... this time
looking at the Windows Sound Recorder.

Add a general discussion of CD-ROM, and a look at Microsoft
Bookshelf, as an example of a current CD-ROM application. Then on to
Windows' Media Player. Another general discussion, this time on
MIDI. Despite the cover's promises, obviously we don't get any hands-
on toys using CD-ROMs or MIDI, since most of us don't have the
hardware needed to do that.

Then a chapter about fonts. Fonts? Is this really a hot multimedia
topic, or are we padding the book? On to scanners. I guess the
connection is that you can scan in a graphic and use it, together
with sounds in a multimedia presentation. In fact, that's what the
next chapter does.

"Multimedia Stress Reduction", it's called... but the reality is
another custom application that lets you display one of several pre-
scanned pictures (trees, etc), and play an instant background sound (
bird chirps). As with the Instant Excuses application, you can't add
new pictures or sounds... you're stuck with Kris's collection.

On to video. A little background, then a couple of animation demos.
This time, we get Windows and DOS versions of Autodesk Animator's
runtime player, and a couple of animations. In one, a dog jumps up
and barks. Kris's dog really got a her 15 minutes of fame in this
book; my dog KoKo is jealous.

A couple of final chapters; the future of multimedia... MM's impact
on books, on tv, on software, on education, on everday life. Then a
chapter titled "Just in Case You are Still Not Convinced". It
reviews another seven current CD-ROM titles. I'm still not convinced.
Finally, we use OLE to embed sounds and animations into a document (
a chapter that seems at best misplaced). Through in a couple of
appendices, and we're done.

Well, after running the software, and going through the book, I
am disappointed. I guess I'm just not the target audience.

Maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe I'm jaded.
Maybe I'm not "the masses". I was left with the feeling that there
must be more to Multimedia than this. I appreciate the problems of
trying to demonstrate the often hardware-intensive field of
multimedia to an audience with a minimal hardware platform... but
this book wouldn't make me want to run out and buy a sound card, CD-
ROM, video capture board, etc (even with the discount coupons
included at the back of the book). I was left feeling like the old
Wendy's commercial, wondering "Where's the beef?"

Skip this one.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan