Tightly Wrapped Expertise: A Review of
© 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi Journal, November/December
1999, pp. 40-45, reprint
Hardware and software publishers used to include tons of
documentation with their products. Almost 20 years ago, the
Osborne-1 (the first transportable computer) included
somewhere between 15 and 20 full manuals for the word
processors, spreadsheets, database programs, utilities and
operating system packaged with the machine. By weight, they
were a large fraction of the considerable weight of the
But those times have changed. Extensive study of millions
of computer users reveals that the users don't pay much
attention to the included documentation. Over 90% of all
help calls to hardware and software manufacturers concern
issues that are clearly documented in the manuals provided
with the product. Apple, along with most other computer
manufacturers, has tried to adjust to this fact by including
electronic documentation pre-installed on their computers,
in the form of extensive context-sensitive help and Acrobat
files, and getting rid of the paper manuals. Cost, of
course, is also an issue, since manuals that people won't
read cost money to write, edit, print, and ship.
But if you wander into almost any good-sized bookstore,
you can't help but notice ever-growing computer book
sections. Why, if people won't read computer manuals, do
they buy computer books?
Peachpit Press, a leading computer publisher, made a
gamble: they believed that many computer manuals took too
long to get to the point, and didn't include enough
examples. So several years ago they created the Visual
QuickStart series, with some common characteristics to
each volume: (1) the book has a finite subject (one
application program or suite of programs), (2) the book has
a good table of contents and cross-referenced index, and (3)
the book is broken down into illustrated, step-by-step
instructions aimed at accomplishing specific tasks. None of
the Visual QuickStart books have lengthy narratives
talking about theory or philosophy or market trends or the
author's pet elephant.
The gamble paid off: the Visual QuickStart series
is a hit. Almost every computer book section in every
bookstore has an extensive selection of these pastel-colored
volumes. All the books that follow belong to this series, so
keep in mind that all have a nice table of contents, good
index, extensive illustrations and tight subject matter
focus, unless otherwise indicated. Also, mentally insert the
phrase Visual QuickStart Guide before each book
AppleScript for the Internet
Ethan Wilde's volume is something of a curiosity: he
isn't tackling just AppleScript, which is by itself a worthy
cause, but a more specialized subset: AppleScript for the
Internet. Over the past decade, Apple's scripting language
has grown up, and been applied to increasingly larger tasks.
There are few subjects larger than the Internet, but even in
the "early days" AppleScript was used to construct CGI
(Common Gateway Interface) routines, the "glue" programming
between a Web server and some more specialized task, such as
verifying a credit card number or displaying the time.
Wilde approaches the subject with enthusiasm, showing you
how to use AppleScript for a variety of tasks. In the
beginning, these almost all involve routine desktop tasks
for your Mac; he doesn't get around to discussing the
Internet until Chapter 5. CGIs -- the most prominent
application of AppleScript on the Internet -- aren't covered
until Chapter 11. By the time he gets to Chapter 24 (all the
chapters are relatively short), he has managed to apply
AppleScript to everything from QuarkXPress and
Windows NT to Netscape and Eudora Pro.
On a personal note, I purchased this book in an airport
bookshop, while waiting and waiting and waiting for a plane
to take off. Without a Macintosh handy to try some of the
scripting, the book was quite frustrating. Don't do this;
buy a science fiction novel or a murder mystery unless you
have a PowerBook or iBook handy. The book is far more
interesting when you can experiment with some of Wilde's
AppleWorks 5 for Windows and Macintosh
AppleWorks is included with every iMac and iBook,
but without any printed manual. True, there are various help
files, but the help files are comically short of examples of
how to do various things. Like most help files, they are
also linear in nature: they assume the user is fairly
"normal" and tends to concentrate only on "normal" tasks.
C. Ann Brown makes no such assumption: she assumes you
want to do everything under the sun with AppleWorks.
After covering every module of the program, and showing some
clever interactions between the modules, you'll begin to
believe it can do everything, too.
An important note: this book was reviewed in Washington
Apple Pi Journal once before, under its former name of
Visual QuickStart Guide: ClarisWorks 5 for Windows and
Macintosh. Aside from an extensive search and replace
edit (obliterating ClarisWorks in favor of
AppleWorks), the books are identical; if you have the
earlier version, this version will add nothing at all.
Claris Home Page 3 for Windows and Macintosh
Much like AppleWorks 5, Claris Home Page 3
is a program often bundled with a computer or another piece
of software, usually with minimal documentation. This is a
pity since some of the best features of Home Page,
such as the FileMaker Connection Assistant, are none
Sad to say, Richard Fenno doesn't spend much time on the
Connection Assistant or FileMaker. He does, however,
cover the rest of Home Page quite thoroughly, and
virtually any user should have no difficulty using the
program to create Web sites. Home Page is a strange
gem in the rough; now sold by FileMaker, Inc. and in need of
an update, it is slower than it should be and not as sexy
as, say, CyberStudio. But it pumps out nice, clean
HTML (HyperText Markup Language), with no strange
compatibility problems. This also describes Fenno's book:
with it as a guide, you should have no trouble pumping out
nice, clean Web pages.
The index, however, is unimaginative, and it frequently
takes quite a bit of searching to find what you need. While
the essence of the Visual QuickStart series is nice,
lean text, Fenno should have tried for a bit more gentle
Eudora for Windows and Macintosh
Though it was published two years ago, Eudora for
Windows and Macintosh is still a useful book as both an
introduction to E-mail and a reference to a
constantly-surprising program. While Eudora started
life on the Macintosh and only later moved to Windows, the
interface for the program isn't particularly "Mac-like" and
has never been its strength, and even veteran users are
forever discovering hidden talents.
Adam Engst, the author of this QuickStart guide,
brings a lengthy resume to the task of explaining Eudora.
Years ago, when the Internet was not exactly young but
before it "went commercial," Engst and his girlfriend
started TidBITS, one of the oldest electronic
magazines. Each week, they sent out a newsletter to an
E-mail mailing list that started with hundreds of names and
eventually grew to tens of thousands of names. Drafting,
polishing and mailing E-mail messages is something that
Engst can honestly claim to have rare expertise.
Aside from a repetitive style (in part demanded by the
coverage of both the Macintosh and the similar, but not
identical, Windows versions), the book does thoroughly cover
both the Lite and Pro versions of Eudora.
Particularly valuable are the illustrations showing how to
fill out the almost inexhaustible range of options -- for
everything -- that the program offers.
In the introductory material, Engst briefly credits Steve
Dorner, the University of Illinois programmer who created
the first versions of Eudora, back in the days when
the program was free (and before Steve joined Qualcomm, the
current publisher). How quickly time flies…
Recommended if you use Eudora for E-mail.
Excel 98 for the Macintosh
Microsoft Office 98 for the Macintosh includes
three applications: Word 98, Excel 98 and
PowerPoint 98. Two of these -- Word and
Excel -- are the de facto standards of the corporate
world, but all are poorly served by the sparse Microsoft
documentation which, while tastefully done, says almost
Maria Langer's volume on Excel 98 is, bar none,
the best compact reference and introduction to Excel.
If you know how to use Excel (or any other
spreadsheet, for that matter), you can quickly find the
information you need to get up to speed in Excel 98.
If you've never used a spreadsheet before, she can take you
from raw beginner to a confident beginner in just a few
pages, and to journeyman status by the end of the book.
A great many people never really learn how to use
Excel, misusing it as a database program, or as a
nifty way to draw grids on the screen. A fairly large number
of users have never tried to set up even simple calculations
with this, one of the world's premier calculators. If you
fall into this category (and over half of all Microsoft
Office owners do), this book can open up an entire new
world, quickly and clearly. Highly recommended.
Adobe GoLive 4 for Macintosh and Windows
When GoLive CyberStudio 3.1 disappeared from the
scene, swallowed by Adobe, it took a few months for
GoLive to emerge in its new Adobe colors, with a new
version number: 4.0. What was the big change between 3.1 and
4.0? The version number.
