Microsoft Manual of Style (4th Ed.) – Improve your technical communications – #bookreview

Microsoft Manual of Style
Microsoft Corp.
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $29.99; Kindle edition, list price $23.99)

Good writers know they need more help than they can find in a dictionary and a thesaurus. So they often have collections of reference books that include such works as the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Handbook and the Associated Press Stylebook.

Consider adding one more specialized stylebook to your collection, particularly if you: (1) you write about, or teach, computer technology; (2) if you are a technical writer assigned to create product manuals for software or hardware; or (3) if you work as an editor of technical articles and technical books.

Microsoft Press recently has released the 4th edition of its Microsoft Manual of Style. This updated edition “includes guidelines for wired and global audience, cloud computing, publication on devices, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and the natural user interface (NUI).”

The Microsoft Manual of Style is a well-structured and useful guide that can help you improve the clarity, accuracy and style consistency of your technology writing and editing.

The book also offers useful guidelines for global English syntax and machine translation syntax. And its glossary defines more than one thousand terms and acronyms.

These are, of course, times of very rapid change for technology and its terminology. So this latest printed edition of the style manual is, “by necessity, a snapshot” and “by nature a work in progress,” its editors concede.

They emphasize how examples in the book “are labeled as ‘Microsoft Style’ and ‘Not Microsoft Style’ rather than as ‘Correct’ and ‘Incorrect.’ We don’t want to presume to say that the Microsoft way is the only correct way. It’s simply the guidance that we follow in our workplace. In sharing it with others, we hope that the decisions we have made for our content professionals will help you in your own efforts to promote consistency, clarity, and accuracy.”

They have tried to include “as many relevant neologisms as possible” – new words and phrases or new meanings for old terms, recently pushed to the fore by new technology. For example, “[g]esture guidelines for the natural user interface (NUI) introduce what have been non-technical words such as flick, pinch, and tap into the realm of technical documentation.”

A minor ding: the book’s index and usage guides both seem slightly incomplete. For example, in the Introduction, the editors state: “In the world of cloud computing, we now include terabyte (TB), petabyte (PB), and on up to yottabyte (YB), or 1024.” Yet, only terabyte and TB show up in the index and usage guide. PB and YB seem to be missing in action in both areas.

Also, the book spends two pages (16 and 17) explaining (beneath a “Parallelism” heading) how parallelism is used in Microsoft instructional manuals. “Parallelism is ensuring that elements of sentences that are similar in purpose are also similar in structure.” Yet, “parallelism” is not in the index. The term “parallel structure” appears in its place, instead.

These small glitches are not deal breakers. They simply highlight what was stated earlier, that a stylebook is a work always in progress. (Perhaps the fixes will be added in edition five?)

This 4th edition of the Microsoft Manual of Style is rich with information, examples, guidance and definitions. If you write or edit computer-related technology materials, you need it on your reference shelf.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

Using Microsoft InfoPath 2010 with Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Step by Step – #bookreview

Using Microsoft InfoPath 2010 with Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Step by Step
By Darvish Shadravan and Laura Rogers
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price $31.99)

A 21st century Shakespeare might write: “All the world’s a form, and we are just filling it in.”

One of this book’s authors contends (not completely in jest) that “forms run the world. Imagine modern life without forms, both paper and digital–it’s not possible! Everything that is known and recorded about you, from your birth city to your magazine subscriptions, to  your preference of aisle or window seats–yes, all of this information was entered in a form at some point in time.”

Microsoft InfoPath 2010 is used to design and build electronic forms, as well as gather data, without writing code. Meanwhile, SharePoint Server 2010 “offers a robust architecture for managing access to data connections and external systems.” SharePoint is Microsoft’s suite of software tools aimed at making it “easier for people work together,” whether in the same office or scattered around the planet.

This well-written and nicely illustrated book shows how to bring the two products together in powerful ways that (1) enable InfoPath forms to be created and formatted and (2) integrate data from SharePoint and other company systems. InfoPath forms also can be hosted on SharePoint.

The book is aimed at “any information worker that needs to build and use electronic forms that will be stored in SharePoint.” Its goal is to “teach you the basics of building and using InfoPath 2010 forms in a SharePoint 2010 environment.”

The writers assume you are at least a “savvy Office and Windows user.” It is helpful, but not mandatory, to also have at least some basic familiarity with SharePoint Server 2010. “However, even if you’re not a SharePoint guru, most topics in this book should be within your grasp,” they point out.

If you do not have a SharePoint environment in your company, “InfoPath 2010 supports the creation of forms in Microsoft Office 365,” the two authors note. Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud product that provides online access to a variety of programs for communicating and collaborating.

