You Don't have to be a dummy

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, October 15, 1993

Computers Simplified
MS-DOS 6.0

$14.95 (CDN), published by:
5755 Coopers Avenue
Mississauga, Ontario
L4Z 1R9

(416) 890-3300/890-9434 fax

Bill Gates' dream of a computer on every desktop is pretty close to being
realised, it seems. And that means an awful lot of people faced with that out
of control feeling, faced with that hunk of glass, steel, and silicon on
their desk.

One result has been the invasion of the dummy books. Originally inspired by
the runaway success of Dan Gookin's bright yellow DOS for DUMMIES, we now see
racks upon racks of WORD PERFECT for DUMMIES, WINDOWS for IDIOTS, lining the
shelves of every mall bookstore. Presumably, we'll be seeing MACINTOSH for
MORONS in 7-11 any day now.

Canadian Richard Maran has been publishing his own series of beginners
computers guides since 1990, anticipating the current fad by a couple of
years. His family-run company, MaranGraphics, has 10 volumes under current
release, with several titles nearing completion, all as part of the 'Learn at
First Sight' series. A distribution deal with giant Prentice Hall has
resulted in sales of over half a million copies around North America.

I looked at two recent releases in the series: "Computers Simplified", and "
MS-DOS 6.0". Both are attractively slim volumes, with each page printed in
full colour. Each features a
series of two page layouts, typically designed like a map or blueprint. Along
the top of each page is a menu-bar, just like in much modern software, but
listing the chapters of the book; the highlighted menu item shows the current

Some of the 'dummy' books pad their contents with jokes and anecdotes ("
Hey", I hear you thinking, "That sounds like this Zisman guy's reviews").
This series, however, gets right to the point... the text is brief, but
accurate, a difficult trick with a subject like computers. Because all
material is presented visually, points can be made more quickly than with
text alone. This integration of text and full colour graphics is the real
strength of these volumes.


This volume starts off a new user on a PC-clone computer; while we might
claim that the basics apply to a Mac or Amiga, this clearly targets PC-users
as its readers. The chapters cover all the usual suspects: hardware vs
software, the basic hardware parts... from cases to keyboards, mice to video
adapters. Less common add-ons, scanner, sound cards, and modems are also
discussed. Disks, CD-ROMs, and tape backup are looked at, as are portables,
and networks. A section on software starts with operating systems, giving
time to DOS, Windows (don't write to tell me it's not an operating system,
please), and OS/2, then briefly looks at word processing, spreadsheets,
databases, and DTP.

As you can see, it covers a lot of ground, very quickly. I've been looking at
Winn Rosch's excellent "Hardware Bible", a 1992 Brady book, which covers more
or less the same ground, but takes 1060 pages (and no pictures), to do what
the Maran book does in a richly illustrated 120 pages. Rosch is including a
bit more detail, of course, and aiming at a non-beginner audience. But for
someone just starting out, "Computers Simplified" has just the right
combination of expertise and clarity... and with its attractive graphics on
every double-page spread, is very easy to pick up.

"MS-DOS 6.0"

This volume follows MaranGraphics earlier versions, with the surprising
titles "MS-DOS 5.0" and "MS-DOS", which covers versions through 4.01. (The
older versions are still available). Again, we get the same double-page, full
colour layout, complete with menu-bar on top of the screen... er, page.

Again, it covers familiar ground, in a quick, but clear manner: introducing
the command line, managing directories, files, and diskettes. The MS-DOS
Shell is given full attention, along with the new DOS 6 features: the new
help, backup, data protection, and disk management features are all discussed.

The Edit and Q-Basic programs are ignored, as are issues of system setup and
configuration (including the new MemMaker program). These are of less
relevance to beginning users, however, although I do think that even new
users can learn what AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS are without being scared

MaranGraphics is promising a pair of expanded editions on MS-DOS 6, and
Windows 3.1, which should be available "any day now" (though at an expanded
price of $24.95). Perhaps the larger MS-
DOS version will fill in these gaps.

If you're new to computers, or if you aren't, but get asked a lot of
questions, you'll find that both of these books provide good information at
an affordable price. And you won't have to hide them in public, out of fear
that people will think you're a "dummy".

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