Which may actually be a good thing. GoLive has a
very steep learning curve, so adding a bunch of new features
would probably be counter-productive. With more palettes
than a veteran artist and more icons than an old Russian
Orthodox church, GoLive requires at least two
monitors and a couple months in solitude to master.
Sadly, reality is rarely this accommodating, so if you
find yourself with a short deadline, a large Web site, and a
copy of GoLive 4, grab this book. Shelly Brisbin
approaches her topic with enthusiasm and common sense: while
the title mentions Windows, virtually all the screen shots
and examples are from a Macintosh. (GoLive works the
same way, for the most part, on both platforms, but most
users of the program prefer to use it on Macs.)
One great surprise: the book really is a new edition.
Brisbin had written a QuickStart guide for GoLive
CyberStudio 3.1, and given the fairly minor differences
(beyond modifying the name and changing the publisher)
between 3.1 and 4.0, I was expecting few differences in the
text. Such is not the case; the book has been extensively
reorganized. A fairly useless chapter on working with color
was dropped, and chapters on DHTML and style sheets were
added, with extensive reorganization and rewriting of
virtually everything else. One further change would make the
next edition even more interesting: some clear icons or
other visual indicators alerting users to differences
between Netscape, Internet Explorer, Windows
and Macintosh dialects of HTML.
HTML 4 for the World Wide Web
Elizabeth Castro does explicitly address the browser and
computer dialect problem in the latest version of her
best-selling guide to HTML. While users of graphical HTML
editors, such as Home Page, GoLive,
Dreamweaver and others, may never need to see what is
"under the hood," most advanced and professional Web
designers, and all site managers, need to know far more
HTML is actually nothing more than text: simple,
unformatted text. Equally simple "tags" act as commands to
your browser to load pictures, change the background color,
display paragraphs and other simple tasks. A page full of
such tags looks intimidating, and can take a while to
dissect and see how it works but, in the end, it is just
text. And all the high-end graphical HTML editors do little
more than create text files.
Once you understand this, the value of Castro's book is
much more apparent. She takes the HTML 4 specification (and
yes, there were HTML 3.2, 2, 1.1 and 1.0 specifications
before it) and explains how to use it to good effect. Forms,
tables, lists, images, multimedia and other topics each have
their own chapters. Icons are used to alert the reader to
Netscape or Internet Explorer-specific
differences. While she doesn't take sides in the browser
wars, she does drop hints on things the reader should devote
more than the usual amount of care and attention.
There are appendices on the usual subjects: lists of HTML
editors and other tools, and lists showing how to embed
color codes and special characters in pages. But one real
gem is her nicely organized list of tags, with brief
descriptions of their use and, most important of all, a code
listing their status as being HTML 4 supported, deprecated
(supported but discouraged), or Netscape or
Internet Explorer specific. This appendix is
extremely handy when you are struggling to find out why a
page looks different, or doesn't display at all, when using
True gurus will also want to track down and keep the
previous version of this work, since it is devoted to HTML
3.2. A vast number of Internet users are using machines that
lack the memory or horsepower to run an HTML 4-compliant
browser, so if you want to provide universal access, you may
wish to stay with HTML 3.2 for some time to come.
Illustrator 8 for Windows and Macintosh
Way back in the days when Apple introduced the original
PostScript printer, the Apple LaserWriter, there were very
few tools for doing things with the PostScript language. Few
applications really understood PostScript, and in fact
almost all books on PostScript were devoted to programming:
how to write PostScript programs and send them directly to
the printer for execution and printing. Adobe
Illustrator changed all of this: as the first
commercially successful PostScript editor with a pure
graphical interface, PostScript left the world of
programmers and entered the world of graphic artists and
The early versions of Illustrator were,
unfortunately, brutally obscure. Yes, the program had a
graphical interface, but it wasn't all that easy to actually
do something. People who knew how to draw found it baffling;
those who didn't know how to draw found it baffling, too.