InfoPath has been around for a few years and recently was given a significant update. But many businesses and computer users do not have it.

That’s not show-stopper when InfoPath and SharePoint work together, the authors point out. “If you create your forms as browser-enabled form templates, users who don’t have InfoPath installed on their computer can still work with the form in a browser. This lets you share business forms with a variety of users, including employees, customers, and vendors.”

The 446-page book has 14 chapters. The first four chapters show how to create and format forms using InfoPath. The remaining chapters focus on using InfoPath with SharePoint.

According to the two authors, “the mission of this book is to help you understand how to create business forms that provide a pleasant, reliable, and intuitive experience for your users and customers,” they write.

The process of creating, formatting and publishing forms is shown and described in clear, succinct how-to steps. Practice files can be downloaded from a Microsoft site, and the exercise topics range from the basics of form design to building an approval process and working with SharePoint views and dashboards, to (1) “control what fields are displayed at any given time” and (2) “generate reports from any information in SharePoint lists and libraries.”

The authors add: “SharePoint libraries, specifically form libraries, are well suited for storing and managing InfoPath forms.”

InfoPath’s native language is XML, “perhaps the single most powerful method of storing and sharing structured data to come along since the advent of digital computing.” Creating electronic forms has long been a code-intensive process.

InfoPath hides most of the XML behind an easy-to-use interface. And XSLT (Extensible Style Sheet Language) style sheets also “‘sit in front of’ the underlying XML and transform it into the rich and easy-to-use forms that InfoPath can create.”

The book’s illustrations, short paragraphs, step-by-step lists and example files can all help readers get up to speed quickly, whether Microsoft InfoPath 2010 is used with Microsoft SharePoint on a company network or via the cloud, by way of Office 365.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry and several short stories, all available on Kindle. He previously worked in the telecommunications industry as a software and hardware tester and technical writer.

Send in the Clouds: 2 New SharePoint 2010 Books from Microsoft Press – #bookreview

Microsoft Press recently has released two new books intended to help attract and train more users of  its SharePoint 2010 software and services. 

SharePoint is Microsoft’s suite of software tools designed to help “make it easier for people work together,” whether they are in the same office or scattered around the planet.

One of the new books focuses on SharePoint Foundation 2010, “the software that will get organizations started using SharePoint.” It is aimed at readers who “need to understand how to accomplish what they need to do.”

The other book is intended “primarily for IT professionals, IT architects, and IT decisions makers who want to understand the capabilities of SharePoint in the cloud….”

Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 Inside Out
By Errin O’Connor, Penelope Coventry, Tony Lanphier, Jonathan Lightfoot,
Thomas Resing and Michael Doyle

(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $49.99; Kindle edition, list price $39.99)

Microsoft SharePoint is a suite of tools that enables an organization or business to “share, exchange, and distribute information to their employees, partners, shareholders, and customers.” The software “is designed around an easy-to-use web-based interface that is fully integrated with Microsoft Office,” the six authors say.

If you are completely new to SharePoint Foundation 2010, read two easier books first,  Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Plain & Simple and Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 Step-by-Step. Then tackle this “Inside Out” book.

This new “Inside Out” edition is intended “for readers who have some experience with SharePoint Foundation 2010 and are fairly comfortable finding their way around the product,” the authors emphasize.

SharePoint 2010 has been termed a significant improvement over earlier versions, and the “entry-level component,” SharePoint Foundation 2010, can be downloaded free from Microsoft.

The authors point out that “[y]ou don’t need to be a programmer (although it is helpful) to use the building blocks in SharePoint 2010. Even without using code, you can create highly customized business solutions in a matter of minutes.”

SharePoint Foundation 2010 “provides a robust collection of services that can be used to build powerful web solutions.” And: “It forms the basis for a number of other SharePoint products such as SharePoint Server 2010 and Office 365,which incorporates Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010 cloud-based solution, called SharePoint Online.”

Microsoft hopes, of course, that you will move up from “free” to “paying customer” once you begin to understand SharePoint’s many possibilities beyond Foundation.

The 760-page book is well-written, adequately illustrated, and follows a progression where “the early chapters concentrate on what you can achieve by using the browser; later chapters detail features from the perspective of the power-end user, administrator, and developer.”

