Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 127 / MARCH 1991 / PAGE 68

Top PC books: the right books can help you master DOS, hardware, applications, and programming. (editor choices)
by Clifton Karnes, Joyce Sides, George Campbell, Stephen Levy, Keith Ferrell, Denny Atkin, Richard C. Leinecker, English David, Tony Roberts


Whether you're a novice, a power user, or a programmer, books can help you get the most out of your PC. But selecting the right reading material isn't always easy. There are hundreds of good PC books. Which do you choose?

One of the best ways to go about choosing books is to get recommendations from other readers. If a friend has found a book useful, chances are you'll find it useful, too. That's the approach we recently took at COMPUTE. We asked our editors to vote for their favorite PC books in four categories - DOS, hardware, applications, and programming - and in this article, we share the results with you.

For each of the four categories, we decided to limit ourselves to four choices. This wasn't easy: There are scores of excellent PC books, and choosing just four in any category naturally leaves out many other excellent titles.

We had another problem when selecting books. Since COMPUTE publications has its own book-publishing division - COMPUTE Books - we felt there would be a conflict of interest if we voted for our own titles. For this reason, we excluded COMPUTE Books selections from our list.

But at the same time, we realized that any article on the best PC books would be lopsided without some COMPUTE titles, so we asked COMPUTE Book's editor in chief, Stephen Levy, to round out our coverage by giving us the scoop on four of COMPUTE Books' top PC titled. That added up to 20 books, the best in PC literature. And now, the envelope, please. . . .

DOS DOS: The Complete Reference, Second Edition by Kris Jamsa Osborne McGraw-Hill $29.95

If you're an aspiring power user, this may be the book for you. PC wizard Kris Jamsa has jam-packed these pages with everything you need to know to fine-tune your system and master DOS.

Weighting in at more than 1000 pages, DOS: The Complete Reference is noteworthy because it not only contains a wealth of information on the usual DOS commands (COPY, DIR, DELETE, and so on), but also has detailed discussions on tremendously useful but tough commands such as BREAK, DRIVPARM, and SHELL.

Additional chapters explain how DOS works, how to program with DEBUG, and how to get the most from Microsoft Windows. A thorough reference section on DOS commands is also included, as are appendices on ASCII codes and DOS error messages. For programmers, there's a detailed section of the DOS interrupt 21th functions. A must-have.

Running MS-DOS, Fourth Edition by Van Wolverton Microsoft Press $22.95

Power users and beginners both will benefit from the wealth of information offered in Van Wolverton's newest release of Running MS-DOS.

This book is divided into three parts. The initial section leads beginners hand-in-hand through their first encounters with DOS. The middle section is a thorough course in DOS basics, and the third section consists of appendices on preparing a hard disk, using DOS 4.0, the international aspects of DOS, a glossary, and a DOS command reference.

This book is a must for learning how to use DOS commands, manage disk files, create batch files, master redirection of output, and much more.

After studying the examples and throwing in a few tricks of my own, I was able to create the menu that was published on the first COMPUTE's SharePak disk in October 1989.

Superchanging MS-DOS, Second Edition by Van Wolverton Microsoft Press $19.95

Once I had mastered some of the techniques described in Running MS-DOS, I was ready to tackle the more technical information in Superchanging MS-DOS, also by Van Wolverton.

With this book, not only did I discover ways to control screen output using ANSI.SYS commands, I also had my first lesson in using DOS's DEBUG to write a simple executable file. I was so impressed with the wealth of useful information I derived from this and Running MS-DOS that I bought a set to keep on my desk at work.

Using PC DOS, Third Edition by Chris DeVoney Que $24.95

More than just a list of DOS commands, Using PC DOS by Chris DeVoney is a step-by-step guide into the intricacies of Microsoft's sometimes confusing operating system. Starting from the very beginning, DeVoney takes you by the hand and leads you through DOS.

Using real-world examples and useful illustrations, this book will help you make sense of everything from hard disk organizations and batch files to the complex BACKUP command and version 4.0's SHELL program. The book is easy to read and never misses a trick in showing you exactly what to do and when.

Naturally, there's a complete command reference, but it's special touches like the appendix on setting up a new hard disk and detailed comments on the differences between DOS versions that make this book a must for every DOS user. Its outstanding index is another plus.

HARDWARE AND GENERAL Computer Glossary, Fifth Edition by Alan Freedman The Computer Language Company $24.95

If you're confused by the barrage of computer terms such as LAN, EISA, ISAM, ISO, RLL, MFM, LRC, SQL, SPSS, USRT, and X.25, then run to the nearest bookstore and buy this book.

The Computer Glossary contains more than 4000 terms (including the acronyms listed above), and hundreds of illustrations. I use it everyday. And even when I don't need to look inside for help with a specific piece of information, I find this book is a blast just to browse through.

