Good books for beginning computer users are few and far between

October 05, 1998|By Joe Kilsheimer | Joe Kilsheimer,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Read any good computer books lately?

If you have, it would surprise me. I've looked at dozens of books that purport to make personal computing as easy as 1-2-3. But the truth is, a lot of the so-called beginner books on personal computing make it about as easy as calculus.

I am often asked by people who have recently purchased their first computer if I can recommend a book that will help them get started. I have to tell them that I cannot. I have yet to see a single book that takes the place of simply sitting down and experimenting to find out what a computer or new software can do.

The book that really gets me is "America Online for Dummies," (IDG Books, $19.95). It's 416 pages aimed at computer novices about a service designed to make things easy for computer novices.

That $19.95 is almost a month's worth of AOL, and I am willing to bet it takes most people at least 30 days to read the book. You could better spend that time and money actually using AOL.

Permit me to digress for a moment. I think it's terrible that so many people are willing to buy into the notion that they are "dummies" because they don't feel at ease with computers.

Why not turn it around? I think computers, especially Windows-based machines, have been designed by dummies who don't know how to explain in plain English what their machines do.

These days, computers are powerful enough and contain enough memory to provide reasonable explanations for everything they do.

It's inexcusable, for example, for a computer to tell its owner that it has suffered a "fatal exception error," when it crashes. What the heck does that mean?

But enough ranting. If you really feel a compulsion to buy a computer book, I recommend buying a simple glossary of computer terms. A good glossary will contain brief explanations for just about every obscure computer term that comes up, which usually is enough to get you over the hump whenever a problem crops up.

I have two Amacom paperbacks on my desk, both by the same author: Alan Freedman, a Pennsylvania computer consultant and educator.

One is "The Computer Glossary," ($29.95). It has more than 6,000 entries that cover everything from access codes to Zip disks. The other is "The Internet Glossary" ($24.95). It focuses specifically on the vocabulary of cyberspac.

Beyond buying a glossary, there are two fundamentals you should keep in mind with a new computer or software.

For every Windows- and Macintosh-based computer program, there are only a certain number of things the software can do. In most cases, the entire range of capabilities can be found under the drop-down menus. To find out what a program can do, study them.

The drop-down menus all work the same way. The File menu always contains the functions for saving, printing and creating new documents. The Edit menu always contains the functions for copying, cutting and pasting text.

Keep those two principles in mind, and a good glossary on your shelf, and you'll be sounding like a computer expert in no time.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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