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Don't Forget the Books

Mike Angelo -- 2 January 2003 (C)

Article Index

  • Computer Books Make Sense
  • Who Publishes Good Computer Books
  • Some Computer Book Suggestions
  • Getting to Know, Use, and Maintain Your Computer
  • Absolute Beginner's Guide to PC Upgrades
  • How Computers Work
  • PC Help Desk in a Book
  • Privacy and Computer Security
  • PC Fear Factor
  • Open Source E-mail Security
  • JavaScript Unleashed
  • Networking and the Internet
  • Absolute Beginner's Guide to Creating Web Pages
  • Absolute Beginner's Guide to Computers and the Internet
  • The Internet For Dummies
  • How Networks Work, 6th Edition
  • How Wireless Works
  • Network Troubleshooting Tools
  • Conclusion
  • Resources
The right computer book(s) can help you to make more use and better use of your computer, its hardware, its software, and its accessories. Moreover the right book(s) can help make using your computer more productive, more fun -- and a more enjoyable, engaging experience.

Often the manuals and users' guides that come with computer hardware, software, and accessories either are difficult to understand, or they just do not do a good job of telling you how to use the product or solve product problems. However, if the product is sufficiently popular, chances are there is a book about that product, which is easy to understand and does a good job of telling you how to use the product and solve product problems.

Moreover, some computer books go way beyond the mere fundamentals of showing you how products work. Such books show you how to do really neat things with the computer product.

Computer Books Make Sense

In the long run an investment in computer books can pay off in dollars and sense too. Often having the right computer book(s) on hand in your computer book library can save on expensive phone calls to support and technical help people that charge for their services. Additionally, many computer books come with CDs that include topic-related software and/or fully searchable electronic versions of the books.

If you do not already have a computer book library or bookshelf, now is a good time to start one.

Today's book suggestions are mostly for readers ranging from those who are new to computers or new to doing particular tasks with computers to those who are intermediate level computer users. A few of today's suggestions are more for the intermediate to advanced level readers.

We discuss specific books for specific products, topics, and tasks a little further on. However, let's get an overview of the computer book publishing trade first.

Who Publishes Good Computer Books

There are several publishers that fairly consistently provide a variety of good computer books for novices to experts -- and for a variety of computer platforms. Over the years some of these companies have changed names and/or have been bought by or sold to other book publishing companies. Let's get up to date on who is who, computer-book-wise.

As a rule of thumb, computer books published by Adobe Press, IDG, Microsoft Press, New Riders, O'Reilly, Peachpit Press, Que, Red Hat Press, and Sams usually are good computer books. However, they vary in targeted reader levels, depth of coverage, scope of coverage, style of presentation, and of course price. So, it's really important that you thumb through a computer book before you buy it. That way you can get a feel of whether a particular book is the right book for you.

The best way to do that is to get off your couch or away from your keyboard, motor on down to your local bookstore or computer store, and physically thumb through the book. However, if you are so addicted to shopping online that you cannot do that, check out the book's Web site. Often a book's publisher includes a concise summary of the book's contents, a table of contents, and/or a sample chapter on the book's Web site.

What once was IDG Books has gone through several morphings. One morphing was from IDG to Hungry Minds. Then Wiley books purchased Hungry Minds. Thus what once were the IDG or Hungry Minds computer books now are published and sold under the Wiley imprint.

At one time, New Riders, Que, and Sams were Macmillan imprints. Peachpit Press was an independent. Then Macmillan bought Peachpit. Since then, Pearson took over the Macmillan New Riders, Peachpit, Que, and Sams imprints.

Generally speaking, if you are an intermediate to advanced computer user and want answers, there is a good chance that the subject-relevant book of the Bible series from Wiley, the Special Edition Using series from Que, or the Unleashed series from Sams is a good bet for you. On the other hand if you are a novice computer user or hate to read books, the Dummies series from Wiley is a good place for you to look for computer books.