The 16 chapters are:

  1. Introduction to Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010
  2. Administration for Business Users
  3. End-User Features and Experience
  4. Creating Sites and Workspaces by Using the Browser
  5. Designing Lists and Libraries
  6. Creating and Formatting Webpages
  7. Adding, Editing, Connecting, and Managing Web Parts on the Page
  8. Managing Site Content
  9. Working with External Content
  10. Using and Creating Workflows
  11. Integrating SharePoint with Microsoft Office 2010
  12. Taking Lists and Libraries Offline
  13. Managing Site Settings
  14. Creating, Managing, and Designing Sites by Using SharePoint Designer 2010
  15. Customizing the User Interface
  16. Developing SharePoint Solutions by Using Visual Studio 2010

The “Web Parts” in the Chapter 7 title refer to “a key component of any SharePoint installation.” A Web Part either receives input or displays content or sometimes does both. One example given is a module that displays weather information. A user can change the weather display’s city or ZIP code without affecting any other users visiting the site.

If you buy the paperback, you are also given a link where you can download a “fully searchable companion ebook” in PDF format, and the ebook periodically is updated.

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Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Deploying Cloud-Based Solutions
By Phillip Wicklund
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $34.99)

“Of all the great benefits of SharePoint in the cloud…business agility may be the most compelling cloud driver yet,” writes Phillip Wicklund in his new book.

“Consider time-to-market. With SharePoint in the cloud, you can literally have a cloud-based collaboration site spun up and ready for use within an hour of reading this sentence.”

This book should be on your reading list if you are helping a company decide whether – and how – to migrate to the public cloud, or a private cloud, or a hybrid cloud, using SharePoint 2010.

In some business settings, Wicklund notes, “SharePoint can be tough to deploy and maintain, primarily because significant expertise and experience is required to do so successfully. Many companies can’t afford or (for other reasons) are unable to recruit the necessary talent. Because of this, taking SharePoint to the cloud is especially appealing to them. When in the cloud, they can essentially outsource that costly, time-consuming administrative overhead.”

Part of Wicklund’s book is devoted to introducing – and, no surprise, touting — Office 365.

A Microsoft website describes that company’s new Office 365 service as “familiar Microsoft Office collaboration and productivity tools delivered through the cloud. Everyone can work together easily with anywhere access to email, web conferencing, documents, and calendars. It includes business-class security and is backed by Microsoft.”

SharePoint Online, of course, is one of the services available through Office 365.

But, while costs go down when you migrate to the cloud, so do your levels of control and flexibility.

Yet, as this book notes, there are at least two types of cloud: public and private (where you can hold onto more control). And it is possible, using SharePoint 2010, to work in both clouds.

“By creating your own private cloud,” the author says, “you benefit from all the automation, scalability, reliability, and self-healing that any great cloud ought to provide.”

Wicklund’s book is divided into three major parts and 11 chapters.

Part 1 is “Introducing SharePoint in the Cloud.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1: Introducing Microsoft SharePoint Online
  • Chapter 2: Office 365 Feature Overview
  • Chapter 3: Planning for SharePoint Online

Part 2 is “Deploying SharePoint in the Public Cloud.” Its chapters are:

  • Chapter 4: Administering SharePoint Online
  • Chapter 5: Identity Management and Authentication
  • Chapter 6: Migrating to SharePoint Online
  • Chapter 7: Introduction to Customizing and Developing in SharePoint Online

Part 3 is “Deploying SharePoint in the Private Cloud.” The chapters are:

  • Chapter 8: Introduction to Creating a Private Cloud
  • Chapter 9: Introducing Multitenancy in SharePoint 2010
  • Chapter 10: Configuring Tenant-Aware Service Applications
  • Chapter 11: Configuring Tenant-Aware Site Collections

The term “multitenancy” in Chapter 9 is definined first in terms of an apartment complex where individuals live in private spaces but share the complex’s resources. In SharePoint, the term relates to “data isolation, delegated aministration, and delegated configuration.” You can “‘host’ multiple department or customer sites, for example, within the same infrastructure and farm, whereby you can guarantee autonomy and isolation among those ‘tenants’ of your SharePoint farm,” Wicklund writes.

“Each department has its own set of site collections that they can centrally manage and administrate.”

The 448-page book has one appendix titled “Server, Online SharePoint, and Online Dedicated Compared.” It has a well-detailed index. And the code samples can be downloaded from a Microsoft site.

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SharePoint is not a product that fits conveniently into one big how-to manual. If you are thinking of adding SharePoint to your business, or expanding how you use it, be prepared to consider getting several books, these two included.

Si Dunn

Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010 with ‘Start Here!’ Book for Beginners – #programming #bookreview

Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010
By John Paul Mueller
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price $27.99)

I like the “Start Here!” series from Microsoft Press. The books, in my view, provide a convenient, affordable and approachable way to develop some new skills in a hurry, without having to take classes.