When Freehand was first introduced, its major claim
to fame was that it was easier to use than
Either through familiarity over time or genuine
improvements, the current version, Illustrator 8,
seems vastly improved. But it still needs a good, solid,
step-by-step guide to help the non-experts absorb some
aspects of the program, and Elaine Weinmann and Peter
Lourekas do an excellent job of providing that guide.
This Visual QuickStart guide, however, is not a
quick replacement for talent and skill. The introduction to
Chapter 11 has this sobering statement: "Mastering the pen
tool -- Illustrator's most difficult tool -- requires
patience and practice." How discouraging. Fortunately, you
can do wonders with filters, type tools and a few
well-defined tricks using nothing more than
Illustrator and this book; talent, skill, practice
and patience are optional. The excellent index and internal
cross-referencing aid in skipping over the hard parts.
Java for the World Wide Web
One of the weakest Visual QuickStart books is Dori
Smith's volume on Java. Part of the weakness is due to the
subject -- Java is a programming language, and doesn't lend
itself to a visual guide for non-specialists -- and part of
it is due to sectarian violence.
Over the past couple of years, much has been written
about Microsoft's allege plot to sabotage any and all
potential competitors. One serious allegation concerned
Java: Microsoft signed an agreement with Sun Microsystems
that allowed Microsoft to develop Java programs, for free.
In return, all Microsoft had to do was make sure the
programs followed the Java standard. Microsoft almost
immediately violated this agreement by creating proprietary
versions of Java that wouldn't work outside of their Windows
Well, it turns out: the allegations were true. Federal
prosecutors supported their recent anti-monopoly case
against Microsoft by introducing truckloads of evidence
showing the company willingly violated their agreements with
Sun. Sun, in separate legal proceedings, succeeded in having
a lengthy restraining order placed on Microsoft, prohibiting
the company from calling programs "Java" unless they
actually met the Java standards.
Meanwhile, many companies have grown disenchanted with
Java. Senior managers attended seminars touting Java's
"write once, run on many platforms" promise. Then they read
critical press reports saying the promise was overblown.
Without really understanding the issues, they decided the
naysayers were right and backed away from the Java Holy
None of this, of course, has a thing to do with Java as a
programming language. It still has some outstanding
advantages over other languages and, when used
appropriately, is often the best possible tool for many
tasks. But Smith's book is not the appropriate vehicle for
teaching people how to use this tool.
While the book does have value to people who might be
familiar with programming concepts, it really doesn't have
enough depth to act as an introductory programming book. The
examples are well written and presented well, but they tend
to teach you how to write a particular Java servlet -- that
servlet -- without the breadth necessary to write other,
If you know how to program, it is worth considering. If
you don't, you'll probably find it inadequate.
Often considered a sister of Java, or perhaps a different
the first four letters of the name. Developed by Netscape as
its own right. It just isn't Java.
Tom Negrino and Dori Smith do an excellent job covering
isn't Java. Then, towards the back of the book, they cover a
own version, which often isn't compatible with Netscape's,
and called it JScript. Meanwhile Netscape submitted
ECMA came up with a standard they call ECMA-262, better
known as ECMAScript. ECMAScript is very close to Netscape's
Given these constraints, Negrino and Smith do an
excellent, entertaining job of showing how to develop
as necessary that some things don't work quite the same with
different browsers. The result is a cross between an
course) and a gourmet cookbook.
Highly recommended for the more technically inclined Web
authors, the companion Web site is also well worth a visit.
Among other things, it contains source files for all the
scripts in the book, which should save you many hours of
typing and debugging typing errors.
Mac OS 8.6
By the time you read this, Mac OS 9 should be released,
and Mary Langer may well have a new version of this book in
the works. In the meantime, Langer's book on Mac OS 8.6 is
an excellent reference.
