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Book Review: Microsoft Windows 7 Unleashed by Paul McFedries

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A few week ago, I received a copy of this book to review. I’ll admit it, I’m primarily a Mac user, but I use Windows XP at work, and I run it on my Mac in a VMWare session so I can support my Windows Mobile devices and do those things that are available only for Windows. And yeah, I’m one of the many, many, people who played with the Windows 7 betas – and I like it. Not enough to give up my Mac, but it’s nice to see what Vista should have been finally come to fruition. It’s not perfect, but it’s still very nice.

So, even though I haven’t done a book review since I left school many years ago, I was looking forward to this book because I was hoping to learn about the new OS in some detail – like in previous versions of this book. That’s not quite the spin they took this time around, however. So let’s see what they did instead…

As it turns out, this book is more about customizing Windows 7 and maximizing your overall experience with the product. than anything else.   The book is theoretically targeted to a wide range of users, but really it’s best for average to power users who are looking for ways to improve their Windows 7 day-to-day environment.

The book is broken into 8 sections: Customization, Performance and Maintenance, Power User Tools, Security, Troubleshooting, Networking, Scripting, and then the Appendixes.  Each section provides a variety useful cross-section of tips to improve your use of Windows 7.

The early chapters are what many folks will find the most useful.  There are tips in this section of the book to help return things like menu’s back to the Windows Explorer, and showing the extensions to your file names.   There are then discussions about improving performance and security.   I like that they inform readers about using the Event Viewer – one of the most overlooked tools in working with and troubleshooting Windows-based computers.

There are sections talking about Policy Management,  using Microsoft Management Console to disable services you don’t need, and tweaking the registry (one of my least favorite aspects of Windows-based computer) to provide a number of useful customizations and security improvements.

As you progress through the book, you will find it’s mostly the same – several very good tips (and how to execute them), but not a lot of detailed discussion about the features specific to the topic area.  That said, the book does provide a lot of interesting tips and information on more and more advanced topic areas as you progress through it.  They even talk about things like adding Macintosh computers to your network, and using your Windows 7 computer as a web server.

The scripting section, for example, is interesting, but for someone who is interested in Windows 7 scripting, I suspect that really doesn’t go far enough.  Topics are covered in a somewhat introductory way.  You are given enough to explain the tip or tidbits being presented, but not a lot more.  It’s not to say that the chapters don’t provide useful information – they certainly do, but sometimes they just left me wanting a little more, that’s all.

One really nice feature of this book is that, because the book is based on the pre-release version of Windows 7, they allow you to download a PDF of the book once a version of the book, based on the final release of Windows 7, becomes available.  Be careful when you register the book, though.   They ask you to confirm you have the book by asking you for a specific word on a specific page.  Make sure you DON’T count chapter headers or title lines – that messed me up at first and the instructions don’t explain this point.

Overall, I really like this book.   There are enough useful tips, especially for those of us in the process of rediscovering Windows, to make it a worthwhile investment.   But don’t expect a detailed discussion of the features and applications that make up Windows 7 – that’s not what this is.   I also think this book may be a little too shallow to satisfy strong power users, who like serious scripting and performance enhancing.   Don’t misunderstand – there are tips here that even the heaviest power user will appreciate, but I think the coverage of advanced topics might be a touch too superficial for some high-end power users – but the purpose of this book is more about enhancing your Windows experience, not presenting a detailed explanation of Windows features.

Microsoft Windows 7 Unleashed is available directly from SAMS for $49.99 or at most retail booksellers including Amazon for even less.  If, like me, you are looking for a way to reconnect with Windows, or you want to improve the usefulness and functionality of your Windows computer this is a good place to start, but if you need in depth coverage of what’s in Windows 7 and/or how it works, you might need to look for other resources as well.

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