Belatedly celebrating Win95's birthday with Idiots and Bugs

by Alan Zisman (c) 1996. First published in Toronto Computes, November 1996.

Windows 95 turned one year old this past August 24th, demonstrating the silliness of naming software products after years by remaining on sale through 1996, and probably into 1997 as well. And that means it's also time for the second generation of how-to books.

Paul McFedries brings us 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Windows 95' ($26.95 CDN), one of Que Books' orange-covered series that is designed to compete with IDG Books' better known yellow-bound 'Dummys' books. And aside from the colour of the cover, this could be one of the Dummy series. It's got the same target audience-new users who, presumably, are a little uncomfortable around their computers. And the same tone: chatty and mildly amusing. Cartoons. Lots of black and white illustrations. Short paragraphs and lots of lists.

The book is a good introduction to Windows 95, assuming nothing (one sub-chapter is entitled "First Things First: What the Heck Is a Document?"), but quickly covering a good amount of ground. Many users may find it just what they need to get to feel comfortable with Windows 95, whether they're new to computers, or switching to Windows 95 from Windows 3.1, DOS, or a Mac.

I have to admit to having an attitude problem with all those wildly successful Dummies/Idiots books; I suppose there's a perverse pride in admitting to being intimidated by computers, but I much prefer the more respectful titles of Osborne-McGraw Hill's competing series, featuring books like "Windows 95 for Busy People". And that series includes full-colour illustrations on every page.

"The Idiot's Guide..." comes with a CD-ROM disc; don't buy it on that account. The promised 'Microsoft Software Inside' turns out to be "Microsoft Exposition", a multimedia catalogue. It does include a screen saver and a couple of Windows Entertainment Pack games, so it's not a total right-off, however.

Bruce Brown's "Windows 95 Bug Collection" (Addison-Wesley, $21 CDN), while yellow like the Dummies books, serves a different function. The author edits BugNet-a column and on-line repository for computer problems and solutions. (Check them out at

As such, it doesn't try to tell you which mouse button to click. Instead, it simply lists commonly reported Win95 bugs, and what can be done about them. Problems are organized into categories: Installation, Utilities, Hardware, Communications, Games, and so on. Each chapter includes an overview, looking at general issues, the overall success rate, biggest problem, and biggest surprise. Then follows the list of related bugs and fixes.

No bowing to Microsoft or other big companies here; Brown calls them as he's seen them. The book's witty, cynical, and perhaps, for anyone who helps multiple Win 95 users, the most useful book per page around.

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