Windows Vista—The Missing Manual, by David Pogue, ISBN-10: 0-596-52827-2

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, June 2007
Published by: Pogue Press-O'Reilly
Requires: An interest in Windows Vista
MSRP: US$34.99, CAN$45.99

Author, blogger and technologist David Pogue is an interesting guy. He's devoted to digital technology and makes his living by examining computers, electronics and the way in which consumers interact with all those goodies. That Pogue still retains his sense of humor after so many years is a credit to his attitude and the sense of purpose that he brings to all of his work. Windows Vista—The Missing Manual is another in his long-standing and highly respected series of in-depth studies and explanations of Microsoft's operating systems and productivity software. If you have moved from Windows XP to Vista, if you've just purchased a computer with Vista pre-installed, or if you're contemplating or anticipating a move to any of the five versions of Windows Vista, it's likely you're going to need help. It's time to buy another book.

Pogue has not attempted to create a step-by-step guide to using Windows Vista in specific environments. Instead, he organized the book into eight distinct parts, each of which is further divided into subject chapters. The overview is sensible: Vista Desktop, Vista Software, Vista Online, Pictures/Movies & Media Center, Hardware & Peripherals, PC Health, Vista Network, and Appendices. The primary result of this approach combined with Pogue's affable and often wry style is a readable book about a very complex subject. Overall I think, Pogue's most important accomplishment is to quickly and easily engage readers with all of the immense features and function sets that form the Windows Vista operating system. Because Windows Vista—The Missing Manual is organized and presented in much the same way as the operating system, it becomes quite easy to use the book as a reference text as well as a general guide.


One of my favorite chapters can be found in Appendix C. It's titled "Where'd It Go?" and deals with many of the feature and function differences between Windows XP and Vista. If you're a relatively experienced XP user who is in the midst of or just completing an upgrade to Vista, read this first to avoid wasting a lot of time looking for things that have been moved, changed or which simply don't exist in Vista.

What separates Windows Vista—The Missing Manual from other, similar publications is the rhythm, style and depth that Pogue achieves when walking through configuration dialogs and the large array of functions, programs and integrated utilities in Vista. As always in these situations, it's supremely important to explain why a thing might be done, rather that just explaining how it is done. That's the key to Pogue's writing style too. Because he takes great pains to briefly explain value, readers aren't subsequently burdened with information they really don't have to retain. Smart writers impress me, and Pogue is very good indeed. He has succeeded in making his analysis and explanations of a massive and difficult subject entertaining, accessible, and above all else, useful.

Microsoft has employed hundreds or thousands of talented programmers to design and develop Windows Vista and if you think that such a massive undertaking could ever be fully intuitive for the vast majority of end users you'd be wrong. There are certainly large portions of the Vista Desktop which are easily navigable. The operating system is also just as clearly designed to channel users in the right directions in order to help accomplish specific tasks and interests. But the language, jargon and technical knowledge with which the operating system designers inform the product, too often leave users staring at a program, dialog box or configuration window without comprehension. If you have Windows Vista—The Missing Manual sitting on a bookshelf nearby, you'll be able to quickly use the Table of Contents or the Index to look up whatever it is that has caused the frown on your face.

Cons: At 829 pages, I expected to find a few specific Windows Registry tidbits for the modders and system builders out there. Essentially though, Pogue seems to have followed Microsoft's advice about not futzing with the Registry. Although Vista provides a large number of customization controls for us to play with, the Registry is still the place to go for deep configuration and operating environment control. Ignore this complaint if you're not a modder or a system builder. If you can't live without extensive operating system modding, you'll just have to buy another book.

Pros: Windows Vista—The Missing Manual targets a huge audience and meets all expectations. In fact (and despite the 'Con' above), the book contains so much well organized detail that I'd be surprised if it wasn't already sitting on many office shelves at Microsoft. I was surprised to continually come across valuable configuration and usability information that I had never fully thought out, relegating it to the edge of my understanding. After all, Windows Vista is even larger and more complex than its predecessors and is consequently too vast to be fully intuitive to use. For this reason alone, the tag line on the front cover, "The book that should have been in the box", is absolutely accurate. There are thousands (if not millions) of Windows Vista users who are frustrated by the Windows online help system (F1) as they work their way through various configurations and system problems. David Pogue's sense of purpose, clarity and entertainment is well balanced and provides a superb foundation for learning, reference and above all else, thorough control and understanding of Windows Vista. The large Table of Contents and detailed Index are both useful for quickly locating information about specific items, issues, configurations and problems. Truly useful for legions of beginner, intermediate and advanced users of Windows Vista. Highly recommended.

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