Peachpit's Visual Quickstart Guide is a nice book series for computer users that do not hate to read books. The Visual Quickstart Guides have a nice mix of text and grayscale graphics (mostly screenshots), which work to support and amplify the text content.

A nice feature of the Visual Quickstart Guides is that you can read them as cover-to-cover tutorials or you can go to the page(s) that explain just what you want to know how to do at the moment -- a sort of tutorial reference work or cookbook usage. The Visual Quickstart Guides are targeted to the beginning and intermediate level computer users.

If you want good tutorial books for Microsoft products, the Microsoft Press Step by Step series books often are good choices. And for learning to use Adobe products, you just can't beat the Adobe Press Classroom in a Book series.

Some Computer Book Suggestions

Today we are concerned primarily, but not entirely, with books to help people that are new to computers, inexperienced computer users, people that have some new hardware or software they are trying to learn how to use, or people that just want to learn more about their computers and how to use them.

In order to address those interests, let's look at some books to help you in three areas. The first area is getting to know how to use and maintain your new computer or new hardware and how to install new hardware on your computer. A good title or two in this area added to your computer book collection will help you to keep your computer system running well and up to date. And it can help to save you money in costly service, repair, and tech-support charges.

In part, think of this area as being somewhat akin to adding/changing oil in your car, maintaining proper tire inflation, maintaining water and anti-freeze levels in your car's radiator, and so forth. You can take your car to an auto dealer for these tasks and pay $50/hour and up for labor -- plus parts. Or, you can learn how to do these things yourself so that you can save lots of money. Either way, they have to be done.

These days, most computers are connected to the Internet. That opens the door for cyber-intruders. Thus, the second book-suggestions area today involves books to help you maintain the security of your computer system and your privacy. You would do well to add at least one of these books to your computer book collection if you are not already up on computer system security and privacy.

If you have a computer, likely it is connected to the Internet. If you have more than one computer, your computers likely are networked. If not, you ought to network them. Since the Internet is a network, the world's largest network actually, networking and the Internet are grouped together for the third set of book suggestions.

If you are new to computers or have not yet started a computer books collection, consider getting a book from each one of these three areas -- and reading them too.

  • Getting to Know, Use, and Maintain Your Computer

Absolute Beginner's Guide to PC Upgrades

If you are a computer beginner or not so handy at technical and under-the-hood stuff, take a look at Absolute Beginner's Guide to PC Upgrades by T.J. Lee and Lee Hudspeth (Que, 2000, ISBN 0-7897-2417-0, $25). Originally published in November 2000 this book is not quite up to the very latest information. Nevertheless, Absolute Beginner's Guide to PC Upgrades can help beginners to get up to speed on understanding and working with computer system hardware. Despite its age, it is still a good book to have if you are a computer newbie or computer upgrading newbie.

How Computers Work

Do the inner-workings, the nuts and bolts, of computers mystify you? Do you like books with lots of pictures? If so, take a look at How Computers Work by Ron White and Timothy Downs (Que, 2001, ISBN 0-7897-2549-5, $35). It's a visually intensive treatment of computer-system hardware-basics. How Computers Work will not show you how to use your computer -- but it will show you how your computer works.

PC Help Desk in a Book

Another good title from Que for your computer bookshelf or library is PC Help Desk in a Book: The Do-it-Yourself Guide to PC Troubleshooting and Repair by Mark Soper (Que, 2002. ISBN 0-7897-2756-0, $30). Often the bottom-rung person that answers the phone when you call for tech support or help with computer products really does not know all that much about computers and/or the products for which he/she is providing support. That's why they are on the bottom of the heap.

Such bottom-rung support people usually have some sort of question and answer check list they go through with you, or they have some sort of cross reference symptom and solution table. PC Help Desk in a Book has those same sorts of symptom tables and question and answer lists (troubleshooting flowcharts). That makes PC Help Desk in a Book handy to have around.

No need to wait for what seems like hours to reach a human helper on the telephone, pay long distance phone charges, or pay a buck or more per minute for the help. Be your own helper. Just flip to the symptoms and solutions table or the troubleshooting flowcharts in PC Help Desk in a Book yourself.

