Windows 8: The Missing Manual – The reference guide you need to sort it all out – #bookreview

Windows 8: The Missing Manual
David Pogue
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

Okay, so Windows 8 is not exactly setting the digital world on fire these days. Many of us bought it anyway, because we have been using Windows machines at home and in office settings for a long, long time. And we like to keep up–if only out of curiosity and to hedge our digital bets. For example, I now have Windows 8 on one laptop, Windows 7 on another, and Windows XP on two other computers. And all versions have served me well, thus far. 

I have been using Windows since the days of IBM PC-XT clones in the early 1980s. Yet that doesn’t make me a Windows expert. I make good use of the features I need as a writer, editor, and occasional programmer. And I completely ignore the many other features, until I suddenly need details such as how to work with an ISO disk image or temporarily override a pop-up blocker or set up a remote desktop connection. 

That’s when I grab for a reference book. David Pogue’s new Windows 8: The Missing Manual now occupies a prominent spot on my reference shelf. At 905 pages and 3+ pounds, it’s hefty enough to double as a doorstop or workout weight. But I keep it within quick reach when I work with Windows 8. 

The book’s 28 chapters and three appendixes are divided into eight well-organized parts: 

  • Part One: TileWorld
  • Part Two: The Windows Desktop
  • Part Three: Windows Online
  • Part Four: Pictures & Music
  • Part Five: Hardware & Peripherals
  • Part Six: PC Health
  • Part Seven: The Windows Network
  • Part Eight: Appendixes 

“Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Windows 8 is two operating systems in one,” Pogue writes. “They have separate software programs, control panels, Help systems, Web browsers, application switchers–and separate ways of doing things.” Microsoft, he adds, strongly disagrees with that assessment and “certainly doesn’t use the term ‘TileWorld’….”

The familiar Windows desktop portion of Windows 8 “is basically Windows 7,” Pogue says. “It’s the familiar world of overlapping windows, the taskbar, and drop-down menus. It’s designed for use with a mouse and keyboard. In this environment, you can run any of the four million existing Windows programs…..”

Meanwhile, the TileWorld part of Windows 8 is, Pogue says, “a new environment for touchscreens, like tablets and touchscreen laptops. This environment looks completely different–and works completely differently. There’s no taskbar, windows don’t overlap, and there are no drop-down menus. For TileWorld, you have to buy and install a completely new kind of app.”

My Windows 8 PC does not have a touch screen, so I don’t make much use of TileWorld or its apps, yet. Sometimes I click on the Calendar app or tiles that bring up Google Chrome, Amazon, eBay, or the Kindle reader. Mostly, however, I just click on the tile that brings up the traditional desktop, where I feel much more at home. 

But once I am ready to venture deeper into TileWorld (and that day is coming soon), Windows 8: The Missing Manual  offers five full chapters of how-to information.

David Pogue’s new book covers all versions of Windows 8, including Windows RT. “There are no longer 17,278 versions of Windows, praise Ballmer,” he writes. “No more Starter, Home, Home Premium, Ultimate, blah blah blah. Basically, there are only two versions for sale to the public–Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro–and the differences are minor.” (He does note that a third version, Windows 8 Enterprise, is available to corporate buyers only.)

“And then,” he warns, “there’s Windows RT. Be careful.”

He explains: “Windows RT does not run on computers with Intel processors and does not run traditional Windows software (Photoshop, Quicken, iTunes, and so on. It’s designed for low-powered touchscreen gadgets like tablets–notably Microsoft’s own $500 Surface tablet–and maybe a few simple laptops.

“Basically,” he continues, “Windows RT is all TileWorld. It runs only TileWorld apps.” It has such traditional Windows apps as the Calculator and Control Panel. And the Surface tablet runs RT versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. “But otherwise,” Pogue cautions, “Windows RT doesn’t run ‘real’ Windows software.”

I download lots of stuff and run many programs, so my hard drives tend to get cluttered and fragmented fairly quickly. One of my favorite chapters of Windows 8: The Missing Manual focuses on “Maintenance, Speed Tweaks & Troubleshooting.” Among its tips are “Three Speed Tricks” that can help keep my Windows 8 PC forging ahead at reasonably full steam. There also are some cool tips in Appendix B, where I can have (dangerous) “Fun with the Registry” if I desire.

I have made a list of several chapters that I intend to revisit soon so I can spend some time hooking up and testing a few peripherals, updating some drivers, and making adjustments to some icons. Essentially, almost anything I want to know or need to know about using my Windows 8 PC appears to be covered in this well written, well illustrated, nicely organized book.

Everything, of course, except the recently leaked news of a Windows 8 upgrade called Windows Blue. (Yet Pogue does predict in his book: “Maybe Windows 8 is meant to be a transitional OS. Maybe the next one will be all TileWorld, all touchscreen, all the time.”)

Having experienced many run-ins over the decades with Microsoft’s legendary “blue screen of death,” I will not be quick to grab any Windows software product named Blue. Not as long as Windows 8, 7, and XP keep working well enough for what I do.

– Si Dunn 

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