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A little help when Windows gets stuck


By the end of this year, according to Microsoft Corp., more than half of all new personal computers will come with DOS-Windows already installed as the primary operating system. Microsoft officials say Windows is selling at a rate of more than a million copies a month.

That's a lot of Windows. And if my experiences are any indication, a lot of people are probably glassy-eyed from trying to figure out how to install and configure and customize Windows to meet their needs.

There are bound to be quirks and traps and incompatibilities in Windows, which has to work on hundreds of different PC-compatible computer models from dozens of companies.

There are glitches in Apple's System 7, and it runs only on Macintosh computers. Fortunately, there are are a number of new books that can help with Windows pains.

Once Windows is installed, and shortly after panic sets in, consider "Windows 3.1: The Visual Learning Guide," $19.95, from Prima Publishing, Rocklin, Calif., (916) 786-0426. The authors are David C. Gardner and Grace Joely Beatty, both of whom hold doctorates in psychology.

Mr. Gardner and Ms. Beatty are training consultants to many large corporations, and they have applied their insights in software training to this book.

Unlike Windows books that spend a lot of time explaining the theories and technologies behind Windows, this one cuts straight to practical applications. It is indeed a visual learning guide, and each page shows one or two actual screen images from Windows, annotated with clear, step-by-step directions on how to do something.

The instructions are precise and uncluttered by needless detail. After all, most people just want to be able to write and print a document, not to become Windows wizards.

The color screen shots are the key to the book's success, since they show what Windows is supposed to be doing, rather than simply describing it in words. The authors are working on other visual guides for popular Windows applications, including Word, Excel, 1-2-3 and WordPerfect.

"Running Windows 3.1, Third Edition," and its companion volume, "The Concise Guide to Microsoft Windows 3.1," (sold together for $27.95, Microsoft Press) will also guide timid users through the initial hours of befuddlement. It goes beyond the "Visual Learning Guide," however, in offering greater detail about all the plumbing under activities like Object Linking and Embedding, Dynamic Data Exchange and Object Packagers.

Although the terms are forbidding, Craig Stinson, the author of "Running Windows 3.1," does a good job of explaining why they are worth the effort to learn.

There are quite a few screen shots to give the reader a visual orientation, but "Running Windows 3.1" is still much more of a traditional computer how-to book.

For example, if you really want to know the difference between binary, octal and hexadecimal number schemes when using the Windows calculator, Mr. Stinson will explain it.

The companion book, "The Concise Guide to Microsoft Windows 3.1," by Kris Jamsa, is a handy reference guide for people who do not need a lot of hand-holding. For example, it describes how to play the built-in Windows Solitaire game, but it does not offer clues on how to cheat.

The most ambitious Windows book is "Windows 3.1 Secrets," by Brian Livingston, $39.95 from IDG Books, San Mateo, Calif., (415) 312-0650. This one costs more than the others, in part because it contains several dozen Windows "shareware" programs on floppy disks.

(My book came with 5.25-inch disks, which could be a problem for people with newer 3.5-inch drives. IDG Books will swap the disks at no charge, but the publisher warns it can take about a month.)

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