Once upon a time, computers came with big, thick, intimidating manuals filled with every bit of arcane knowledge the designers thought that the user would need. Nobody ever read them, partly because of their size, but mainly because it was tedious, time-consuming work to sift throught the manual to try to find the answer you actually needed.
Eventually, manufacturers stopped making these massive manuals – instead, they printed up short “quick-start guides” to get people started. Unfortunately, these guides served much the same purpose as detour signs do in road construction. They take you just far enough to get you lost and then leave you there with no clue what to do next. Readers end up like drivers: lost, confused, and frustrated.
PCs: The Missing Manual is designed to change that. This book, like each of the other Missing Manuals books, gives users a base of knowledge to build on. Unlike those early computer manuals, the book does it in a way that people can understand and follow, and it doesn’t just drop you off in the middle of nowhere. Also unlike the early manuals, it goes beyond the PC itself and covers many popular peripherals and accessories – including scanners, digital cameras, and MP3 players.
When writing a book like this, covering such a broad topic as PCs in general, it’s easy to go into information overload. That’s something that Rathbone manages to avoid, mainly by offering a lot of content online through O’Reilly’s Missing CD web site.
The most valuable resources in the book are the troubleshooting guides. Printer troubles, camera problems, even network difficulties are covered and in enough detail that the average user can solve the most common problems quickly and easily. There’s also a section covering security and maintenance, including combating spyware and phishing schemes.
PCs: The Missing Manual is basic enough that average computer users can read it and make good use of it. If you are looking for something that will teach you details about modifying and upgrading your system, this isn’t the book for you — you’ll want to get a different O’Reilly book — Repairing and Upgrading Your PC (review forthcoming).