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Book Review: The Secret Guide to Computers, 25th edition
Steve Weinberg, 5/23/99, ISBN 0-939151-25-1

The Secret Guide to Computers by Russ Walter, "The only book rated best by all popular computer magazines." Here’s a book that is worthwhile reading for computer novices and experts alike. This 25th edition claims to cover everything important about computers in 639 pages.

Russy Poo, as the author prefers to be called, explains computer jargon, operating systems, word processing, communication, spreadsheets, programming, tricky applications and how to buy and fix a computer. In this age of thousand page books that cover just one of these topics for a very specific subject, it is refreshing to find a book that cuts to the heart of frequent topics of discussion that interest many of us. It cuts through the bull, but gets you the direct answers you need and humor is thrown into the bargain ($15 list price).

Call the author directly, any time, day or night, with your computer problems and he freely (yes, that means you just pay for the telephone call to New Hampshire) dispenses a knowledgeable response. I repeat, "While you wait!" He encourages this as it is how he builds his own expertise in all things computer PC.

Looking a the "Repair" section, there is a great collection of tidbits of advice related to both hardware and software. Russ says, "Simplify the display." He tells us how and why to turn off the screen pattern, wallpaper and screen saver. Set the color palette to "256 Colors" and choose the "Windows Standard" scheme. This combination provides compatibility and the best performance while reducing memory requirements. Russ is a minimalist. He tells us all how to get the most from hardware and spend the least on unnecessary extras.

There is similar "house cleaning" advice to reduce the task load on our PCs for DOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95/98. He even puts in a plug for his preferred hardware vendor and puts down two of the most popular vendors when he talks about how systems are overburdened with task lists that result in poor performance. He’s right on the money on this one. I’ve heard those complaints myself many times from friends, neighbors and RPCUG members. I’ve seen sub-optimal hardware performance that results from poorly configured software. Follow the advice in the "Repair" section and you’re on your way to improving and simplifying your computer’s performance.

I explored further into the book to a chapter that must be of great interest for many of us, "Word Processing." MS Word, MS Works, Word Perfect and Q & A Write are all covered. First, there’s a dash of history, definitions and advice on what to buy. I use MS Word at home and at work. I found a straight forward explanation of all the Word functions that I will probably ever need. I followed one of less used topics to find out how to create a multi-column document. There are simple instructions on how to create up to six columns, force text to the next column and return text to a single column. Information on "tables," a more frequently used Word element is just as informative and easy to follow. Russ includes version specific features so you know if a particular feature is available in your current software.

Explanations are short and to the point. It’s great for those among us who haven’t the time or patience to read through a lengthy or inscrutable printed or online manual. By far, this is one of the best values and a very effective way to spend a few bucks to expand your general computer savvy and get most of your common computer-related questions answered.

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