VSJ – November 2006 – Sounding Board

Council Member John Weller, FIAP peers under the bonnet of a set of Haynes manuals.

In the days of my impecunious youth I couldn’t afford a new car so had to buy used vehicles that were usually not in the first flush of youth. I certainly couldn’t afford garage-servicing charges so had to be my own mechanic. The end result was that whenever I bought a fresh car, the first purchase (often before I had arrived home with my new acquisition) was the appropriate Haynes manual, that essential guide for any DIY mechanic.

Haynes has now branched out into the field of computer manuals and I have recently been given the opportunity to review a number of them. As with the car manuals they follow a common format. They are slightly under A4 size with board covers printed in colour on good quality glossy paper. All are by the same author, Kyle McRae, who is obviously a practical man and a pragmatist with a dry wit on occasion.

The first thing that struck me was how clear and easy to read the books are. They are all lavishly illustrated with screenshots, photographs and diagrams with clear step-by-instructions – exactly what I have come to expect from a Haynes manual. They are all aimed at reasonably practical users and do not contain jokey cartoons or patronising text that assume you are a dummy or an idiot. Above all they are written in English for the UK market as opposed to being written in American for the US.

Windows XP – A survival guide (£15.99, ISBN 1 84425 033 4)

The first section – almost a quarter – of this book assumes that you are upgrading a PC from a previous version of Windows to XP. It explains very clearly the first choices to be made – Full Version or Upgrade, Home or Professional, Over-the-Top upgrade or Clean Install. In each case the relative merits of each option are explained and the choice left to the reader. The set-up process is then covered for both the over-the-top and clean install options with lots of screenshots. Each option offered by the set-up process, such as whether to go for FAT32 or NTFS, is explained together with their pros and cons. (I wish I’d had this book available when I first installed XP!)

The remaining three-quarters of the book covers Windows Explorer, Internet Connection, Setting up a Network, User Accounts, Sharing and Security plus Instant Messaging including application sharing, whiteboards and remote assistance.  In every case there is a clear and detailed explanation with plenty of screenshots.

The book is aimed at a reasonably competent user upgrading to XP, either by upgrading an existing machine or with a new PC. Serious techies who want to get ‘under the bonnet’ of XP will need to look elsewhere, as would a complete newcomer to Windows – this book is not for them. But I have no hesitation in recommending it as excellent value for money for anyone who is upgrading to XP.

Computer Troubleshooting – The complete step-by-step guide to diagnosing and fixing common PC problems (£15.99 ISBN 1 84425 019 9)

It does just what it says on the tin! This book is a clear, well-illustrated step-by-step guide to identifying and fixing the most common problems with both the operating system and the hardware. It is heavily biased towards XP but does include references to earlier versions of Windows. The author is not one of those who is completely in Microsoft’s thrall and has obviously suffered the same frustrations with Windows error messages as the rest of us.

This is the sort of book that is well worth buying and placing on the bookshelf in the hope that you will never need it – but PCs being what they are you almost certainly will. At £15.99 (£10.55 from Amazon) it is significantly cheaper and quicker than visiting the local PC repair shop.

Having helped you identify the problem area it does not go into great detail on how to fix the problem if it is hardware – which is where the next book comes in.

Computer Manual – The step-by-step guide to upgrading, repairing and maintaining a PC (£15.99 ISBN 1 84425 128 4)

This book concentrates on upgrading rather than repair, which is very reasonable as, sensibly, the only way to repair a PC is to replace a component. If the component is more than a few months old then it will have improved performance and effectively be an upgrade.

The book covers upgrading or replacing hard drives, CD/DVD recorders, expansion cards, monitors, printers, scanners plus keyboard and mouse. It also looks at the now popular multi-function devices – combined printer, scanner and fax. There is a section on setting up a simple home network and another on maintaining a PC using third party software as well as the built-in utilities.

The author’s approach is very pragmatic – in fact the first section is ‘Why Upgrade?’ As far as he is concerned the only acceptable answer is to improve performance, replace a broken component or add new features. The book neatly sums itself up: ‘This is the manual for people who can use a screwdriver but not a soldering iron; people who won’t throw good money after bad but don’t want to buy a new computer unless and until they absolutely have to; and people who are allergic to acronyms.’

If you match that description then this is definitely the book for you.

Build Your Own Computer  – The complete step-by-step manual to constructing a PC that’s right for you (£15.99 ISBN 1 84425 228 0)

Once again, this is a clear, well-illustrated step-by-step guide to building your own computer. The author starts by pointing out that building a PC from scratch is not going to save a significant amount of money – if any – but it can be very satisfying and will also ensure that you build the machine that you need, not what some manufacture thinks you might need. It also means that you are well equipped to troubleshoot any problems you may get at a later stage.

The book covers two projects: a standard tower PC and a smart smaller computer designed for gaming or home entertainment. The first section covers sourcing the components and discusses using new and used equipment including going to computer fairs and obtaining B-grade stock.

The various options in each area are discussed and guidance given based on the user’s requirements, e.g. word processing and video making have significantly different requirements in the processor and RAM areas. There are separate sections, where appropriate, on using Intel and AMD processors. Obviously the book gets very technical but all of the acronyms and jargon are explained in a clear and readable manner.

If you fancy building your own PC this book is a must.

You can contact John at John@wessexcomputers.co.uk.

[Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.]

Comments are closed.