Wilson da Silva

Science journalist, feature writer and editor.

Sep 17, 1996
Published on: The Age
1 min read
Newbie to the Net? You might need a user’s guide for Windows 95

By WILSON da SILVA

THE problem with print is that it is ‘deadware’. Once you cut down a bunch of trees, mulch them into paper and ink-press them with words . . . well, a whole lot of things can change. On the other hand, with digital media - ‘liveware’, if you will - making changes isn’t all that hard.

Nowhere is the problem of print more acute than in publishing books about computers, or about the Internet. In an industry where more semiconductor memory is created every 18 months than ever existed in all of history - well, you have to be a bit of an optimist. 

Obviously, O’Reilly & Associates Inc. are optimists. They’ve published a softcover guide to the Net which is relatively comprehensive, ranging from a basic explanation of what the Internet is to how to create your own Web page, or even Telnet to IBM mainframes.

As a how-to, it is well-structured: plenty of screen dumps (images of what a screen might look like as you go through the motions described), along with some useful background on the Net ethics and the legal implications of some uses of the Net. There are even some thoughtful musings on the future of the Web and the ethics of private and public e-mail. The hiearchical structure make it all easier to follow, too.

But the book is unforgiveably dated in some areas. Take this example: “The Microsoft Network (MSN) is a new online service that made its debut with Windows 95. One part is a proprietary, value-added online service like CompuServe, the other a standard Internet service provider.”

Oh boy. MSN, which began as a proprietary commercial network that also offered Internet access, died a very public death last December. That’s when Bill Gates abandoned his plan to privatise the Internet via Windows 95 and opened it up.

The publishers could be excused if the book hit the printers around the time of MSN’s decline, but this book was originally published in April 1996, four months after its demise. To add insult to injury, the version now hitting the bookshops, and the one being reviewed here, was actually published in August 1996. Ouch!

It’s only 20 pages of a nearly 600-page book. Still, it’s the sort of thing that could make you doubt the amount of effort that’s been put into it.

The guide, originally developed in the United States, was adapted for Australia by Geoff Ebbs of Wide West Media, a company that bills itself as a Sydney-based Internet publishing outfit. In it, he thanks “Sydney-based service provider Connect.com for access to the Internet” throughout the development. Aargh! Connect.com is Melbourne-based.

One can’t guarantee that a close inspection of the tome would not uncover other problematic or similarly outdated items, so I cannot recommend the book, unless you really need a good guide and you don’t mind that it might be out of date in areas.

Books are a wonderful low-tech, random-access application, with unlimited battery life and needing only a bit of light to activate the contents. I’m rather fond of them. But in this case . . . well, maybe the publishers should stick to Internet publishing.

How it rated

The Whole Internet, for Windows 95 User’s Guide & Catalog, Australian edition
Platform: Print
System required: English
Who’ll love it? Newbies (Internet beginners)
Best: Comprehensive how-to guide
Worst: Seriously dated in some sections
Price: $49.95