There is nothing wrong with taking classes, of course. Most of us in America’s workforce (working or unemployed) need all of the new skills and education we can get. But if, like me, you’ve checked the prices of online classes lately and also looked at your checking account, you likely need some affordable alternatives.

If you are ready to tackle Microsoft Visual C# 2010,  you definitely can “Start Here!”, with John Paul Muller’s well-written new book.

Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010 has been “conceived and created for the complete novice–someone who has no programming experience at all.” And it uses a hands-on approach to learning. It is not recommended for experienced programmers seeking to pick up another language.

But if you are, indeed, a complete novice to computer programming, you probably should read another “Start Here!” book first: Fundamentals of Microsoft .NET Programming by Rod Stephens. Or, at least have that book handy to read in conjunction with Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010.

The “Fundamentals” book explains and illustrates many essential terms and concepts, such as routines, call stacks, and passing parameters. And sometimes, in Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010, you will be referred to some of the definitions and examples found in Fundamentals of Microsoft .NET Programming.

The software download section of Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010 may be a bit confusing for some beginners. Some of the screens and choices have changed somewhat and some have been combined since the book was published.

And while the author says “you don’t need a copy of SQL Server to work through the examples in this book,” the “Code Samples” discussion in the book’s introduction says otherwise.: “…your system should have Visual Studio 2010 and SQL Server 2008 installed.”

I left an SQL option box unchecked when setting up for my download, but I still received all of the SQL files. And, altogether, I spent a ridiculous 14 hours going through (and sometimes sleeping through) the download and installation process on a somewhat aging PC running Windows XP and a not-so-blazing wi-fi connection.

Your results will vary. So do not be in a hurry, even with a fast system. Set aside plenty of time to do things right once you start the process.

But at least all of the software tools used in this book are free. And once things are up and running, the author takes you right into the process of learning how to develop applications using C#.

His book is divided into 12 chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Getting to Know C# - Includes the Integrated Development Environment (IDE), creating and testing a Windows Forms application project, viewing its code, using Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), creating and testing a WPF project, and viewing the code produced.
  • Chapter 2: Developing a Web Project – Focuses on developing two web applications using C#. Also shows how to download and install tools used to develop web applications.
  • Chapter 3: Using Simple Data Manipulation Techniques - Introduces data manipulation and shows how to use Language Integrated Inquiry (LINQ) to manipulate data.
  • Chapter 4: Using Collections to Store Data – Shows how to create containers to store similar data together, and explains three different types of data storage.
  • Chapter 5: Working with XML – Shows how to use eXtensible Markup Language (XML) in tasks such as saving applications settings and working with web services.
  • Chapter 6: Accessing a Web Service – Shows how to access free web services using two techniques that C# provides: Representational State Transfer (REST) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).
  • Chapter 7: Using the Windows Presentation Foundation - Focuses on using WPF to “help you create applications with impressive interfaces and new features that aren’t available using older C# development techniques.”
  • Chapter 8: Working with Libraries – Programmers try to reuse code as much as possible, to speed up the development process. This chapter shows how to create and use a library as part of  an application.
  • Chapter 9: Creating Utility Applications – “…shows how to create applications that have a command-line interface so that you can work with them quickly and automate them in various ways.”
  • Chapter 10: Using LINQ in Web Applications - Shows how to use LINQ to ask an application to supply certain types of data.
  • Chapter 11: Working with Silverlight Applications - Silverlight “works with multiple browsers and on multiple platforms”  and “can transform your C# application into something that works everywhere.” This chapter focuses on understanding “the basics of Silverlight development using C#.”
  • Chapter 12: Debugging Applications – Shows how to apply tracing techniques learned in this book to the process of finding and fixing errors.

The code samples used in the learning exercises can be downloaded from a Microsoft site. And, once you work your way through the book, the author says you may want to move up to another book, Microsoft Visual C# Step by Step.

You also may be eager to take a C# class, online or on campus, where you can learn from an instructor and fellow students.

It all depends on your resources and how committed you are to programming in C# after you “Start Here!”

Si Dunn

Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Customizing My Site – #programming #sm #bookreview

Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Customizing My Site
By Michael Doyle
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $9.99; Kindle edition, list price $9.99)

By computer-book standards, Microsoft SharePoint 2010: Customizing My Site seems a bit thin: just 95 pages. But it contains plenty of good information and deserves to catch some eyes in the expanding SharePoint community.

“The explosion of social networking has made the My Site component one of the key pieces in creating a cohesive SharePoint solution,” says the author, Michael Doyle, a veteran SharePoint specialist.

Doyle notes: “Straight out of the box, the My Site component is quite powerful, but it is far from easy to customize.”

