PC Instructor, Professor DOS. (tutorials) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Danielle Best
I dread online tutorials. Just the thought of being affixed to my seat for however long it takes to "enter" and space" my way through a program brings me to tears. So, when I was asked to review PC Instructor and Professor DOS, two programs designed to "help you understand everything you need to know about Pcs and DOS," I cheerfully took the software . . . and then let out a long sigh.
Admittedly, I was a perfect candidate for the job. Next to the people at COMPUTE (and most of COMPUTE's readers), I'm not extremely computer-literate. I can boot the machine, get into whatever program I need, and once I'm dealing with software, I'm home free. But ask me about DOS or memory or (God forbid) PC history, and I'm speechless.
Now, it's a different story. Before doing the tutorials, I was interested in learning more about computers, but I didn't even know enough to find out where I needed to start. PC Instructor, although it didn't answer every last question I had about computers, gave me a great base to build on. Question marks don't fly around in my head anymore when I hear people talking about CPUs, computer speed', drives, and ports. Dealing with bits and bytes isn't as painful as it was before, either, and I finally know the difference between a PC and a PC clone.
PC Instructor covers everything from PC history to software to networks in simple, straightforward language. You don't have to deal with a lot of jargon, and the jargon used is explained. I learned a thing or two from almost everything I read, but there were two lessons that proved especially helpful to me. One is called The Basics, which deals with DOS, Windows, disks, file use, and hard disk management. The other, Automation, threw in an explanation of the autoexec.bat and config.sys files (which I thought was just great, because I had always wondered what those "bat" and "sys" things were that seemed to be in every directory I saw).
Professor DOS, on the other hand, performed a few small miracles. Before the Professor took over, I could barely format a disk without asking for directions. Now, I know what a disk operating system does, why operating systems are necessary, and why I should know how to work with DOS. I can write small batch files, use wild-cards, make and delete directories, change my autoexec.bat file, and perform many other tasks that make it a lot easier for me to deal with files.
Just like PC Instructor, Professor DOS starts out with basic information about the PC, but it takes you all the way up to using the shell, the Editor, and a barrage of other advanced commands and techniques. The tutorial is careful to point out the differences between DOS 5.0 and previous versions and shows you how to work with DOS 5.0's new features. It also includes SmartGuide for DOS, a huge online reference guide. Although DOS comes with a help feature of its own, SmartGuide makes a good companion, especially for beginners. That's because it looks less intimidating, is easy to work with, and contains minirefreshers from the tutorial.
So how do PC Instructor and Professor DOS do all of this wonderful teaching? Just like a book would. The only difference is that the pages appear on a computer screen, they're more colorful, and a few graphics and sounds are thrown in to make reading more interesting. Then, to make the information easier to deal with, the tutorials are divided into sections, and each section is split up into related lessons. The lessons appear in pull-down menus that you pick and choose as you please, and although it took me about 20 minutes to get through one lesson, how fast or slow you go is totally up to you.
Although both programs are great teachers, I experienced two small problems as I made my way through them. First, I found them difficult to follow at times because I couldn't tell when new information had been added to the screen without having to reread everything else. The screens usually changed colors or layouts when new information was displayed, but there were more than a few times when no noticeable changes occurred, and that got to be a bit nerve-wracking after a while.
Then there was the monotony. I'd have to say that PC Instructor and Professor DOS don't exactly "captivate the user's attention through creative use of graphics, sound and color," as their makers claim. There is a chance that you may get a little bored, and boredom doesn't make for learning. The only suggestion I have is to break up t sessions instead of trying to tackle them all in one sitting. That way you won't get bored, and you'll pay more attention to the screen and less to your yawns.
After you learn how to deal with the little glitches, PC Instructor and Professor DOS can be fantastic learning tools. Even if you aren't crazy about online tutorials, these are worth a try. IBM PC or compatible; 512K RAM for PC Instructor, 256K RAM for Professor DOS-$49.95 each INDIVIDUAL SOFTWARE 5870 Stoneridge Dr., Ste. 1 Pleasanton, CA 94588 (800) 822-3522 (510) 734-6767 Circle Reader Service Number 368