PC Help Desk in a Book is not going to solve every possible computer problem. But it will help you to solve lots of them.

  • Privacy and Computer Security

PC Fear Factor

PC Fear Factor: The Ultimate PC Disaster Prevention Guide by Alan Luber, (Que, 2002, ISBN 0-7897-2825-7, $30) is both a very handy reference book and a cover-to-cover reader for anyone that wants to head off computer related problems before they happen. PC Fear Factor is a particularly important read if your computer is connected to the Internet or other network. Reading PC Fear Factor will help you to reduce the chances of your computer getting infected by a virus and to reduce chances of cyber-snoops obtaining information about you and your computer from your computer.

Note: Setting e-mail client software to NOT display HTML-formatted messages helps to protect your privacy and your computer system security.

The Spam artists and other Internet pests have found ways to use Web pages, HTML, and JavaScript in e-mail to the detriment of millions of Internet e-mail users. Inter alia, JavaScript in e-mail can be used to put viruses and snoop/spy software on your computer. That's because JavaScript amounts to a program running on your computer. Some e-mail client software that can display HTML-formatted e-mail messages also can execute JavaScript.

Better e-mail client software allows you to disable JavaScript in e-mail. Many savvy computer users disable JavaScript in e-mail. If you have not already disabled JavaScript in your e-mail client software, you ought to do so now.

Unfortunately, this layer of protection does not go far enough for people who are concerned about their privacy and the security of their computers. You ought to use e-mail client software that lets you block Web pages from being displayed in e-mail and news postings, and block images from being displayed in-line in e-mail. As with JavaScript, many savvy computer users disable Web pages and in-line images in e-mail too. If you have not already disabled HTML (Web page) display and in-line image display in your e-mail client software, you ought to do so now.

Here's why. HTML and in-line images in e-mail messages can be used to send information about you, your computer, and your e-mail reading habits to spam artists and hackers.

Hyperlinks in e-mail and news postings can send HTTP Requests to external URLs. Although sending HTTP Requests usually is harmless, that's not always the case -- particularly in e-mail messages. Take a look at some of the hyperlinks in e-mail, particularly junk e-mail. In some instances you will see some rather complex URLs with lots of seemingly random number and letter strings.

These complex strings of seemingly random numbers and letters included in URLs can be trapped through Web server log analyses. Much the way cookies can be used to track whom you are and what are your Web surfing habits. Spam artists and other Internet pests can use these complex URLs to track whom you are and what are your Web surfing habits -- as well as letting the Spam artists and other Internet pests know that you received and opened their junk e-mail to you.

E-mail presents a major vulnerability when it comes to computer security and privacy risks. Alan Luber has an interesting table (Table 5.2 on page 168) in his PC Fear Factor book. It lists the standard extensions of 27 file formats that Microsoft considers unsafe when used in e-mail attachments.

Interestingly, PC Fear Factor's Table 5.2 includes JavaScript (.js) as one of the risky file formats for e-mail. It's a pretty risky format for Web browsing too.

Open Source E-mail Security and JavaScript Unleashed

That leads us to two interesting and related titles from Sams, Open Source E-mail Security by Richard Blum (Sams, 2001, ISBN 0-6723-2237-4, $35) and JavaScript Unleashed 4th Edition by J. Wyke and Jason Gilliam (Sams, 2002, ISBN 0-6723-2431-8, $50). Where PC Fear Factor is aimed at the computer novice to intermediate level reader, Open Source E-mail Security and JavaScript Unleashed are targeted to the intermediate to advanced level reader.

The titles of these two books pretty much tell you what material the books cover. The details are on the books' Web sites, the links to which are listed in the Resources section on page 2 of this article. Even so, if you want to thoroughly understand the power of JavaScript plus how and why it can be such a dangerous weapon in the hands of spam artists, cyber-snoops, and computer crackers, read JavaScript Unleashed. The caveat here is, keep JavaScript on a short leash.

  • See Networking and the Internet

on Page 2 ----->

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