His book is aimed primarily at SharePoint administrators and designers, but is also directed toward the wider SharePoint community, because: “…it takes a wide range of skills to customize the My Site Host (and personalization sites beneath), and almost anyone connected with My Sites would benefit from reading parts of this book to get a better idea of how it all fits together and what is possible.”

A few of the topics explored include: (1) Helping users share ideas, documents and personal information; (2) creating several My Site hosts to serve distinct audiences; (3) applying a company’s look and feel with themes; (4) determining a user content quota so you won’t overtax your database; and (5) editing profile properties to personalize the Twitter widget. 

Doyle’s book is divided into two major parts and 14 chapters. The first part focuses on setting up the My Site host and getting it running correctly. The second part is devoted to customizing “various parts of the functionality and social components.”

The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1: What’s New in Microsoft SharePoint 2010 My Sites?
  • Chapter 2: The User Profile Service
  • Chapter 3: Setting Up My Sites
  • Chapter 4: Multiple Farms and My Sites
  • Chapter 5: Customizing My Site Navigation
  • Chapter 6: Modifying the My Site Host
  • Chapter 7: Organizational Charts
  • Chapter 8: Tags and Notes
  • Chapter 9: Site Membership
  • Chapter 10: Colleagues
  • Chapter 11: Profile Properties
  • Chapter 12: People Search
  • Chapter 13: Outlook Integration
  • Chapter 14: Personal Sites

There are two key reasons for knowing how to modify and customize My Sites, the author notes. One is to “maintain the branded look and feel of your organization.” The other is “to make the My Site Host meet your business needs.”

Despite this book’s thinness, it is well-written and represents a lot of hard-earned experience with the process of customizing the My Site Host. And the book’s code samples can be downloaded from a Microsoft site.

If you work with SharePoint 2010 My Site, consider adding this book to your bookshelf or to your Kindle as a how-to reference guide.

Si Dunn

A Bug Hunter’s Diary: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Software Security – #programming #bookreview

A Bug Hunter’s Diary: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Software Security
By Tobias Klein
(No Starch Press, paperback, list price $39.95; Kindle edition, list price $31.95)

If your passion or desire is to find and kill software bugs and fight hackers, you should check out this well-written how-to book.

Tobias Klein, an information security specialist, has tracked down many difficult bugs and identified security vulnerabilities in some of the world’s best-known software, including Apple’s iOS, the Mac OS X kernel, web browsers, and the VLC media player, among others.

Using a diary approach, plus code examples and illustrations, Klein describes a bug he has just discovered in a software package. Then he illustrates how it creates a security vulnerability that a hacker could exploit, and he describes how to fix or at least reduce its risks.

Chapters 2 through 8 each focus on separate bugs, and Klein includes a list of “lessons learned” for programmers who want to avoid creating similar problems.

Klein’s well-illustrated book is organized as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Bug Hunting – (a brief overview.)
  • Chapter 2: Back to the ‘90s - (shows how he discovered a bug and vulnerability in a Tivo movie file that allowed him to crash a VLC media player and gain control of the instruction pointer.)
  • Chapter 3: Escape from the WWW Zone – (illustrates how and where he found a bug in the Solaris kernel and the “exciting challenge” of demonstrating how it could be exploited for arbitrary code execution.)
  • Chapter 4: Null Pointer FTW – (describes “a really beautiful bug” that opened a vulnerability into “the FFmpeg multimedia library that is used by many popular software projects, including Google Chrome, VLC media player, MPlayer, and Xine to name just a few.”)
  • Chapter 5: Browse and You’re Owned – (discusses how he found an exploitable bug in an ActiveX control for Internet Explorer.)
  • Chapter 6: One Kernel to Rule Them All – (focuses on how he decided to search for bugs in some third-party Microsoft Windows drivers and found one in an antivirus software package.)
  • Chapter 7: A Bug Older than 4.4BSD – (how he found an exploitable bug in the XNU kernel OS X.)
  • Chapter 8: The Ringtone Massacre – (how he found an exploitable bug in an early version of the iPhone’s MobileSafari browser that enabled him to modify ringtone files and access the program counter.)
  • Appendix A: Hints for Hunting – (“…some vulnerability classes, exploitation techniques, and common issues that can lead to bugs.”)
  • Appendix B: Debugging – (about debuggers and the debugging process.)
  • Appendix C: Mitigation – (discusses mitigation techniques.)

Tobias Klein is the author of two previous information security books that were published in Germany. Because hackers use many of the same tools as those seeking to keep them out, there is an important limit on how much detail Klein is able to impart in this book.

