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Book Review of: Windows 7 Unleashed

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Review of Windows 7 Unleashed, by Paul McFedries (Softcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This 758-page book on Windows 7 is a solid resource for beginners and power users alike.

In fact, it is especially useful for beginners. One of the annoying things Microsoft began doing in earlier versions of Windows was hiding the file extensions. How in the heck are you supposed to be able to know what files you're working with if that information isn't visible? So McFedries devotes some time early on to correcting this and other productivity-killing "enhancements" so a person can actually get work done on a Windows computer. He doesn't however, go far enough with this.

I don't recall if the book mentions to right click the Start button to open Windows Explorer, but that's another tip I give beginners who don't know where to begin. Microsoft has, mercifully, not disabled that in W7 (else, you'd have to navigate to where they hide the shortcut to it). If Microsoft is still around a couple of years from now and releases another OS, I hope the Unleashed book will have a chapter titled "Fixing the Enhancements" so beginners and power users can save time getting Windows to make sense. This chapter needs to address each annoyance that the Microsoft User Frustration Team has come up with, and explain how to fix it.

While not exhaustive, this book's coverage is extensive. It does have two glaring problems, though. It's wrong about networking, and it's wrong about menu alteration.

The reason I got this book was I thought it would help me make sense of what I see as Microsoft's flakiest OS interface yet. For example, I use my computers to accomplish tasks. What a novel concept. Thus, I organize my start menu by the mission of each application. I have folders for Communication, Financial, Graphics, Utilities, Webworking, etc. It's set up based on the idea I want to accomplish something or perform a specific type of task. Microsoft's defaults are based on some other idea.

My first step in a Windows install on a laptop is to create a data partition (on a desktop, I just use a second physical drive for data). Fortunately, W7 makes this step easy; in earlier versions of Windows, I had to spend yet another wad of cash to buy a program to provide this functionality. Why Windows doesn't by default create an OS partition and a data partition already (or, in the case of desktop machines, autosense the second hard drive and make it the data drive), I have no idea. It would not take much to just make it that way.

Then I change all of the program defaults to save data outside the OS partition or drive (reinstalling Windows is inevitable, which means data loss is inevitable if you store data on the OS partition). My next step is to go into Windows Explorer and set up folders for the program menu shortcuts. Even after reading this book, I can't figure out how to do that in W7.

That said, I typically don't start work by opening an application (e.g., Word) and searching for files from it. I typically start by opening a file with Windows Explorer (file association is something Microsoft got right). However, there are times when I don't have an existing file to work from and want to begin with a program. Wading through a long list of unrelated program names instead of going directly to a logically-named folder of related apps is a productivity killer.

The great thing about W7 is it boots up quickly. If not for that, I would have given up on it after an hour of fussing with it. This book was helpful, but its explanation of how to find the location of the user profiles and menu folders doesn't match what is on my computer. Since I still can't get the Start Menu shortcuts arranged in anything approaching a logical setup, I still might replace W7 with XP.

I disagree with the author's assertion that Windows 7 makes networking easier. I have found the reality to be exactly the opposite. After buying a laptop with Windows 7, I came within an inch of wiping out the OS partition and installing Windows XP on it. After spending far more time than I should have and even tapping an IT pro for help, I finally did get W7 to at least see my XP machine (can't get it to work the other way). By contrast, I can plug any pre-W7 machine into my network and connection/detection is automatic. If you want to affirm that this networking problem is widespread and immensely frustrating, just google it.

All in all, a solid book IF you aren't networking with earlier versions of Windows, and IF you already know why you never save files in the same partition as the OS, and IF you already know how to "de-enhance" the interface so it is logical and efficient. What's missing is the chapter I mentioned earlier.

I became a power user when DOS 3.0 was the current OS, and have carried forth the lessons learned in subsequent OS releases (while updating my knowledge by reading at least two books on each release). New computer users don't have that experience to draw from, and most users don't have that education to draw from. So a book like this is a godsend.

New users will choose between W7 and Mac, which goes a long way toward explaining why Mac sales are on the rise and Microsoft has had layoffs. For those of us stubbornly clinging to Wintel and wanting to make it work in frustration-free fashion, Windows 7 Unleashed is an excellent resource.





About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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