Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 

Two Views - One Vista
by Alan German

O'Reilly Media, Inc. have provided the club with two reference texts on Windows Vista. These are Windows Vista - The Definitive Guide by William R. Stanek, and Windows Vista - The Missing Manual by David Pogue. Neither book is a lightweight. The Missing Manual is an inch and a half thick, with 827 pages, while The Definitive Guide is even bigger, being two inches thick with 922 pages. Clearly, one review cannot do complete justice to two such weighty tomes, so here we will just take a peek into various sections of the two books and see how they compare.

For new Vista users, i.e. those migrating from Windows XP, the introduction of The Missing Manual describes the new features in Vista (with an interesting section on "Version Hell" - the different features offered by the various versions of Vista). In addition, the final section of the book is entitled "Where'd It Go?" and indicates features of XP that are no longer available in Vista, or aren't where XP users think they should be. For example, XP's Clipbook Viewer is no longer available, and to remove an installed program, previously part of "Add and remove programs" on XP's Control Panel, you now need to look under Start – Control Panel – Programs – Programs and Features.

Apart from the above, both books essentially kick off with descriptions of how to navigate through Vista's menus and configure various options. One of the major new features of Vista is the Aero (glass) user interface and both books go into considerable detail on how to customize the look and feel of the display. Even if you have the horsepower to run Aero, there may be specific features that you don't particularly like, so it's good to know that the interface is highly customizable. For example, I used the books' instructions to turn off the transparent window edges (Control Panel – Appearances and Personalization – Personalization - Windows Color and Appearance), and to increase the font size (Right-click on the desktop – Personalize – Adjust font size (DPI) – Custom DPI). Both books have screenshots of the controls to modify the colour and appearance of the on-screen windows. However, The Missing Manual seems to more readily hit the highlights of the things I want to do. For example, a sidebar, entitled "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ), outlines"The Solution to Tiny Type", noting that with smaller pixels on modern displays, text can be difficult to read, and providing the means to access the DPI scaling box.

One of the features promoted in Vista is an enhanced search capability. Both books devote about twenty pages to search techniques, from entering text into the Search Box on the Start menu, to using filters in Windows Explorer. Once again, my preference is for the descriptions and diagrams provided by The Missing Manual as these are laid out such that the information can be readily assimilated. In fact, when considering advanced search filters to look for files over a certain size,The Definitive Guide suggests the need to use "is greater than" while The Missing Manual indicates that the more intuitive, and much shorter, > symbol is valid.

In discussing Internet Explorer 7 (IE7), the version of Microsoft's browser distributed with Vista, both books provide the basics of things like tabbed browsing and custom printing of web pages. But, the larger size of The Definitive Guide allows this text to shine when it comes to details of IE7's security settings. By default, the browser will prevent you accessing certain sites, for example because of pop-ups, and may even stop you from accessing files on your local hard drive or CD's due to included "active content". The Definitive Guide provides lots of help in navigating through the browser's various security levels to customize the program to work in the way that you desire.

Now that we almost all possess digital cameras, Vista includes Photo Gallery, a combined image management and image editing package. Both books devote about thirty-six pages to describing the various features of Photo Gallery such as importing pictures from a camera; including files in disk directories other than the default "Pictures"; adjusting brightness, contrast and colour levels; cropping, fixing red eye; using image tags; and the slideshow controls. The Missing Manual, in an FAQ sidebar, points out one of the program's shortcomings in that Photo Gallery doesn't allow you to drag images around to create a customized sort order, a feature offered by many other image management programs.

One of the changes made in Vista is that Disk Defragmenter is set to run automatically but, as The Definitive Guide points out, the default start time is 4:00 am on Sunday morning, which may not be terribly appropriate if your machine is normally powered off at this time. Both books provide instructions on how to modify the defragger's schedule, and how to run the program manually. However, neither indicates that, because the process is supposed to be undertaken in the background, the program no longer provides any feedback on its progress. Fortunately, there are free, third-party solutions that are both fast and informative (e.g.

One of Vista's most contentious features is User Account Control (UAC). This has been widely described as an exceedingly intrusive security system, popping up warnings and confirmation requests almost incessantly. The Definitive Guide discusses this system in three pages, while The Missing Manual condenses the information into a single table. The bottom line is that the extra security is well worth the effort. UAC only kicks in when you try to perform an "administrative task", such as installing new software, or trying to modify a system file. The UAC dialogue box pops up, and the surrounding screen is dimmed, to indicate that Vista has entered a secure desktop mode. Pressing return, if you are logged on as an Administrator, or entering the Administrator's password for normal users, allows the process to continue. In practice, such warnings are very infrequent and little effort is required to comply with the security requirements. Since the process is designed to prevent rogue software from being able to load without your direct intervention, the additional effort is well worth it.

At the beginning of this review, I noted that The Missing Manual contained a couple of sections (new Vista features and Where'd It Go?) that are not present in The Definitive Guide. Of course, the same is true in reverse. One unique section contained in the latter book is "Exploring the Windows Boot Environment". Many users may not be aware that Vista now uses a boot configuration data (BCD) store to specify how the machine may be bootstrapped, and provides a BCD editor by which you may manage the boot process. Well, that is if you can deal with contents such as "default {d7909ee9-7166-11dd-9349-98516989298b}" . Obviously, this is not a system for the faint hearted!
But, if you are so inclined, you will be pleased to learn that The Definitive Guide devotes fourteen pages to the intricacies of BCD.

In general, both books contain very similar information, covering the same major topics, with lots of details, as might be expected in books of several hundred pages. My preference is for The Missing Manual. I like the many sidebar items that provide insights into various features, tips on how to efficiently use the operating system, and general information about different aspects of computers and computing. In particular, I think that the figures are sharper and better defined in this book, which makes it much easier to assimilate the information being provided. Anyway, that's my view!

Bottom Line:

Windows Vista: The Definitive Guide
(Book US $ 49.99, PDF US $39.99)
William R. Stanek
O'Reilly Media, Inc., February 2007
ISBN 10: 0-596-52800-0 | ISBN 13: 9780596528003
Windows Vista: The Missing Manual
(Book US $ 34.99, PDF US $27.99)
David Pogue
O'Reilly Media, Inc., December 2006
ISBN 10: 0-596-52827-2 | ISBN 13: 9780596528270

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