Stumped by your PC? Even in computer age, the smart thing is to reach for a book


March 29, 1993|By PETER H. LEWIS

This is National Clean Out Your Bookshelves Week.

Well, if it isn't, it ought to be. For all the talk about computers' eliminating the need for paper, the truth is that computers have created a mammoth market for computer books. It is a symbiotic relationship: Publishers, desktop and otherwise, are using computers to generate computer books at a frenzied pace.

Here are some recent books that are worth their weight in trees:


THE FRED DAVIS WINDOWS 3.1 BIBLE, by Fred Davis. ($28. Peachpit Press, Berkeley, Calif., phone (800) 283-9444.)

Toss out the other Windows books; this one is the best. You will need to toss the others to make room for Mr. Davis' encyclopedic tome, which spans more than 1,100 pages. There is little fluff on those pages, but the writing is not dense. It took Davis two years to research and write this epic, and I imagine it will take most readers two years to read it, by which time Windows 4.0 will be out.

The basic features and functions of Windows are unlikely to change much over the next few versions of the software, however, so the time invested in reading this Windows 3.1 tome will pay dividends later.

Computer books like this one are rarely read cover to cover. Rather, they provide reference guides for topics that come up from time to time, like trouble-shooting the installation process, updating your software drivers, tinkering with your Windows initialization files and so on. Davis, who started programming at the age of 11 and was once leader of PC Magazine's testing laboratory, cuts through a lot of the nonsense and makes the technical issues understandable.

There is a coupon in the back of the book for a "free" ($6 for postage and handling) diskette of Windows utilities and a book that basically reveals how to cheat on 24 of the most popular Windows games.

THE APPLE MACINTOSH BOOK: Fourth Edition, by Cary Lu. ($24.95. Microsoft Press, Redmond, Wash., telephone (800) MSPRESS or (800) 677-7377.)

Some people, especially Apple Macintosh users, would argue that Windows is so mind-numbingly complex that it needs an 1,100-page guide. Lu's book, by contrast, is less than half that size, a mere 500 pages. But in those pages the reader gets a thorough, clear and moderately technical description of many of the newer computers and system software from Apple, including Quadras, PowerBooks and System 7. The book went to press too soon to include the very latest models, but a coupon in the back entitles the reader to a free mid-1993 update.

Computer books for dummies are very popular these days. This book is not for dummies. It is for people who want to understand what happens inside the box. It is long on description and short on practical tips, but the descriptions will give any Macintosh owner a thorough understanding of the machine.

THE MACINTOSH BIBLE: Fourth Edition. ($32. Peachpit Press.)

For Macintosh tips and tricks in the most accessible style imaginable, this is still the unparalleled choice. The "Macintosh Bible" folks, Charles Rubin in particular, have also come up with a series of excellent guides for specific programs, including System 7.1 ($15) and Filemaker Pro 2.0 ($22).

CYBERARTS: Exploring Art and Technology. Edited by Linda Jacobson. ($22.95. Miller Freeman Inc., San Francisco, phone (415) 905-2200.)

Just think of what happened to music when someone combined electricity and guitars; now imagine what happens when someone combines computers and art. Anyone who wants to understand new art forms like cyberart, computer video, moving holography, three-dimensional sound and virtual reality will find enlightenment, or at least creative thinking, in this collection of writings by artists and computer hackers. Not for the timid, either technically or aesthetically.

THE INTERNET COMPANION: A Beginner's Guide to Global Networking, by Tracy LaQuey and Jeanne C. Ryer. ($10.95. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, Mass., telephone (617) 944-3700.)

The foreword was written by Sen. Al Gore, as he was then, suggesting that the topic, the web of electronic computer communications network that will someday span the globe, is going to be current and active for at least the next four years.

The Internet is evolving into a network far more powerful and far-reaching than the commercial systems like CompuServe or Prodigy, and it is already changing the way people work and think. For example, the two authors live more than a thousand miles apart and never met face to face while the book was being planned or written.

They worked on the Internet, tapping into data bases, gathering information from electronic archives, exchanging electronic mail with other Internet denizens and otherwise exploring the rapidly growing data highways circling the globe.

(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas, bureau: [512] 328-8258.)

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