Although The Computer Glossary's strength is PC info, it contains words associated with other micros, most notably Apple, as well as mainframes, primarily IBM, and minicomputers, especially DEC. And for those who'd like to have this information at their fingertips, there's even an electronic edition for $59.95

Dvoraks's Guide to PC Telecommunications by John Dvorak and Nick Anis Osborne McGraw-Hill $49.95 (includes two 5 1/4-inch disks)

Everything from installing your first modem to a short history of facsimile machines is included in this huge, thorough volume.

Telecommunications can be a complex subject, but by dividing everything into sections for the layman and for the more technically advanced, Dvorak and Anis cover almost every topic in a way everyone can understand. But the telecommunications narrative, fine through it is, is only half of this book.

The second half of Dvorak's Guide to Telecommunications consists of user's guide for the programs included on the disks. Although there are several useful utilities included here, the real gem is a special edition of Telix called Telix SE, which is arguably the finest telecommunications program around. Other utilities include CED (a command line editor), SHEZ (a shell or ARCed, ZIPed, and other compressed files), PKWARE, QEDIT, LIST, and more. If computers connected by modems do it, it's covered in this book.

Inside the IBM, PC, Third Edition by Peter Norton Brady Books $24.95

Peter Norton is the E. F. Hutton of microcomputers: When he talks, people listen.

It's a good thing, because he's worth listening to. Here, in a book that has become as much of a classic as any five-year-old volume can be, Norton talks about both the brains and brawns of PCs, both hardware and software.

Norton's approach is comprehensive, if not encyclopedic, with an emphasis on the ways in which software uses hardware capabilities. To understand that, though, you must have a solid grounding in the hardware. The two go hand-in-hand.

The book is not formally divided into hardware and software sections. Rather, Norton tends to give a hardware example, then provide a software example to take advantage of it. This is quite an effective approach to difficult material, and one that other writers could benefit from.

Norton has gotten most of his fame from Utilities, and rightly so. But he's also one the beast writers on the technical side of computers, and this is without doubt his best book.

The Winn Rosch Hardware Bible by Winn Rosch Brady Books $29.95

"The computer is nothing to fear, and it need not be a mystery," Winn Rosch writes in the introduction to this substantial and indispensable volume. "It is a machine, and a straightforward one at that."

Not being a hardware person, I tend to take such introductory remarks with a grain or ten of salt. Yet Rosch, in straightforward prose, proves his claims.

The success of this book rests upon Rosch's authority - he seems to know everything about PCs - and his sense of organization. As a writer, he's a born teacher, taking each subject from the ground up, ensuring that you understand foundations before progressing to technical details.

The approach works well, allowing Rosch to cover boards, processors, memory, BIOS considerations and circuitry, floppy and hard disks as well as tape drives, ports, printers, monitors, and more. Each receives a chapter that it thorough, sensible, and clearly written. If Rosch can make me understand hardware, he can do it for anyone.

An exemplary book.

PROGRAMMING DOS Power Tools, Second Edition by Paul Somerson Bantam Books $49.95 (includes 5 1/4-inch disk)

If you only buy one DOS book, DOS Power Tools is the one to get. Are you a new PC user confused by hard disk organization? This book has step-by-step explanations directory trees faster than Magellan. Are you an intermediate user baffled by batch files? DOS Power Tools will take you from modifying your AUTOEXEC file to creating fullblown applications using only batch commands. True power users will enjoy sections examining drivers, DEBUG, and even EDLIN, in addition to tips on how to get your old reliable WordStar 3.3 (why switch?) to run in 43-line EGA mode.

This 1275-page tome literally has everything. Along with the tutorials, there are complete explanations of all of the DOS 3.3 commands (better explanations than those in my MS-DOS manual), and interesting historical notes on the development of PC compatibles and MS-DOS.

If all this isn't enough, this book also comes with a disk that includes over 200 handy utilities, ranging from batch-file enhancement commands to pop-up phone dialers and appointment calendars. Is it any wonder this is the only DOS book I own?

DOS Programmer's Reference, Second Edition by Terry Dettman, revised by Jim Kyle Que $29.95

If you could imagine the perfect reference for the DOS and BIOS interrupts, you'd be thinking of this book. It's more than just that, but I find myself turning to the half of the book that covers interrupts on a daily (if not hourly) basis to recall how the registers must be set when calling the DOS and BIOS interrupts.

Each interrupt section is organized into easy-to-read chunks. There's a heading with an icon that quickly identifies the nature of the interrupt. And the DOS calls are clearly labeled with the earliest DOS version that supports the call. An itemized listing of the calling and returning registers is next. Then come appropriate comments that contain essential information. Explanations are in clear language that even newcomers can understand.

Mouse and EMS interrupts are thoroughly covered. That's not always the case in reference books. The first part of the book is more didactic, with lengthy descriptions of how the operating system actually works.