As he notes in a disclaimer: “The goal of this book is to teach readers how to identify, protect against, and mitigate software security vulnerabilities. Understanding the techniques used to find and exploit vulnerabilities is necessary to thoroughly grasp the underlying problems and appropriate mitigation techniques. Since 2007, it is no longer legal to create or distribute “hacking tools” in Germany, my home country. Therefore, to comply with the law, no full working exploit code is provided in this book. The examples simply show the steps used to gain control of the execution flow (the instruction pointer or program counter control) of a vulnerable program.”

Si Dunn

Getting .NET Results – 2 New Books from Microsoft – #programming #bookreview

Microsoft Press recently has released two new books for .NET programmers. One is for .NET newcomers, and the other definitely is not. That book has been written “to help existing Microsoft Visual Basic and Microsoft Visual C# developers understand collections in .NET.”

Here are short reviews of each book.

Easy Does It

Start Here! Fundamentals of Microsoft .NET Programming
By Rod Stephens
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $15.99)

This is a very good reference manual for anyone ready to take up .NET programming or ready to learn virtually any programming language.

Don’t be put off by the fact that the book starts out at the most basic of basic levels, defining different types of computers, just in case you don’t know a laptop from a mainframe. After that, it moves quickly into the world of programming.

You don’t need a computer, software, programming language tools or programming experience to learn from this book. Indeed, it mostly employs pseudo-code, illustrations and clear writing to explain each topic.

The idea here is to teach you “the basic concepts that drive all .NET-based languages” and to provide a reference book that you can refer back to when you are unsure about a particular term, concept, process or method.

For example, if you are now learning Microsoft Visual C# or Visual Basic, you might need to review the chapter on operators, to be sure you clearly understand what may happen if the wrong symbol is used and the correct order of precedence is not followed.

The 14 chapters of Fundamentals of Microsoft .NET Programming deal with subjects many programmers definitely should know:

  • Chapter 1, “Computer Hardware”
  • Chapter 2, “Multiprocessing”
  • Chapter 3, “Programming Environments”
  • Chapter 4, “Windows Program Components” – (Describes the visible pieces of a Windows program that a user sees and how to use them effectively as a programmer.)
  • Chapter 5, “Controls” – (Such as labels, text boxes, menus, sliders, scroll bars, etc.)
  • Chapter 6, “Variables”
  • Chapter 7, “Control Statements’” – (Using them to manage a program’s flow of execution.)
  • Chapter 8, “Operators”
  • Chapter 9, “Routines”
  • Chapter 10, “Object-Oriented Programming”
  • Chapter 11, “Development Techniques”
  • Chapter 12, “Globalization” – (Explains how to localize a program in Visual Studio so that it works in multiple places. Also looks at several localization issues.)
  • Chapter 13, “Data Storage”
  • Chapter 14, “.NET Libraries” – (Describes some of the most-useful libraries for writing .NET programs.)

You can read the 14 chapters in any order, jumping around “to suit your interests and needs,” the author adds.

That’s the hallmark of a good reference book.

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Taking Up Collections

Developer’s Guide to Collections in Microsoft .NET
By Calvin Janes
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price $23.99)

“This book,” the author cautions, “is not a .NET primer for beginners; it’s intended for developers already conversant with .NET and comfortable with either the C# or Visual Basic .NET language.”

Developer’s Guide to Collections in Microsoft .NET is heavy on how-to code examples and exercises, and all sample projects can be downloaded from a web page specified in the text. Many of the code examples conveniently are shown both in C# and Visual Basic.

The book is divided into 11 chapters that are grouped into four parts:

  • Part 1, Collection Basics
  • Part II, .NET Built-in Collections
  • Part III, Using Collections
  • Part IV, Using Collections with UI Controls

There is also a nicely detailed, 14-page index.

“The book is arranged so that developers who are new to collections can get started quickly, and those who are already familiar with collections can treat the book as a useful reference,” the author says.

He has included a helpful table titled “Finding Your Best Starting Point in This Book.” For example, if you are not new to .NET and want to learn how to query your collections with the Language Integrated Query (LINQ), the table advises: “Read through Chapter 7 in Part III.” That’s the “Introduction to LINQ” chapter.

The author says he wanted to create “a one-stop shop for anyone struggling with collections: from beginners to experts who just need a reference or a few pointers here and there.”

With this fine work, he has met that goal. Its 624 pages are packed with good how-to collections information, clearly explained and illustrated, from how to implement arrays and synchronize data across threads to how to use simple data binding to display collections in Windows Forms®, Windows Silverlight® and Windows Presentation Foundation®.

Si Dunn

A gift for the programmer who has everything? The Art of Readable Code – #programming #bookreview

The Art of Readable Code: Simple and Practical Techniques for Writing Better Code
By Dustin Boswell and Trevor Foucher
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price, $27.99)

The software world is full of bad code.

