"Old Fart's Guide" excellent resource for young at heart

When categorizing books, it would be easy to say that the technical genera is something that one "has" to read, rather than "gets" to read. There is good reason for that. Technical books are too long, too boring and don't give any perspective. Thankfully for Mac users, there is one glowing exception: Aaron Rosenzweig's Old Fart's Guide to the Macintosh.

Now in its second edition, this ultra up-to-date book stands out for its ability to gather and feed a sea of Mac information in a different way- with personality and luster. Although the title may be a put-off to those who don't consider themselves an "old fart," let me assure you, this book is for anyone who wants to learn more about the Mac.

Aaron's keen sense of direction plots a well-defined path through the jungle of computer literacy. Starting right from the beginning, he uses these great analogies to relate confusing digital ideas to everyday life. Whether talking about New York chefs and operating systems or small towns and passwords, the most confusing ideas are brought down to level that can be understood and related to by all.

Although it might sound like this book is geared just to Mac tyros, it provides a wealth of information and background that even seasoned users will appreciate. From typing letters to creating your own internet radio station, the number of plausible solutions to accomplish almost anything on the Mac is impressive. What's taken me over a decade of trial and error to figure out, Aaron has put on the table for anyone to utilize in only minutes. Many other Mac resources, computer classes, and even personal tutors give you the "how," but not the "why." Aaron makes sure the reader understands how to do something by backing up a few steps and explaining the underlying reason for why it needs to be done. This applies an incredible mental adhesive to the information in the book.

The first chapter, "What is a Computer?," starts with the basic idea of a computer, and why people need one. Those of us new to computers, or the Mac, will appreciate this the most. The basic parts of a computer and what they do are explained in this chapter. Fundamental terms such as hardware and software are also defined along with examples. Adjusted users might wish to skip ahead, but this chapter provides an easy first step for those with no prior computer knowledge.

Gradually getting deeper into the Mac, the second chapter is dedicated to operating systems. It's only fitting that this is a unique chapter for a unique OS. It starts by explaining why an OS is a vital part of a computer, and how it directly affects the user. After the basic concept of an OS is established, the chapter segues into the differences of Mac OS 9 and X. An informative synopsis of the NeXT evolution tells how it played a major role in fabricating today's Mac OS. Additionally, the concepts of Mac "system software" and "OS" are differentiated in addition to some tips on when to use Mac OS 9 and "Classic mode."

Chapter three pulls concepts from the first two chapters and uses them to explain why Mac is the superior computing platform. If you're not a Mac fan, this chapter should pull you over from the Dark Side. For the rest, it points out why PCs are substandard computers. After establishing that concept, the different models of both Mac desktops and portables are compared and contrasted. This provides a nice guide for people who want a new Mac, but aren't sure which model serves their needs best. If a new Mac isn't your thing, don't worry. There are also tips for getting a used system, and what to watch out for.

After getting a Mac, one of the first things you'll need to do-if you haven't already-is pick a password. "The Importance of Passwords" is a short 3-page section that explains how user names and passwords work. It also provides some guidelines for picking a "good" password.

Keeping with the idea that anyone can learn the Mac from this book, chapter five explains how to turn the Mac on and off. It also has some other handy hardware tips, such as how to adjust the screen's display size and how to enter "sleep" mode.

The next chapter gets into working with the Mac through the desktop. Basic concepts such as clicking, drag and drop, windows and the Finder are explained with very helpful screen shots for reference.

"Text Input Options" is another short little section that talks about some alternatives to typing with a keyboard. This is especially helpful for people with injuries or handicaps that prevent them from using a traditional keyboard.

Chapter eight is a whopper of a chapter that covers almost everything about using the internet, and then some. Keeping with style, it explains what the internet is, how it works and why it affects you. The chapter covers how to get online, what email is and how to use it, different ways to browse the web, using Sherlock, video conferencing and instant messaging... just to name a few. Each topic is nicely broken down by concept followed up with suggestions of good software to use.

Word processing nowadays may seem much more complicated than punching keys on a typewriter. But with a little help, anyone can reap the benefits of modern word processing. "Typing Letters with AppleWorks" is a whole chapter dedicated to getting the most out of Apple's free productivity software. From setting margins to checking spelling, you'll be whipping out letters in no time.

Since AppleWorks is much more than just a word processor, the next chapter is dedicated to its database and spreadsheet features. You might cringe at the sound of "spreadsheet," fearing a vast expanse of cells and confusing data. But that's not the case here. Aaron shows how spreadsheets and databases can be invaluable tools for easily organizing any type of information.

The last major update of AppleWorks (version 6), added a presentations (i.e. slideshow) feature to its bag of tricks. Although similar in function to PowerPoint, the AppleWorks 6 presentation is a lot easier to learn and much less temperamental than it's Microsoft counterpart. Through this third chapter on AppleWorks, step-by-step directions go through the process of setting up a presentation complete with text, graphics and video.

Getting back to basics once again, "How do I Print?" is a brief section consisting of how to setup a printer with your Mac and also a couple of ways to go about printing.

The next chapter, "Where Does Information Go?," is a quite helpful resource when it comes to storage jargon and software that came with your Mac. First, the concept of a disk (or disc) is established. To get an idea of storage capacity of different types of disk media, there are tables in the page margins. They specify how many typed 5-page letters, photographs, songs and hours of DVD-quality video each type of storage media can hold. This is a nice touch that really puts the MBs and GBs into perspective.

There is a lot of great software for the Mac. However, for a new user it can be daunting to find good titles that accomplish a specific goal. Thankfully, "Common Software Categories" breaks down the main types of software and outlines well-known titles of each type. Aside from a description and comparison with other comparable software, pricing and purchasing information is also available. After diving into money management, reference and game software, the chapter breaks off and sheds some light on software piracy and what it means to be a pirate.

The "Digital Hub" chapter explains how the Mac has become this "hub" where all sorts of digital media come together-digital still and video cameras, music players and DVDs, etc. The chapter goes into detail about what each technology is and how to use it.

Mac User Groups (MUGs) can be a great resource for support. This section defines what a MUG is, how it could help you, and where to find one near you. In many of the Mac book's I've read, MUGs are completely overlooked. I'm glad Aaron realizes how important they are to the Mac community.

"Computer Problems" isn't something people look forward to. But, yes, even Macs have bad days. This chapter clears up some common questions about how to deal with a freeze, crash, and dead computer.

Key combinations are a handy way to save time when telling your computer what to do. This chapter on "Magic Key Combinations" outlines combinations for everyday use as well as ones to get out of a pinch should the computer act up.

The final and most in-depth chapter truly adds the icing to the cake. Whereas most of the book up until now has been geared for people new to the Mac, this chapter rips loose and lets comfortable users really get their hands dirty. The chapter goes into many aspects of UNIX, including the terminal, X Window systems and GNU. There's even a section on how to get started with computer programming. If you're the artistic type, don't pass up the "Computer artwork and graphics" section, which goes into 3D and video effects software. If words or melody are your thing, don't feel left out. There's section on desktop publishing and a great music section that includes how to create your own recorded music as well as an internet radio station.

This book is well worth reading and is something to keep around by the Mac for those times when it seems like you can do no right. In addition to Aaron's great voice, I also enjoyed this book for its completeness, accuracy and clarity. I look forward to many more editions and books in the "Old Fart's Guide" series. Aaron definitely has something going here.

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Publisher: Cocoa Nuts Technology (purchasing information)