Reading up on Windows 98?

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, March 1999

Release of a new operating system means time for publishers to ramp up releases of books helping users deal with the new system. And last summer?s release of Microsoft?s Windows 98 was no exception?we?ve been flooded with Windows 98 books, aimed at users of all levels.

There are, however, a couple of problems.

First, Windows 98, while in many ways a nice product, is nowhere near as revolutionary a change from its predecessor as Windows 95 was from earlier releases of Windows. Many users, upgrading from Win 95 may feel little need to replace the books they got at that time.

As well, there are all sorts of users, with a variety of needs. No one book covers them all. In looking for a book on Windows 98, the reader needs to be clear on what his or her needs are?and spend some time looking for a book that meets those needs. If you?re prepared to spend some time in a bookstore, go with a specific question in mind, and see if you can find a book that answers it.

Here are four from the myriad:

Title: Windows 98 for Busy People
Authors: Ron Mansfield &Peter Weverka
Publisher: Osborne McGraw Hill
Cost: $34.99

Description: A nicely written beginner?s guide, designed to compete with the various Dummies and Idiots guides. Like others in the Busy People series, it is an attractive volume, with full-colour, somewhat trendy illustrations. Good sections on setting up and customizing a new Win98 installation, and on working with Win98?s Internet tools.

Personally, I?d rather be seen carrying a book that proclaims me ?a busy person? than an ?idiot? or a ?dummy?. Like those other successful series, this book is sprightly and lightly humourous. It takes beginning readers to what they want to know quickly, and is liberally sprinkled with screen shots that help illustrate what the user will be seeing on-screen.

Rating: A-

Title: Windows 98 Answers!?Certified Tech Support
Authors: Martin S. Matthews & Carole Boogs Matthews
Publisher: Osborne McGraw Hill
Cost: $34.99

Description: Also one of a series, this book uses a question and answer format, trying to anticipate most often-asked tech support questions, and then providing reasonably detailed answers to them.

As such, it is not the sort of book that most of use will want to read from start to finish?although there is a lot of information, much of it is presented more than once, as questions, inevitably, overlap. This isn?t a criticism?for the right user, this can be a valuable volume. And it?s very first question would also be my very first one?how to select some components of Win98?s Active Desktop, while disabling the ones I don?t want.

Most organizations have a number of users who find themselves acting as informal tech support people for co-workers, neighbours, and friends. Because of its format, this book could prove a valuable resource for such a person, offering quick answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Rating: B+

Title: The Complete Reference Windows 98
Authors: John Levine & Margaret Levine Young
Publisher: Osborne McGraw Hill
Cost: $57.95

Description: With nearly a thousand pages, this volume covers the same territory as the Busy People volume, but goes into its topics in more depth (though it lacks the former volume?s attractive use of colour). As such, it offers more detail than the absolute beginner to Windows 98 will want to assimilate, but is more useful to many intermediate or power-user wannabees. For example, it includes helpful information on the several new and useful system accessories included with Windows 98, such as the System File Checker.

Sections on networking, securing a Windows 98 system, and fine tuning system efficiency will prove valuable to many such users.

Despite its title, however, the volume is not complete. Readers seeking detailed information on, for example, the behind the scenes working of the System Registry, or User Policies will be disappointed. The book includes a CD-ROM which has the book?s complete content as a series of HTML pages, complete with hyper-links to relevant Internet sites.

Rating: B

Title: Microsoft Windows 98 Resource Kit
Authors: ???
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Cost: $100.99

Description: Over 1500 of often turgid prose, but this isn?t a book meant to be read. Instead, it aims to be the definitive reference volume for Windows 98 professionals?people managing departments running a large number of Win98 systems, presumably networked together.

As a result, it is the place to go for information on topics such as creating customized installation scripts for upgrading or installation, or for learning about the capabilities of the Policy Editor (Poledit.exe) to limit users? abilities to mess with their systems.

A CD-ROM is included with a large number of utilities?again, the bulk of these will be of most interest to system administrators.

While this book is expensive, the entire content is available in Windows Helpfile format on every copy of the Win98 CD (look for the file rk98book.chm in the \tools\reskit\help folder). As well, the Win98 CD includes a sampling of the Resource Kit?s utilities.

Rating: B

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