Code that was badly written; code that has been reworked — badly — by dozens of undisciplined programmers; code written in haste to patch or hide a problem; code written without comments that can help you decipher what the previous programmer was thinking — or not thinking; code written by people like me, who didn’t know much at all about programming but had to produce some emergency code anyway, because the real programmers were away on vacation.

The Art of Readable Code could be a very useful book to give the programmer in your life — whether he or she is new to computer programming or an open-minded mid-career professional looking to make some improvements in how they work.

The book focuses on “basic principles and practical techniques” that programmers can apply each time they begin a new coding project or find themselves patching an old one.

The authors present what they call their “Fundamental Theorem of Readability.” In their view: “Code should be written to minimize the time it would take for someone else to understand it.”

For example, “smaller” may not always be better. A one-line expression may be more understandable to other programmers if it is broken into two lines of code.

The 190-page book illustrates its concepts with examples of code from several different programming languages, including C++, Python, JavaScript, and Java. The authors add: “We’ve avoided any advanced language features, so even if you don’t know all these languages, it should still be easy to follow along. (In our experience, the concepts of readability are mostly language-independent, anyhow.)”

The Art of Readable Code has 15 chapters and an appendix and is structured in four parts:

  • Part 1: Surface Level  Improvements – (Naming, commenting and aesthetics that can be applied to every line of code)
  • Part 2: Simplifying Loops and Logic – (Refining loops, logic, and variables so they are easier to understand)
  • Part 3: Reorganizing Your Code – (Higher-level ways to organize large blocks of code and go after problems at the function level)
  • Part 4: Selected Topics – (Applying “easy to understand” to software testing and to a larger data structure coding example)

The authors state: “It’s a valuable skill to be able to explain an idea ‘in plain English….The same skill should be used when ‘presenting’ code to your reader. We take the view that source code is the primary way to explain what a program is doing. So the code should be written ‘in plain English.’”

The book itself is smoothly written and nicely illustrated, not only with cartoons but with some very clear code examples that can be quickly applied.

Si Dunn

QuickBooks 2012: The Missing Manual – Solid Focus on Pro Edition – #bookreview

QuickBooks 2012: The Missing Manual
By Bonnie Biafore
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle, list price, $27.99)

 In late September, Intuit released the 2012 versions of its popular QuickBooks financial software. Just a month later, O’Reilly Media was hot on Intuit’s heels with QuickBooks 2012: The Missing Manual, a new entry in O’Reilly’s popular “The book that should have been in the box®” series.

Written by veteran author and project management consultant Bonnie Biafore, this new guidebook provides clear, well-illustrated, step-by-step instructions on how to use the Windows edition of QuickBooks 2012 Pro, the most popular version of Intuit’s product, particularly in small businesses.

The 734-page book also gives some basic how-to information and advice on accounting – enough to get you past some confusing stumbling blocks as you set up a business and its accounts, but not enough to substitute for real training in accounting and keeping books.

“QuickBooks isn’t hard to learn,” the author says. “Many of the features that you’re familiar with from other programs work just the same way in QuickBooks—windows, dialog boxes, drop-down lists, and keyboard shortcuts, to name a few. And with each new version, Intuit has added enhancements and new features to make your workflow smoother and faster. The challenge is knowing what to do according to accounting rules, and how to do it in QuickBooks.”

Two words of caution: This book does not cover non-USA versions of QuickBooks 2012 Pro. And, the author points out, “QuickBooks for Mac differs significantly from the Windows version, and unfortunately you won’t find help with the Mac version of the program in this book.”

QuickBooks 2012: The Missing Manual is divided into five parts containing a total of 26 chapters and two appendices.

Part One covers “Getting Started.” It starts with “Creating a Company File” and “Getting Around in QuickBooks” and advances to setting up accounts, customers, jobs, vendors, items, lists, and managing QuickBooks files.

Part Two’s focus is “Bookkeeping,” and its chapters covers everything from tracking mileage to paying for expenses, invoicing, managing accounts receivable, generating financial statements and performing end-of-year tasks.

“Managing Your Business” is the focus of Part Three. The chapters cover managing inventory, budgeting and planning, and working with reports.

“QuickBooks Power” is the title of Part Four. It covers using QuickBooks with online banking services, configuring preferences in QuickBooks to fit your company, integrating QuickBooks with other programs (Excel integration has been improved in QB 2012), customizing QuickBooks, and keeping QuickBooks data secure.

Part Five contains two appendices: “Installing QuickBooks” and “Help, Support, and Other Resources.”