Let's face it: when you bought Mac OS 8.6, you received
next to no printed documentation. If you were a new user and
followed Apple's on-screen instructions, you may have found
the excellent electronic help stored on your hard drive. If
you are a veteran Mac user, you probably ignored the help
and plunged into doing whatever you wanted to do. In either
case, you probably barely scratched the surface of what Mac
OS 8.6 has to offer.
Langer approaches Mac OS 8.6 (and 8.5) very
systematically, with chapters devoted to Finder basics, file
management, using applications, using various included
utilities, understanding the various things in the Apple
menu, printing, networking, the Internet and
troubleshooting. There is even an entire chapter -- a
surprisingly interesting chapter -- on SimpleText,
the ubiquitous text editor that seems to replicate itself,
rabbit-like, in every folder on your Mac.
At least half, or more, of all questions posed at the
Pi's monthly General Meetings could be answered by referring
to this book. While it lacks the encyclopedic heft of some
of the "Bible" or "Secrets" books, it also lacks the blatant
padding typical of those volumes. In short: this book is
highly recommended. Based on Langer's past performance, I'm
even willing to recommend her Visual QuickStart Guide:
Mac OS 9, even though I'm not sure she's writing one.
Microsoft Office 98 for Macintosh
For those who may detect a certain anti-Microsoft bias to
this series of reviews, let it be known the reviews were
written with Microsoft Word 98. The most commonly
used component of Office 98, Word 98 gets
first billing in Dan Henderson's guide to Office, and
he covers it rather well.
Considering the dearth of written documentation supplied
with Office, it is no surprise that Henderson's book
is, to be brutally frank, much better. In discussing
Word, he not only talks about its features, but also
mentions more general topics, such as automatic text flow,
automatic versus manual page breaks, and other issues of
value to computer novices.
Similar coverage is given to Excel 98 and
PowerPoint 98, and an additional section is devoted
to using them in concert. The Excel coverage is not
nearly as comprehensive as Langer's (mentioned above), nor
is the Word coverage as comprehensive as a book
devoted to the task. Novice users probably won't notice any
lack, however, as he does cover virtually every major
For PowerPoint 98 users, his coverage is about as
good as it gets; this sorry piece of software seems to have
been boycotted by other authors. Clearly the weakest member
of the Office family, Henderson avoids telling you
how bad PowerPoint really is and instead tells you
how to make it do useful things when it isn't busy crashing,
hanging your machine, or mangling your presentation. For
example, he reminded me that PowerPoint can do org
charts, a capability I'd forgotten about after numerous
losing battles with the application.
There are many other books on Office, but you'll actually
read this one. Recommended.
Search Engines for the World Wide Web, 2nd
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner have been writing computer
books for some time, and in fact wrote some of the first
mass-market books on the Internet. Their first edition of
this volume, however, was unsuccessful; it rarely covered
anything a Web user couldn't discover on their own after a
This second edition is a vast improvement. They cover a
wide range of search engines, ranging from the general
(AltaVista) to the highly specialized (such as Liszt
Directory, an index of Internet mailing lists). Some of the
"search engines," such as CDnow and Amazon.com, are
commercial catalogs as much as search engines but, because
of their usefulness, are properly included.
General search strategies and methodologies are discussed
first, and then a chapter is devoted to each of the
general-purpose search engines: AltaVista, Excite, HotBot,
Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo. The chapters on the major search
engines are filled with useful tips on how to use them, as
well as a general overview of how that particular search
There are, however, still some major oversights. The
discussion of AltaVista doesn't cover the wonderful
host: and link: options, both of great value
to Web site managers. There is no mention of Macintosh
computers at all, and all the screen shots are from Windows.
While not a sin in itself, this also means there is no
mention of Sherlock, one of the best Internet search
tools available, though several Windows-specific search
tools (of lesser utility) are mentioned.
Despite the limitations, the book is recommended for
advanced Web users and Web site managers.
