Two books from the Pros

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, October 1995

The SLIP/PPP Connection by Paul Gilster and The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams

There's something to be said for books by people who've become experts in a field... sharing the benefits of their experience.

And while people new to computing often think that it's a single field of expertise, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many areas of specialty; it's rare that a page designer is also a C++ programmer, for example.

Both of these books are the latest offerings from their authors, each, just one of a long string of well-written and informative volumes.

One is another book aiming to make the Internet accessible, the other is, as its title suggests, hoping to give basic principles of page design and typography to "the visual novice".

Some users will find only one interesting-- feel free to skip to that section of the review; others, particularly with the merger of the Internet and graphic design that's implicit in the boomlet in World Wide Web pages, may find both of use.

The SLIP/PPP Connection

This is the fourth book by Paul Gilster that I've had for review in two years or so-- he's turned himself into a one-person library, all focusing on the Internet.

While all are informative and well-written, they seem to follow Gilster's personal on-line odyssey.

The first two volumes, The Internet Navigator, and Finding It on the Internet, use the traditional tools that have been evolved by Net pioneers for twenty years or so... Unix text-based shell programs.

Even with a Mac or Windows PC, these users connected to the Net as a dumb terminal hooked onto their Internet provider, and typed commands at a Unix command line. There is great power available in this approach, but at a cost of ease-of-use.

More recently, with the Mosaic Navigator, Gilster discovered graphical browsing on the World Wide Web, which has led to the explosion of interest and activity on the Net. Finally, in the present volume, Gilster explores the new range of graphically-oriented programs available, for both the Mac and PC platforms, focusing on free and shareware programs.

He starts off looking at setting up the connection itself-- what is SLIP/PPP and how is it different from a traditional shell connection. Separate chapters focus on configuring the shareware Trumpet TCP/IP for Windows, and using Mac TCP/IP and InterSLIP for the Mac.

Then he examines the range of Internet services and easily available software, looking at an example program for each platform... ftp, mail, telnet, archie and wais searches, gopher, and usenet. Finally, he examines the Web, looking at several of the popular browsers-- Mosaic, Netscape, (for both Windows and the Mac), Cello, and WinWeb.

Finally, he gives a short peek at TIA and SlipKnot, two strategies that emulate a SLIP/PPP connection on a standard shell connection.

As with all Gilster's Internet volumes, this one maintains a good compromise between the technical and the friendly-- I find it a comfortable read, with a good level of information for most users. Inevitably, this 1995 volume was actually researched and written late last year and early this year-- some of the software has been replaced with later revisions, and for many people, Trumpet TCP/IP will soon be replaced with the Dial-Up-Networking built into Windows 95. Despite this, The SLIP/PPP Connection will prove useful and timely for at least the next year-- which is about the shelf life of any Internet volume these days.

I can recommend this for people who are comfortable using Macs or Windows who are new to the Net, and especially to anyone who has to work with users on both platforms.

The SLIP/PPP Connection
by Paul Gilster (c) 1995
John Wiley & Sons
ISBN 0-471-11712-9
$32.50 (CDN)


Like Paul Gilster, Robin Williams (no, not THAT Robin Williams) has written a whole series of books, often small books, at a reasonable price, aimed at new users.

Her "The LITTLE MAC BOOK" is my favorite introduction to the computer that, despite its image, still needs an introduction. "JARGON" aims at helping users wade through at least some of the techno-babble and acronyms that often help make a new user to computers feel like an outsider.

And "The MAC IS NOT A TYPEWRITER", and a companion volume for PC-users spelled out beginning typographical principles, and how to put them into practice... ways that proportional typefaces allow computer users to go beyond the limitations of the typewriter, on which some many of us learned to use a keyboard.

This 1994 book is a slim and attractive volume. It is carrying on in the tradition of the TYPEWRITER books, but with more focus on "design and typographic principles for the visual novice", and less on specific computer platforms.

Computers, and graphical interfaces in particular, along with reasonable-priced inkjet and laser printers, have given every computer user the power to create complicated page designs with lots of fonts, justified type, inset graphics, and more.

And that power is, too often, the power to create typographical monsters... pages that send shivers up the backs of printers and graphics professionals... and without wanting to sound snobbish, there are established principles of good design. Unfortunately, computer software manuals and tutorials show user how to use these programs, but now how to use them tastefully or effectively.

And that's the focus of Williams' book-- it avoids issues specific to individual computers or individual programs, but looks at how to design pages that work-- and that look good. She examines principles of design: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast, and shows how to use them (and when to break the rules). She shows how type, rules, graphics, and other page elements can be put together using these principles. Each chapter includes exercises, and self-quizzes.

There's a good section on type-- classifying typefaces, beyond the common serif and sans serif, and shows how and when different typefaces can be tastefully mixed, going beyond the by-now cliched advice of "One serif and one sans serif face per page".

This short book (144 pages) is attractively designed-- I suppose, given its topic, it would have to stand up as a sort of model, and a joy to read. It should be required of anyone with a graphical word processor or desktop publishing program.

by Robin Williams (c) 1994
Peachpit Press
ISBN # 1-56609-149-4
$20.95 (CDN)

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