I have spent too much time lately cursing Windows NT's ill-designed ergonomics to pass up a book called Windows Annoyances. Most books that O'Reilly & Associates publishes are helpful, to the point, and well edited. I anticipated that Windows Annoyances would help me solve usability, customization, and tuning problems. I looked forward to finally being able to connect my NT system to my Linux and Windows 95 systems and reduce the volume of NT system sounds without affecting the volume of my audio CDs.
Unfortunately, I didn't learn these skills or much else from Windows Annoyances. This book is more show than go.
Frills and Fluff
The book fails to fulfill its promise to give readers immense control over NT. When I hear the words "immense control," I think of the ease with which users can customize the entire Xfree86 user interface for Linux. Windows Annoyances does not come close to giving readers that kind of mastery of NT. The book has its moments, but a walk through its chapters shows that those moments are far too few.
The first chapter, "So You're Stuck with Windows," is fluff. It provides little more than a history and projection of the future of Windows and such basics as the fact that you can access Help in NT by pressing F1.
Chapter 2 offers a bit of meat on customizing an NT system. It gives some file manipulation keyboard shortcuts and useful hints on customizing the Start menu and user interface. It also details how to refresh the desktop without restarting your system (although its Solution 2 for NT 4.0 contains at least two errors). This chapter describes how to customize drive icons and replace the Startup and Shutdown screens, but these customizations are frills. The author could more profitably have told us how to enable UNIX-style file name completion for command line prompts (see Reader to Reader, "Try "for/?" Sometime," December 1997).
The Heart of the Matter
Chapter 3 presents a good overview of the NT Registry structure and offers examples of searching the Registry for text patterns and making patches to the Registry in a relatively safe manner. The author properly emphasizes that users should back up the Registry before tinkering with it to avoid possibly creating a nonbootable system. In my opinion, this Registry summary is the most useful information in the book.
The fourth chapter, "Advanced Customization Techniques," deals mostly with appearances. It tells you how to remove some of the permanent Microsoft advertising from the desktop, such as the Network Neighborhood, Inbox, Microsoft Network (MSN), and My Computer icons. This chapter also explains how to turn off CD-ROM Autorun, how to connect SCSI devices without rebooting, and how to assign a double-click to a middle mouse button (sadly, this technique did not work with the Logitech serial mouse on my NT Service PackSP3 system).
Author: David A. Karp
Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates, Sebastopol, 1997
Price: $29.95; 285 pages
Chapter 5 is supposed to focus on maximizing performance, but it opens with an overly simplified introduction to hardware that reads like any PC primer. It contains a section on performance tuning PCs, which recommends that the best thing you can do for your hard disk is to securely fasten the drive. This chapter also suggests hardware upgrades as the best route to high performance, but offers no alternatives for laptop users or people on limited budgets.
Chapter 5's CD-ROM section makes no mention of the ATAPI standard, and nowhere does the book explain how someone with failing eyesight can enable mouse trails on a nonlaptop PC. Chapter 5 contains nothing new, nor does Chapter 6, which presents general troubleshooting techniques that most of the book's intended readers already know.
Chapter 7, which deals with LAN and dial-up connectivity, is almost devoid of helpful hints or tips. It explains how to enable AutoDial, but that capability is hardly a dark secret. I did not see any tips for keeping the NT dial-up/hang-up sequences from freezing my system for 20 seconds, nor did I get any help on establishing a Direct Cable Connect.
The appendices are of dubious value. The frequently asked question (FAQ) appendix offers the naive a recipe for disaster by suggesting that if a file's time stamp is not recent, Windows is probably not using it and you can delete it. This suggestion is worthless for programs and other important read-only files. This appendix also offers such sage advice as to contact the manufacturer if an application isn't working.
The "MS-DOS Crash Course" is just over two pages long and of less utility than the NT Help system. The Glossary is a goulash of inadequate and incorrect definitions, mixed with opinion. It defines the term hex as six, with no hint of its computer etymology as an abbreviation for hexadecimal. It defines kilobyte as both 1000 and 1024 bytes. In addition, the definitions for command prompt, cooperative multitasking, and UNIX are all wrong or misleading.
Windows Annoyances suffers from typographical and grammatical errors and other examples of slipshod editing. It also takes several cheap shots at Microsoft. Although I agree with many of the author's opinions about Microsoft, I consider them inappropriate in this type of reference book.
So what's good about Windows Annoyances? The book offers NT users solutions to some real problems, including instructions on removing some of the more annoying and sticky icons from the user's desktop. The book also presents solutions to many Win95 problems.
Does Windows Annoyances belong on your bookshelf? Not in my opinion. Stick with the NT newsgroups and FAQs you can find online. They will give you at least as much information as this book.
NT users need a book that addresses the many usability, customization, and tuning problems of NT. Unfortunately, Windows Annoyances is not it.