Unlike most Visual QuickStart books, this volume has
almost no graphics. Instead, the examples are command-line
listings and text listings, in theory lacking the sex appeal
of the graphical user interface. In spite of this "flaw,"
this is easily one of the best-written Visual
QuickStart volumes, sprinkled with impish humor buried
deep in its examples. Authors Deborah S. Ray and Eric J. Ray
are, presumably, married to one another, and you get the
impression the marriage is not boring; there are frequent,
very subtle and very funny references the authors.
The topic, UNIX, is also unusual, since it is an
open-ended universe rather than a compact, self-contained
subject typical of other Visual QuickStart books. The
authors freely admit there are multiple ways to do almost
everything in UNIX, and that the book barely scratches the
surface of what can be done.
What can you do with this book? You can learn enough to
do common user tasks on a UNIX machine, from logging on and
setting up your account preferences to copying files,
directories and volumes. Particular attention is paid to
some of the more useful and ubiquitous UNIX utilities; if
you've ever wanted a short coarse in tar or
ping or the basics of chgrp and chown,
this is the book.
But why, you might ask, would a Mac maven want a book on
UNIX? Aside from learning more about Mac OS X Server (which
is, under the hood, UNIX), the Internet is built on UNIX:
electronic mail, file transfer (FTP), the World Wide Web and
many other things you commonly do with your Mac on the
Internet were first done on UNIX. The largest Internet
hosts, in fact, are still based on UNIX.
We all know that Macs are fun. With this book, UNIX seems
like fun, too.
Ethan Wilde, Visual QuickStart Guide: AppleScript for
the Internet. Peachpit Press, 1998, x, 339 pp., $17.95.
C. Ann Brown, Visual QuickStar Guide: AppleWorks 5 for
Windows and Macintosh. Peachpit Press, 1998, vii, 216
pp., $17.99. ISBN 0-201-35403-9
Richard Fenno, Visual QuickStart Guide: Claris Home
Page 3 for Windows and Macintosh. Peachpit Press, 1998,
xviii, 203 pp., $16.95. ISBN 0-201-69647-9
Maria Langer, Visual QuickStart Guide: Excel 98 for
the Macintosh. Peachpit Press, 1998, xvi, 262 pp.,
$17.95. ISBN 0-201-35360-1
Shelly Brisbin, Visual QuickStart Guide: Adobe GoLive
4 for Macintosh and Windows. Peachpit, 1999. xii, 340
pp., $18.99. ISBN 0-201-35477-2
Adam C. Engst, Visual QuickStart Guide: Eudora for
Windows and Macintosh. Peachpit Press, 1997. Xvi, 195
pp., $16.95. ISBN 0-201-69963-0
Elizabeth Castro, Visual QuickStart Guide: HTML 4 for
the World Wide Web. Peachpit Press, 1998. 336 pp.,
$17.95. ISBN 0-201-69696-7
Elaine Weinmann and Peter Lourekas, Visual QuickStart
Guide: Illustrator 8 for Windows and Macintosh. Peachpit
Press, 1999. Xvi, 362 pp., $19.99. ISBN 0-201-35388-1
Dori Smith, Visual QuickStart Guide: Java for the
World Wide Web. Peachpit Press, 1998. Xiv, 221 pp.,
$17.99. ISBN 0-201-35340-7
Tom Negrino and Dori Smith, Visual QuickStart Guide:
Peachpit Press, 1999. Xii, 292 pp., $17.99. ISBN
Maria Langer, Visual QuickStart Guide: Mac OS 8.6.
Peachpit Press, 1999. xviii, 330 pp., $17.99. ISBN
Dan Henderson, Visual QuickStart Guide: Microsoft
Office 98 for Macintosh. Peachpit Press, 1998. xvi, 283
pp., $18.95. ISBN 0-201-35351-2
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner, Visual QuickStart
Guide: Search Engines for the World Wide Web, 2nd
ed. Peachpit Press, 1999. xiv, 274 pp., $17.99. ISBN
Deborah S. Ray and Eric J. Ray, Visual QuickStart
Guide: UNIX. Peachpit Press, 1998. xii, 354 pp., $17.99.