The Waite Group's MS-DOS Developer's Guide, Second Edition by John Angermeyer, Kevin Jaeger, Raj Kumar Bapna, Nabajyoti Barkakati, Rajagopalan Dhesikan, Walter Dixon, Andrew Dumke, Jon Fleig, and Michael Goldman $24.95

Howard W. Sams & Company Practical, useful, and hard-to-find describe the information in this book. After learning a programming language, you need to learn MS-DOS. This group of world-renowned authors takes us a giant step closer to that goal with this book. They've compiled their programming experiences into a repository of useful techniques. I have literally saved hundreds of hours by using and adapting these code examples and ideas.

I found some of the EGA tricks especially helpful. Most graphics hardware books tend to be somewhat academic, but the routines I found here were real-life tricks that I immediately applied to my own set of graphics routines.

TSRs and device drivers become clear with the chapters on these subjects. If you want to trap the keyboard or any other interrupt in a memory-resident program, the code's all there. Just type it in, modify it to suit your needs, and you're in business.

The Waite Group's Microsoft Macro Assembler Bible by Nabajyoti Barkakati Howard W. Sams & Company $26.95

Once you've learned the basics of 8088 assembly language, it becomes an art. With several ways to do almost everything, finding the best one for any situation is challenge on par with the most intriguing puzzle.

Sometimes the smallest code is the best, and sometimes the fastest code is preferable. This book is a must for helping you make these decisions.

All the timings for each instruction and the variations are listed along with the encoding specifications. That means you can see to the exact machine cycle how long your code will take to execute and how many bytes the object code will be.

An entire chapter is devoted to the details of the Microsoft Macro Assembler (MASM) directives and operators. You won't have any trouble writing effective macros after reading through it. Code examples are given, including an interrupt-driven serial port handler I found especially valuable. A short chapter on DOS and BIOS interrupts with the calling and return registers is also included.

APPLICATIONS dBase III Plus by tom Rettig and Debby Moody Addison-Wesley Publishing $22.95

dBase III Plus is an invaluable resource for anyone who programs dBase III applications.

The book is an alphabetical reference to all the commands and functions of dBase. Information is easy to find, and entries are enhanced by program fragments and screen illustrations where appropriate. The authors, who participated on the dBase development team, know their dBase.

Their insights have guided me to simple solutions to what I thought would be programming nightmares.

Programmers will delight in the Warnings and Tips sections that accompany every entry. Warnings identifies the most likely pitfalls of each command and offers advice about how to avoid them. Tips provides hints on how commands and functions might be used in ways that are not necessarily apparent from the dBase documentation.

For dBase III users, this book is 600-plus pages of pure gold.

Looking Good in Print by Roger C. Parker Ventana Press $23.95

All dressed up, but nowhere to go. That's how many of us feel when we master a powerful desktop publishing program, but we soon discover that it takes more than pull-down menus and dialog boxes to create great-looking documents. Looking Good in Print comes to the rescue with hands-on advice for budding desktop publishers.

The book begins with the vocabulary of basic design and moves on to the tools of the trade and common pitfalls. The last half of the book shows you how to produce attractive and effective newsletters, advertisements, brochures, manuals, correspondence, and more. There's even a section of design makeovers with eye-opening before-and-after examples.

The entire book is packed with instructive illustrations - which isn't surprising, considering that the book itself was desktop-published. If you're involved with desktop publishing or you just want to learn a thing or two about graphic design, this is one book you shouldn't be without.

Using 1-2-3: Release 3.1, Second Edition - $29.95 Using 1-2-3: Release 2.2, Special Edition - $27.95 Using 1-2-3: Special Edition - $27.95 by Geoffrey T. LeBlond and Douglas Ford Cobb Que

You bought 1-2-3 and thought the manuals were confusing. Or you use the program on your laptop and don't want to lug the manuals home each night. Or you know the manuals backward and forward, but you're looking for a different perspective and some helpful hints and tips.

If any of these scenarios fits your situation, take a look at Using 1-2-3, the unofficial alternate-manual for 1-2-3. When 1-2-3 became popular in 1985, its manuals were complicated and hard to read. Using 1-2-3 was the manual that Lotus should have included. It quickly became one of the best-selling computer books of all time.

Today's 1-2-3 manuals are better organized than before, but we can still use a little help. For a comprehensive view of 1-2-3 that's clear and insightful, this is the book to buy.

Word Processing Power with Microsoft Word, Third Edition by Peter Rinearson Microsoft Press $22.95

This is the book on Microsoft Word and a model for what books on PC applications should be like.

Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Rinearson is a working journalist who's used Word since day one. He knows every nook and cranny of this highly individual product, and in this book he shares his insights with us.

Introductory chapters introduce you to Word basics, including how to use menus, windows, and macros; intermediate chapters dig deeper into Word's command structure with sections on undoing, copying, deleting, inserting, and searching and replacing; and the final section includes individual chapters on word power topics such as using the mouse, mastering the spelling checker, using hidden text, getting the most from the glossary, using multiple windows, and much more.

Almost every Word user from beginner to pro will find a treasure chest of information in this excellent, comprehensive book.