The book does not contain a CD, but it provides a link where “every single Web address, practice file, and piece of downloadable software mentioned In this book is available….”

QuickBooks 2012 Pro, according to the author, “is the workhorse edition” of a software package that is available “in a gamut of editions, offering options for organizations at both ends of the small-business spectrum.”

Her book is good enough that it can help you get a small business set up and off the ground while you are learning the QuickBooks 2012 Pro. But if you don’t have some solid background in bookkeeping and accounting, do not try to rely on the software alone to save you. Get the training any way you can, as soon as you can. And then, once you can afford it, hire good people to help you with the bookkeeping and accounting, while you focus on the bigger picture, using QuickBooks 2012’s budgeting, planning, forecast, report, contact synchronization, lead tracking, and to-do list features.

One other caution: QuickBooks has a specialized edition specifically for nonprofit organizations. It is more expensive than the Pro package. So some people try to save money and use the Pro package to manage a small nonprofit. But there can be confusions involving some of the terminology, transactions and reports. In this book, Bonnie Biafore provides “notes and tips about tracking nonprofit finances with QuickBooks Pro (or plain QuickBooks Premier)” and modifying the program’s standard reports to meet government requirements.

By the way, QuickBooks 2012: The Missing Manual can be used to learn features in earlier versions of QuickBooks. Of course, doing so and seeing what’s missing may convince you to upgrade.

Si Dunn

Microsoft OneNote 2010 Plain & Simple – #bookreview #training

Microsoft OneNote® 2010 Plain & Simple
By Peter Weverka
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $24.99 ;  Kindle  $9.99)

Employee training is one of the first things cut during an economic downturn. And in today’s long-depressed employment market, you are expected to learn many different software packages on your own, at your own expense, before you apply for a job.

The Microsoft Plain & Simple book series represents a good and affordable way to learn how to use Windows 7, Microsoft Office and several individual Office products, including PowerPoint, Word and Excel.

This new addition to the series, Microsoft OneNote® 2010 Plain & Simple, helps you jump right into using OneNote 2010 with little explanation and virtually no “computerese.”

Unfortunately, if you’ve never seen or used OneNote, you aren’t given a clear, concise statement of exactly what the program does, until page 16: “The purpose of OneNote is to make it easier for you to record, store, organize, and find notes.”

A feature called “the ribbon” also is mentioned several times before it finally is specifically defined on page 6: “The ribbon is the assortment of tabs, buttons, and commands that appear along the top of the OneNote screen.”

These minor flaws aside, Microsoft OneNote® 2010 Plain & Simple does a fine job of showing new users how to dive right into using the program and mastering its features. The book is richly illustrated with screens, clearly numbered steps, and tips boxes, plus “Try This!” exercises, “Caution!” statements and “See Also” suggestions.

Peter Weverka’s writing generally is clear and concise, and the book is divided into 20 chapters featuring small chunks of specific how-to information. The 241-page book also has a nicely detailed 15-page index.

OneNote 2010 has some screen changes and several new features that users of older versions may wish to learn, and this book can help.

“Unlike its predecessors, OneNote 2010 offer a Styles gallery for quickly formatting text and gives you the ability to create links between [OneNote] notebooks, sections, and pages so you can jump from place to place quickly,” the author notes.

“You can also dock OneNote to the side of the screen, which makes it easier to take notes from a Word document or web page.”

A new Page Versions command lets you summon older versions of a OneNote page. And the “Mini Translator” feature can translate a foreign word or phrase into English, and vice versa.

The Translation Options box displays all of the available To and From language pairs. If the language you need is not listed, a “Try This!” tip guides you to OneNote’s Research Task Pane, where you can find and add other languages.

“OneNote,” the author adds, works hand in glove with two other Microsoft Office 2010 applications: Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Outlook 2010.”

For example, you can use Word 2010 to open a OneNote 2010 page, and “[a]ll formats except styles transfer to the Word page.” The OneNote page also can be saved as a Word document.

Meanwhile, you can create Outlook 2010 tasks in OneNote without having to open Outlook. “And you can get information about a meeting directly from Outlook as well,” Weverka points out.

“Outlook offers the OneNote button for copying data from Outlook to OneNote. After you select an email message, meeting, contact, or task in Outlook, you can click the OneNote button to copy the item to OneNote.” In the process, you also get “a link that you can click to return to Outlook when you need to.”

Small starting glitches aside, this new addition to the “Plain & Simple” series solidly lives up to its billing as an “easy, colorful, SEE-HOW guide to OneNote,” a software tool you may need to learn for your next job or your present job or for boosting your productivity in your self-employment.

Si Dunn